Empathy has overtaken ‘storytelling,’ ‘authenticity’ and ‘engagement’ as the most-hyped term of 2016 in the creative industries. And for good reason; with media audiences exposed to one humanitarian crisis after another, it is of little surprise that a growing number of sectors are looking inward and examining how they can help people and make the world a better place. From gaining insight into the lives of consumers, to telling truly affecting stories, here are three examples of the ROI on empathy.
New Consumer, New Empathy
Motivated by a cynicism towards large corporations post-financial crisis, and empowered by peer-to-peer interactions in the sharing economy, a whole new generation of consumers are more likely to trust each other than they are to trust brands.
Transparency and integrity are key criteria in any purchasing decision; these consumers want to buy products that are associated with a certain set of values. They will no longer support corporations or brands who do not stand for the right things, be that sustainability, environmental responsibility, or equal rights for its workers.
Better People, Better Processes, Better Products
Thanks to technology and social change, people have the freedom and means to express themselves to a greater degree than ever before; they feel empowered to step forward and demand that we change the outmoded ways of doing things which only suit a rarefied few. In his book ‘We Are All Weird,’ Seth Godwin describes the end of mass marketing due to consumers having the choice and power to do what they believe best reflects their own values.
“There is no substitute for good work,” says Wendy Clark, CEO of DBB Worldwide. Speaking at Cannes Lions 2016, Clark asserted that in the past, bad habits might have been tolerated by companies as long as their output performed well. But that is no longer the case; organisations recognise that collaboration is at the heart of real efficiency, and teams which are not diverse in background and perspective lack competitive edge.
The greater the collaboration, the greater the product will be. Which is why Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, encourages people to get out there and “make interesting friends” in unlikely places, citing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip hop historical musical ‘Hamilton’ as the ultimate success story when it comes to fusing different styles and ideas.
Virtual Experience, Real Emotion
Chris Milk dubbed VR the “empathy machine,” and it is this new technology, coveted by creative agencies who don’t yet fully understand its potential, which is helping storytellers to provoke and prioritise emotional connection in audiences.
Far from driving us all into our own self-contained worlds, VR has the potential to bring us together in more profound ways than ever before, by giving people the ability to step into each other’s shoes and see life through different perspectives. This immediacy has already used in an array of VR documentaries, in which viewers can experience the trauma of solitary confinement, begin to understand what life is truly like for people who are blind, and see first hand the difficulties of living in a location without access to clean drinking water.
So could these “empathy goggles” be the tool that finally helps us end sexism, racism and homophobia? If you could truly feel the pain caused by your own hateful remarks, might that move you to reconsider your prejudices? Immersion as counter speech — now there’s an exciting possibility.
The “new human empathy” is one of three core trends identified in the Ogilvy Public Relations Futures #2. Click here to read the full report.