After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo I wrote a short Dutch listicle with 5 things we shouldn’t be doing in Holland. I argued for more critical thinking, more discussions and less fear masked as tolerance.
I was angry and frustrated by both the attack itself and the subsequent orgy of mourning. (Changing your avatar does not make you Charlie. Drawing Mohammed sucking a big black cock-shaped rocket would be a start. And yes, I dare you.)
But now that the leaders of the free world have staged their solidarity on a sealed-off street, trying to steal the limelight of the biggest demonstration in France’s history as they went, the attacks themselves will become less and less relevant. Apart from it being used as an excuse for a renewed clamping down on our civil rights, of course: terror is an even greater excuse for the 21st century Datagestapo than childporn.
But where does that leave us, the advertising folk?
I like to call myself an engineer of public perception. Especially when I write copy for a set of hemorrhoid banners. Soothes my mind, you see.
Every now and then, I get to be that engineer of perception
But every now and then, I get to be that engineer of perception. When I work on a campaign that changes people’s mind a little beyond buying. Then I realise: this one campaign makes a hundred mediocre ones worth all of the mind-numbing discussions.
We all want more of those campaigns, right? They are, as the Dutch say, “the currants in our porridge.” Put aside your cynicism for a moment. Let me stroke your ego.
I wrote this column to reaffirm the notion that we are perhaps the most creative bunch of people out there. We prop up propaganda on the daily. Spin doctors ain’t got shit on us and yes, we create movements for anything from yoghurt to yoga.
We have an enormous talent to influence perception.
Obviously, we’re not alone. Just think of that first Parisian man or woman who raised a pen in the air. An amazingly succint, powerful symbol that would have made any creative incredibly proud to come up with.
The fight currently being fought is a fight first and foremost of ideas, of propaganda… You and I have a talent for that
The fight currently being fought is a fight first and foremost of ideas, of propaganda. Again: you and I have a talent for that.
So maybe we should do a little bit more with that talent than most of us do. Maybe we should use our creativity in the fight for ideas, too – preferably long after Joe Average has changed his Je Suis Charlie-avatar back to his sexy selfie.
99% of us will not be brave enough to make a cartoon of Mohammed the prophet (even though, allegedly, he could take a joke). And we don’t need to, either. But I would argue that the majority of us should be brave enough to disarm propaganda of hatred and prop up our own propaganda.
An urban intervention? A guerilla campaign? A t-shirt? An app? A conference on, here goes, our responsibilities as an idea-generating industry in the Netherlands? Hell, it could even be as simple as a couple of tweets, as this 21-year old student brilliantly showed last weekend. I’ll gladly leave it to you to decide upon the medium and the content.
Perhaps you have some free time. Or your office has a slow week. Just do it. Donate a moment of creativity on this. We have the talent, we have huge potential for ROI on our concepts and, I think, the responsibility to do so as creatives. Be a tiger. Create your own briefing. Challenge everything. Help critical thinking prevail. Help humour prevail. Yes we can. Be prepared for a backlash, but fuck it: you’re allowed to take a stand once in a while.
Then maybe the next time a bunch of sociopathic terrorists try to incense the world, it will be you disarming their propaganda with something as mundane as a banner ad or, who knows, something as brilliant as a raised pen.