Pissing off a million Mancunians

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Steve Connor is the founder and CEO of Creative Concern, a multidisciplinary agency dedicated to social issues and communications for a sustainable future. Steve works with cities, NGOs, and corporations on projects that focus on sustainability strategy and campaigns, city futures, green transport, climate change, place branding, and anything to do with trees or bikes.

Biggest fuck up?

Relatively easy… pissing off about a million Greater Mancunians with a campaign for a congestion charge in 2009 (or thereabouts) with huge bloody billboard posters of miserable-looking people talking about how they wouldn’t have to pay the charge.

The campaign had us hurtling towards a referendum, which we lost, rather gloriously, because turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, and drivers don’t vote for an additional charge. Go figure. When we lost the vote for the People’s Republic of Chorlton (a hotbed of left-wing woke-dom), we knew the game was up.

The creative execution (the shots, the copy) was absolutely fine, but the concept was crap, largely driven by the client, and with hindsight, we should have pushed back bloody hard and said we needed a campaign that was as forceful and in your face as the ‘NO’ campaign we were battling against. It was like a mini fucking Brexit. Still having nightmares.

The Mayor of London’s approach to clean air recently is exactly the right space, I think: that our kids have the right to breathe clean air and that air pollution (and asthma) are issues of social justice. More usefully, the whole thing taught me that even the best campaign can’t defy gravity, and there was no creative, no matter how witty, emotionally-gripping, or gorgeous, that could get several million people to willingly vote for an extra tax. Bonkers.

Rant

I start to froth at the mouth when I see creative agencies who spend all day every day advertising consumerist shite for a living, bringing our planet to the very edge of collapse, who suddenly discover ‘purpose’ on behalf of their clients or even worse, for themselves.

I ought to get over it, I guess, and welcome them into the fold, but I strongly expect that after a spirited and enthusiastic phase of greenwashing, they’ll still be happy to punt cheap flights, fast fashion, and meat products.

Useful advice

If you’re a creative and, like me, can’t imagine not bringing images and words together to pitch a proposition, then fucking use those gifts for good and not for selling shit to sleepwalkers. We have two networks I’m very proud of. One is pan-European and called Do Not Smile, and the other is Latin American and called Agencias de Triple Impacto. Both are made up of dozens of agencies dedicated to using communications to create a better world.

That’s the side to be on.

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