News & Views

Opinion / Tell The Stories We Want to Hear

by Contagious Contributor
Jessica Perri, strategy director at We Are Pi, issues a call to arms for the new raconteurs

On November 9th, the world was shocked by the news that Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States. For many it represented a new low characterised by prejudice and fear. But after a long period of grieving, I’m ready to focus on the solutions again, not the problems.

Here is some good news. There are two exciting movements that could improve humanity. The first has to do with the disruption of business; and the other with the disruption of people – teenagers to be exact.

Unfortunately, your average news sites pay little attention to new movements. Fresh ideas can’t take hold in a society that loops the same old plots, the same red carpet events, the same discussion about Hillary’s emails. So if you are a marketer, editor, vlogger, musician, or anyone else who tells stories publicly, we need you. It’s time to hijack the cultural dialogue and bring back some integrity.

Recently I was fortunate enough to visit the UN General Assembly for the Novus Summit “where technology meets humanity to transform the world”. My team and I, at Amsterdam-based We Are Pi, helped the founders concept and brand the project which answered the call of the UN, to embed tech, science and business sectors into the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (above). In case you haven’t heard about the SDGs, they are the seventeen problems to be solved so ensure survival on our planet.

This isn’t the first conference on this topic and it won’t be the last. The trend started with TED and continues to evolve with our other unique client, Singularity University (below), whose mission is to use exponential technologies to address grand challenges. Recently, I attended their Executive Program on NASA’s campus. There, heads of banks, manufacturing companies and energy companies gathered to connect their business priorities to a sustainable future.

Maybe I’m crazy, but shouldn’t it be more of a hot topic that multi-disciplinary leaders of corporations, governments, NGOs and technology sectors are holding conferences about saving the world?

Personally, I don’t fit any of those leadership descriptors. I work in advertising – admittedly one of the lowest forms of communications, but also the loudest. The sharp end of our industry knows that we have a bigger responsibility than just selling things. The imagery we project normalises diversity and beauty standards. As marketers, our job is to navigate people’s attention to a particular kind of “stuff” whether it be stretchy jeans, pop music or celebrity gossip; so what happens if we point to different stuff? Better and more interesting stuff?

Some might consider my opinion to be absurd. After all, it’s not our job to lead high-minded conversations about humanity’s fate. ‘If the kids want Kardashians, give them Kardashians!’ But the kids don’t necessarily want Kardashians and if you are in marketing, it’s important to look at what they do want.

While Millennial research has long saturated our newsfeeds, a new trail-blazing generation has risen. ‘Gen Edge’, born after 1996, is individualistic and precocious. They grew up inundated with headlines of a failing economy and dying planet. The result? They’re angry, railing on social feeds in protest. A teenager I met in Los Angeles recently confided to me that his dream was to be a ‘Science Communicator’ to help fight the war on science perpetuated by right wing creationists. Another 16-year old posted this following the election results.

‘Today I learned that just over half of the population of the US are racist, sexist, homophobic, climate change denying assholes. So, have fun putting it all back together. Im a minor, so I didn't get to vote, but I will have to deal with the consequences along with 48% of the others who aren't completely delusional. I didn't realise how messed up Americans were are until today.’

Many powerful people already recognise the fight in Gen Edge. Beyoncé had her pick of superstars, but she invited two 17-year-old social activists to feature on her visual album, Lemonade, credited with putting #blacklivesmatter center stage in mainstream culture. There is a reason why Louis Vuitton made gender-fluid Jaden Smith (above) its brand ambassador or why Boyan Slats (below) invented a machine to clean up ocean-plastic. Elle UK referred to this movement of young minds as the ‘Contrarians’ because they are consistently rejecting the mess they have inherited.

So what do these Contrarians and UN VIPs have in common? Not much. If only they had the chance to exchange inspiration at the water cooler. Your average Gen Edger doesn’t have a Beyoncé fairy godmother to guide them into the media spotlight, while our UN change-makers haven’t exactly cracked Snapchat.

What can we – the raconteurs – do to help? As storytellers, we are empowered to make the connections that others don’t see. We can spot the people, movements and ideas that are hiding in the shadows and introduce them to the world. We can give a voice to Gen Edge and invite future-focused organisations like Singularity University to mingle with the cool kids. Why do we have the power to make this happen? Brands.

Brands are loud, hungry creatures searching for stories, or better yet, altruistic acts to feed their souls. One way that brands stand out is to accentuate their values and contribute something meaningful. Fortunately, Gen Edge only wants to engage with purposeful brands anyway. This little ecosystem built on purpose rather than Kardashians has potential to work out for everyone.

Compromise is a constant, so whenever possible, lets tweet, tell, write, broadcast and strategise the stories that really matter. Before adding more “stuff” to the cultural zeitgeist, let’s question if it brings true knowledge or more divide and stupidity. Stories are powerful, brands are loud. We are the ones contributing to the mood and ideas of mass-culture and at the moment, the time calls for very discerning ears. Let’s tell the stories that we truly want to hear.