Creating Acts, Not Ads.
How to think like an activist
Activista LA are no stranger to creating advertising for social change. As the creators of the number one ad ever watched on YouTube with Dove Real Beauty Sketches, their work is thought-provoking and inspires action and activism.
At RESET Live 2022 we had Beto Fernandez tell us why thinking like an activist has never been so important.
Activista LA Co-Founders Beto Fernandez and Paco Conde have had their names grace Forbes Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Creative People in the World. They have worked as Creatives for some of the world’s greatest agencies, Ogilvy, Y&R, Saatchi and Saatchi & BBH before founding Activista LA.
The powerhouse duo behind Activista LA have worked on incredible ads for brands such as Dove, Burger King, United Nations DP & Ren Skin Care, each of them driving positive change in their own right. The Activista LA philosophy is to create acts, not ads.
Beto commenced his RESET presentation with; “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. We live in an era of the Emma’s and the Greta’s – of a young generation not waiting for something to happen. They are acting.”
Beto recognised that Millennials and Gen Zs are not interested in waiting for laws and politicians to make change, they are voting with their wallets. For example, he said, in California there are people not going to restaurants that still use single use plastics. Acting by not supporting this restaurant is faster (and more effective at making a point) than waiting for laws change – this is wallet activism.
He referenced an insight from a 2020 Porter Novelli Survey: “66% of consumers would switch from a product that they typically buy, to a new product from a purpose-driven company. This jumps to 91% for millennials.”
Beto said; “Customers are pressuring brands to do something, to be more committed. The problem is some brands don’t’ care. Purpose is becoming a trend. Something to talk about.”
Authenticity and Purpose
Disingenuous purpose-driven campaigns are obvious to most consumers. Beto showed an example of National Geographic with the cover image of an iceberg and the words Plastic or Plant? The magazine arrived at his home wrapped in a single use plastic.
Beto talked about the “new” Nike. Nike’s ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick told a story about people who fight for what they believe in, “even if it means sacrificing everything.”
“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.” Was the slogan on the campaign. By asking Kaepernick to narrate—a quarterback who may have sacrificed his NFL career because of his public protest against police brutality—it made the story real.
People were divided by the ad. With some celebrities burning their Nikes in protest and others buying and wearing them with pride.
“If we work with purpose and we embrace things in the right way, then the results will come. To navigate this new world, we have to think like activists” added Beto.
Thinking like an Activist: 5 Principles
#1 Make Acts not Ads
Beto briefly touched on an impactful, lifesaving campaign the duo ran in Brazil titled Immortal Fans.
“Immortal Fans” for Sport Club Recife, saw the duo create the first organ donation card for a football team. Fans were able to register to donate their organs via a card or app. The project helped increase organ donations by 61% and reduced to zero the heart and corneal transplants waiting list.
Although the campaign was created more than ten years ago, people are still requesting the card and saving lives today.
In a behind-the-scenes interview with Beto’s partner Paco Conde he told us this was his ‘proudest piece of work’. Paco tells us bluntly “we saved lives”. He never thought that ideas can have the power to do so much good.
This example demonstrates that an act is a platform agnostic. And can stand the test of time.
#2 To change something, don’t change anything
Beto urged the audience to understand that you really must think about what you are asking. Few people will engage if it’s too hard.
Via the Surfrider Foundation “United States and Oceans of America” campaign – they leveraged America’s patriotism, framing environmentalism as patriotism. They created a social movement by creating a United States and Oceans of America flag which became a symbol of the fight to protect our oceans. The flag sold out in 48 hours and they achieved an 80% growth in merchandise plus six brand partnerships.
#3 Collaboration is the new competition
This principle is grounded in the fight for and to positively impact the planet – we are not competitors we are allies.
In Activista LA’s work for beauty brand Ren, they discovered that 70% of packaging from the beauty industry ends up in land fill. They asked the client: ‘How can we do something bigger than just your brand?’ They created an Opinion Editorial piece in the New York Times that featured four other sustainability focused brands.
The four brands become collaborators. They now share technology and machinery as well as innovation to progress more quickly towards more affordable sustainability.
#4 Be in the right place at the right time
Ask yourself, where can we generate more impact for this idea? This was the key driving principle to Activista LA’s Earth Day activism.
Last year for Earth Day, Activista LA paid for a digital billboard to go live just across from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, with the caption: “Mars Sucks.”
A lot of advertising on Earth Day provokes beautiful images of earth, while Activista’s cheeky campaign focused on the unpleasant alternative: Mars.
With SpaceX and Elon Musk representing Mars, the digital billboard outside SpaceX’s HQ gave them a unique opportunity to make the statement that Mars can wait, but Earth can’t.
Mars Suck was a one day, one billboard campaign that caught the world’s attention, sparked debated and generated enormous amounts of PR and discussion. Beto said that just one share on Facebook got 140,000 shares.
He told us in an exclusive interview that this billboard cost them $2,000 USD for the day, a small investment relative to the amount of PR and conversation they were able to generate.
#5 Judge your ideas for the impact they can provoke
Ideas can be brilliant but may not provoke change. Beto tells us, that there is nothing bigger than working for climate change. United Nations DP Don’t Choose Extinction campaign aims to shine a spotlight on fossil fuel subsidies and how they are canceling out significant progress towards ending climate change.
For this campaign they brought back dinosaurs and the film was translated into 32 languages.
Behind the scenes: how Activista LA came to think like activists
We spoke to Beto Fernandez and founding partner Paco Conde before Beto’s appearance on the RESET stage, he reflected on what inspired him to pursue the philosophy of creating acts, not ads.
Paco Conde tells us, “Every time we were with creative teams or clients, we always encouraged them to think like an activist.”
“To come up with something different, you have to change the process, so we started doing things differently” says Fernandez.
This thinking is what sparked the creation of Dove Real Beauty Sketches the most talked about ad of all time which was viewed on YouTube over 114 million times just one month after its release.
They won this brief by doing something radically different; calling in an FBI-trained forensic artist to draw women describing their appearance versus how a stranger would describe them. The result was the creation of a powerful and emotional campaign that gave a compelling insight into women’s self-perception.
The short film won 19 Cannes Lions awards including the much-revered Titanium Grand Prix Lion.
What makes Activista LA different?
“We start every presentation by telling the clients… people don’t like ads.” Fernandez tells us with conviction. “So, let’s make something more meaningful”.
The creative duo is more interested in knowing how people behave, what people like to do and talk about and how people think – that’s the core foundation to creating an act Fernandez tells us.
“We are media agnostic; we look for universal truth. Importantly, don’t just tell the story. Become the story.” Conde explains that people are the best medium. Spark conversation and make people talk.
Conde tells us, “It’s about progress not perfection. It’s about commitment. What you are doing today to put your brand in a better place for all of us.” Fernandez adds, “If we start waiting for perfection, no brand will move the needle.”
Activista LA is a purpose-driven creative company committed to driving positive change. For more purpose-driven marketing content take a look at our RESETx event Unleashing the Power of Purpose with purpose evangelist Afdhel Aziz.