2016 has been a year of aggression and antipathy. Let’s make 2017 the year we finally get empathy right.
We are finally here, at the end of 2016 — a politically, socially and culturally tumultuous year. We’ve lost a number of icons, witnessed tragedies all over the world, and watched leaders sail to victory on campaigns of division and hate.
It is quite understandable to feel helpless and ineffectual in the face of such vast disruption, but if anything, 2016 has been the perfect year for introspection. This year has highlighted how a great many people exist in silos, sequestered from conflicting viewpoints. And this year has shown us how we can do better.
So before you decide your New Year’s resolutions for 2017, why not try looking at these common mistakes made by the creative industries.
Our prejudices are blinding us to opportunities.
Unconscious biases are unavoidable in the advertising industry as it exists today. Gender parity is the highest priority when it comes to the diversity agenda, although agencies are still a far way off from achieving equity in that area. And there are other prejudices which are only just now being addressed — like ageism.
In the UK, 23.6 million people are over the age of 50. And yet they only account for 5 per cent of staff in agencies — and rarely in creative teams. Nicky Bullard, CCO of MRM Meteorite, thinks the industry would be foolish to disregard this demographic; especially considering over-50s will control 75 per cent of the world’s wealth in just 20 years time.
“We like to think we’re advertising to the cream of the crop,” she said in her President’s Address at Eurobest 2016. “But we’re not advertising to the cream — we’re advertising to the crop.”
Bullard is the founder of The Cross Project, a “cross-mentoring” initiative which aims to address the age imbalance and skills gap in the industry by pairing up newbies with older professionals, facilitating a value exchange wherein the younger party can share digital skills and the older party can share their craft and experience.
We talk lots and do little.
Words like “diversity,” “empathy” and “authenticity” have become overused to the point of meaninglessness, and agencies are still congratulating themselves for simply having these conversations rather than actually doing and living these things.
Take empathy, for instance. All the way back in 2007, Madonna Badger said “empathy is the new innovation.” The industry is now behaving like this is a radical new concept which it just invented, when in fact you’d be forgiven for thinking that 2016 was the year we all became sociopaths, numb to the needs and struggles of people who aren’t like us, or slapping a filter on our profile pictures in solidarity with victims of terror attacks and giving such crises no deeper thought.
We’re not respecting or understanding the people we’re trying to reach.
“We talk about consumers like we’re on safari,” says Alain Sylvain, founder of Sylvain Labs. And he’s not wrong. But by viewing a consumer as “millennial” first and “person” second, we miss the entire point of what these demographics really want, which is to be seen, heard, and understood.
Perhaps we could take a cue from Generation K, the 14-21 year old so-called “selfie generation” that is actually anything but selfish. These young, digitally engaged consumers are more interested in politics than they are in celebrity news or reality TV. According to research by Noreena Hertz, despite growing up surrounded by virtual connections, they crave personal interactions. And above all, they value doing things together.
“Sensitivity is not only in our nature,” says Sylvain, “it might just save us all.”