A Creative Triple Bottom Line

Written on February 26, 2011

Matt Ingwalson of KarshHagan is onto something in his blog when he talks of each creative brief having 3 problems hidden in it. Matt goes on to say that the client’s problem is that the advertising must work. (#1) If the agency consistently fails to solve this one, they lose the client. The second problem is the agency’s – we want to do work that is smart, sharp and worthy of the award books. (#2) Lastly, the consumer has a problem – they’re bombarded with a vast load of junk (my words, not Matt’s) and they want something that brings them inspiration and joy(Matt’s Words).(#3)  An average ad solves #1; a good ad solves #1 and #2. The great ones nail all three. It’s an interesting blog post; you should read it.

I found myself thinking of the “green bottom line.” We used to work with a “sustainable” real estate company, Melaver, Inc.. Melaver suffered and failed to really sustain itself through the burst of the real estate bubble. It’s still around, but a shade of its former self. But it wasn’t for lack of spirit that it wilted.

Man, did I learn from them! They were inspirational and hopeful and authentic. There was great passion there. In fact, many of the employees worked together, along with a few of us “strategic partners,” to write a book called The Green Bottom Line. In the end, I hope they learned from us as much as we did from them. At any rate, during the years we were active with them, we learned that every project they undertook sought to add to 3 bottom lines: The project had to be kind to the community.  It had to be kind to the environment. And it had to be kind to the financial bottom lines of the folks doing the deal.

Many folks in the green community talk to this construct nowadays; and, while it it felt new to me back in the Melaver days, it’s actually been around a while. The phrase was coined by John Elkington in his 1998 book Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. Nonetheless it’s a compelling three-parted litmus test that serves the green building community well.

Now back to advertising. Perhaps we need a three-part litmus test as well – a triple bottom line of our own. Clearly, our work has to be “kind” to the client’s bottom line. I should also be “kind” to our own creative bottom line. Lastly, it has to be “kind” to a bottom line in the consumer’s mind as well. My sister, who has been in this business much longer than I, once said, “We make popular culture. It’s our responsibility to make it good.” Amen, Ev. We better make it good for the client, good for us and good for our audience.

If we can’t do that… maybe we should take up welding.


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