When we heard about a new advertising agency who want to carve out a different path and stand out from the crowd by being ethical and only representing businesses that met with their ethical ideals, we had to meet them. A (fairtrade) coffee and a perch in their cardboard chair (yes really) later, we’d had a fun chat and learned more about what We Are Good is all about and their plan to be the change they want to see in the advertising industry. We bring you this fascinating Q and A session with their founder and CEO, Lauren Penny.
Branded as the superhero of the advertising industry, We Are Good is an advertising agency with a unique difference; they use their creative powers to do good. Advertising is moving away from the days of pushy sales techniques and instead is focusing on a more pressing topic – moral responsibility. With a focus on integrity, the agency only works with ethical clients such as charities, or those selling fair-trade, environmentally friendly or organic produce.
The public are becoming more concerned with what products are made from, who made them, where components were sourced from and what happens to an item after use. In addition, legislation from governments and limited resources are forcing businesses to reassess their focus as the market seeks products that fit with a more sustainable lifestyle. The agency argues that there is no denying that the ethical marketplace is a current consideration, but will be increasingly important in the future, meaning and businesses who do not take notice could easily get left behind.
It was becoming increasingly difficult morally for me working within the advertising industry. There is a lot of great work coming out of the industry that is doing a lot of good for people and the planet, but sadly there is a lot of immoral work being produced too. I did not like the fact that often moral standards seemed irrelevant when creating a campaign. For example, designers did not seem to care or even consider if a product they were pushing had been made by people in poor working conditions paid pittance or that they were designing a package to look bigger on the shelf than it actually was. A lot of advertising is about manipulation and the bending of truths. I did not like that side of it.
There is also the fact that designers are largely to blame for over-consumption, encouraging people to constantly want more ‘stuff’ at a time when it’s more important than ever for them to be thinking of the environmental impact of their work. They should be encouraging clients to act more sustainably as well as being responsible designers themselves. I was getting frustrated and felt a different focus was required. I believed creativity could be used to do so much more good.
My main inspiration for the launch however came from an article I read in a book called Do Good Design by David Berman. In the article, Berman discusses Tanzania, a village whose inhabitants battle with disease, corruption and poverty. Berman was surprised to see that such a poor village had been branded by Coca-Cola; signs were everywhere depicting the company’s logo, together with a call to action. The important point that Berman makes is that, ‘on the Tanzanian streets, the price of a bottle of Coke is about the same as the price of an anti-malaria pill’. Tanzania has epidemic malaria with approximately 16 million cases annually.
The article got me thinking about the greater good that could have been achieved if the designers, rather than work so hard to promote Coca-Cola in Tanzania, had instead created awareness about the anti-malaria pills. The article made me realise that so much more good could be achieved by designers on a bigger scale if they put their creative and persuasive skills to a better, more life changing use. It was then that I had the idea to form We Are Good.
I believed that if We Are Good aimed to work with ethical clients and create ethical work it was important that the business practiced what it preached and was an ethical business itself. In branding, it is important that a company’s message and values are consistent throughout everything they do. It would be hypocritical if we were harping on about the importance of being ethical whilst sitting in an office filled with mass produced plastic furniture and throwing all our paper in the waste bin.
Ethics are also important to me personally. I have a great interest in philosophy, design and sustainability, how they are linked and my social/moral responsibly as a designer so it was natural for me to incorporate this into the core of my business.
What types of clients do you represent?
We Are Good works with clients who meet our ‘good’ guidelines. ‘Good’ being a subjective word may conjure up different meanings to different people so I will elaborate. To us, ‘good’ means businesses who sell high quality, well-crafted products or services that are sustainable, truthful and ethical. These ethical companies exist in a range of industries and could be anything from a charity to a company that sells organic, fairtrade or locally sourced/produced goods.
How do you make sure your clients’ campaigns are as ethical as possible?
From an advertising perspective we go through each aspect of a campaign and make it as ethical as it can be, from the idea itself all the way through to printing/production. We also try and encourage companies to make the most ethical choices possible and maybe consider things they would not normally do, such as using recycled packaging or vegetable inks in printing.
Do you think your clients appreciate having an agency who focuses on an ethical approach to their advertising?
I really do. If you are an ethical company it is important to work with others who have similar ideals and who have a greater understanding of your values and market. An example to back this up that I use is, if you were a vegetarian, would you choose to eat at a vegetarian restaurant or go to McDonalds and look at their vegetarian options? I think most people would obviously choose the former as you would feel the business would relate to you more and would tap into your needs better.
An added bonus of choosing us over the competition is that as we work within the ethical industry, we therefore have a lot of contacts within it. In addition, we know the upcoming eco trends and latest products.
What is the hardest product/business you’ve designed a campaign for?
There has not really been a campaign that We Are Good has had trouble creating work for. Advertising is problem solving on a daily basis and you begin to relish the challenge, but a difficult experience for us was when we had to turn a company down for work (especially hard to do when you are just starting out) because they didn’t meet the company’s ethical guidelines.
What has been the most exciting campaign you’ve worked on?
I think as a business generally, it has to be the first client you work with. Our first client was Re-Solv – a charity that works to prevent solvent abuse. No matter how small or big the job is, it is just that moment when you realise you are actually fulfilling the very thing you set out to do. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Who would you most like to work with to create advertising/a campaign for?
That’s a tough one as we have a pretty big list! I think it would have to be one of the big players in the ethical marketplace; someone like the World Wildlife Fund or the Centre For Alternative Technology.
What is your aim for the future for We Are Good?
In the (not too distant) future I want We Are Good to be running within a fully sustainable office powered by renewable energy. I also want to be supporting ‘good’ clients on an international scale. The amount of goodness that can be produced with creativity is endless – we just need to get our name out there. With ‘green’ set to be a large trend for the future, we are sure we will be around for a long, long time.
With everything we do, we make it as ethical as we can. Our launch party recently took place, where the wine served on the night was organic and vegetarian, the cake was made by a company called Yum Crumbs who use organic, fair trade and locally sourced produce, and we used the night as an opportunity to hold a raffle and raise some money for a water charity, Life Straw.
Day to day, we recycle all our paper in the office and use an eco printer for our business cards. You will only find ethical products in our cupboards such as organic and fair trade tea, and all our office furniture is either made from recycled products or has been up-cycled. Our cardboard office chair has already caused quite a stir!
We aim to be a very proactive agency. As we finish setting up over the next few weeks with our launch party out of the way we hope to not only create ads for ethical companies but actually plan to be actively involved in the ethical community ourselves. Whether that be going out and visiting places where charities we work with are making things happen, or doing activities such as running a marathon to raising money for a charity, it will be a key focus of anything we undertake.