It’s cool to be kind, in the right measure

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is ‘kindness’, which is particularly topical given the Covid-19 induced lockdown we find ourselves in and the upheaval this has brought to all of our day to day lives.

Random acts of kindness – some high-profile, many just extremely touching ‘everyman’ examples – are being reported hourly across social and news media (just last week one of my neighbours washed all 17 of the cars at the development we live in to raise funds for the NHS) and the current situation has seen a heart-warming and thoroughly life-affirming increase in community spirit; the emergence of a kinder, more caring side to humanity that was oft-forgotten within the breakneck pace of life we were used to living in pre-pandemic.

Lockdown restrictions have, for many, introduced a different rhythm to life – one that has allowed a little more time for reflection and time to build closer connections to those that live with and around us. I’ve met (at a safe distance, naturally) neighbours recently that I didn’t even know existed.

The act of being kind is generally good for your health and wellbeing, something that is particularly important at the moment. It’s nice to be nice, right? Perhaps the idea of being kind(er) has been a natural, instinctively human reaction to everyone finding themselves in the same surreal, potentially life-threatening, set of circumstances. But where exactly does the concept of ‘kindness’ sit within the advertising industry  – where cynicism can be rife and cutthroat decision making was once ‘de rigeur’ – and has the sector been adapting to our new-found way of life in the same altruistic way?

Kindness is defined as ‘the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate’, probably not the words Joe Public would tend to use to describe advertising and marketing in general. As recently as last year a UK study by Credos suggested that public favourability towards advertising was at an all time low, fuelled by negative feelings around its general intrusiveness (particularly online) and its potential to be manipulative or misleading. That, and reruns of Mad Men. Industry bodies like the ASA, IPA and IAB exist to help maintain high(er) standards and there has been a drive for increased transparency in recent years, but it still often feels like there’s a ways to go in terms of public opinion.

Lest we be too harsh on our chosen profession, it’s important to remember that advertising can very much be a force for good, and we’ve seen some glowing examples of that recently. Advertising has been key in helping dispel some of the myths around Covid-19, ensuring that the population has followed social distancing protocol to help minimise the impact of the virus. Charities worldwide continue to rely heavily on advertising online and offline for vital fundraising. How else would you have known where to buy that utterly indispensable tortilla warmer that you got delivered last week that you didn’t yet know you needed (trust me on this – you need one of these in your life)?

As practitioners of the dark arts we probably feel slightly put out by the rep our chosen area of specialism has (rightly or wrongly) garnered from time to time. We all know that marketing departments and agencies the length and breadth of the country are full of genuinely lovely, normal(ish) people and it’s important that we do our best to at least try to act as ambassadors for altruism in both our professional and personal lives. Kindness can lead to good things in business too.

It can help develop new relationships, strengthen existing ones and cement trust and camaraderie. It can assist with decision-making and generate genuine opportunities. Who doesn’t believe in the age-old adage of ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’? Karma is a thing, and this is just as relevant when it comes to fostering relationships with clients and colleagues.

In an industry that can be highly stressful – one where the expectation is often to be ‘always on’ – recent societal developments have led to a blossoming aura of empathy within the agency/client dynamic that has been particularly refreshing. Clients, agencies and suppliers have all found themselves facing the same challenges – fundamental changes to our way of life, living in lockdown, working remotely, dealing with cashflow concerns – and this new-found sharing of experience has, in turn, allowed for an even greater sharing of approaches to problem-solving and strategy. This tangible increase in empathy has led to a softening of some of the previous strictures of business relationships, fuelling increased understanding on both sides and a thoroughly positive outlook, even amongst very trying circumstances.

So, whether it be for a client or colleague, for a family member or (socially-distanced) stranger, during this week and beyond – we should all continue to try to be more friendly, generous and considerate. Offering kindness can bring innumerable benefits.