Back to Basics POVs

Defining Art + Activism

Written by Kenon Mak 

“Put yourself at the service of the organization you’re working with. You become a platform for that organization.”
Alfonso Cuarón on campaigns for social change

Whether you are the advertiser or the agency, inevitably the conversation around positioning the brand around social purpose comes up. Everyone wants to do good—but few are able to execute it authentically. Audiences have finely tuned BS meters that will immediately shield them from purposeful sponsorship (does this brand really care about ending toxic masculinity or are they just trying to sell more razors?). One theme that has been resurfacing in these talks is that corporations do not control the brand; the consumer controls the brand. That is, there is no dictatorial approach to influencing the consumer’s perception of your brand. So with so much power out of the control of advertisers, how exactly does one create authentic positive connections with consumers?

In Defining Art + Activism, a panel featuring Academy Award-winning film director, Alfonso Cuarón, they walked us through the process it took to turn his film Roma into a social movement. Roma is a film set in 70s Mexico and crafts a sympathetic view of a family’s housekeeper. Not only was the film critically acclaimed, it helped spur a political movement to provide social security rights to domestic workers in the United States. What was surprising is that Cuarón said that the promotional campaign itself was designed to be a social action campaign as a selling point for the film. It worked—real policies passed and now 2.5 million domestic workers have social insurance. He attributes the “Roma Effect” of creating transformational change to three things:

  1. Shared purpose
  2. Authentic relationships and trust
  3. Hard work

For Cuarón, his intention for writing and directing Roma was to create a tribute for the type of “second mother” he had while growing up in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City. There was a shared sympathy for the domestic workers, an authentic relationship to work with each other, and an ongoing commitment to seeing the cause through. As Cuarón says, “As much as people want luxury, they also want to do the right thing. The relationship has to come from a standpoint of honesty.”

The thinking that brings a social movement campaign to life cannot come from an AI. Nor does it come from the distribution of a canned message. As we move into the future where consumers demand brands of social purpose, it will require specialized thinking in creativity to position them for longevity, but more importantly, meaning.