Do the Right (Smart) Thing

David Jones discusses advertising and social responsibility

Ignoring social responsibility is no longer an option for companies thanks to social media, according to Who Cares Wins by David Jones, CEO, Havas and Euro RSCG Worldwide. Bonus insight: Maybe advertising isn’t so evil either.

Adweek: What makes you a spokesperson for corporate social responsibility?

Jones: In the job we do as advertisers, we kind of sit in a unique position. On the one hand, we’re very connected into consumers and what they want, and on the other hand, we’re connected to big businesses and the CEOs of the world and what they’re looking for. We know that people today want businesses to be much more socially responsible. We know the reason businesses, in general, need to be more responsible is because that’s how they’ll be more successful and competitive.

So what is the role of social media in social responsibility?

Whether you’re the CEO of BP, head of an Arab Spring country, or a misbehaving congressman or fashion designer, social media has given people this amazing power to take down the regimes and businesses of people who do not behave the right way. People are now going to judge you with much more scrutiny, and they have this amazing tool in social media to hold you accountable.

Is it possible for ad agencies to care about social responsibility when they’re ultimately tied to the whims—and profit margins—of their clients?

I’m obviously not naive, and when you‘re writing a book like this, you open yourself up to a lot of attacks. Right wingers say it’s all about profit, and the left side says, “Aren’t you the people who make people buy stuff they don’t need? How can you be the messenger?” If you believe the advertising industry created the problem, then you have to believe the ad industry can fix and solve the problem. Secondly, we’re seeing a big shift in the way our industry is operating. The future is about doing good and making money, and the overlap of the two. Lastly, you can decide as an agency who you will or won’t work with.

A lot of advertisers see social media as the Wild West—a place in which they’re not in control. How do they get comfortable?

The rules of social media are the same as in business: transparency, authenticity and speed. When something happens, you know that everything is going to come out, so make the right decision, and fast. Don’t assume it’s going to go away because it won’t. With [fashion designer] John Galliano, they didn’t wait around and try to talk to him. The instant [Galliano was taped delivering an anti-Semitic rant] he was fired. People will forgive and pardon a brand if they believe you’re behaving in the right way.

Does a company’s behavior really affect its bottom line? And is that a new phenomenon?

There’s a massive generational divide. I was chatting with a millennial who said, “This book’s really obvious.” And I said, “You’re right, to you and your generation.” If you do the same presentation to a bunch of 65-year-old CEOs, a lot of them think you’re mad. And yet every month there’s a major story somewhere of a company whose behavior gets completely called out through social media. The list is endless. CEOs are saying, “Suddenly this social media thing can take 15 percent of my share price in a day. I better really be involved in this.” So, many people will not necessarily act because they believe they want to be a good company, but because the consequences of not doing it will be pretty cataclysmic.