Here’s what happens when you let creative people work on stuff that really matters.

Advertising may be evil, but the people who work in it are ready to shake things up. I worked this out after spending a rainy Saturday with about 30 of them, trying to combine their skills to create positive social change.

We got together in central London to work through three challenges. There was coffee, hundreds of Post-It notes, and people with their shirt buttons done all the way up. So far, so Shoreditch. But instead of designing a new ‘in store experience’, we were trying to sell positive human behaviours.

Can you apply the dark arts of advertising to things like empathy, work/life balance, or the value of experiences over throwaway stuff? That might sound unlikely. But if there’s anyone who can get us out of this mess, it’s the people who got us into it in the first place.

I’ve formed a new collective called Glimpse to find out how creativity can help shape our world. We want to make positive social behaviour feel less like a sacrifice and more like a desirable, modern choice that people aspire to.

To make things even harder, we asked for ideas that could work without a brand behind them. We tried to imagine a positive creative agency by the people, for the people. Could it work? Is there a way of making brilliant, viral content without a corporate patron doling out the cash?

These guys don’t think so.

For someone from outside the industry, it was fun to see how mind-bendingly new this concept seemed to be. A typical comment was: “I keep thinking about which brand this would work perfectly for, but then remembering…”

I totally support brands that stand for positive social change. Some are deeply committed to it, and we need lots more . But I’m wondering if there’s another way, something a bit more disruptive and cheeky.

So how did it work? Well, I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Each challenge (or ‘Glimpse’) started with a simple question: “Imagine a world where”…

Challenge 1: Imagine a world where… we valued experiences over stuff

Idea: C.A.T.S

Every day we’re bombarded with adverts that tell us to buy stuff. But deep in our hearts we know that experiences are what really make us happy. The best things in life are free.

What if we replaced product ads with reminders of things we love? How could we create a people-led resistance to the barrage of products that are shoved in front of us?

Enter the Citizen Advertising Takeover Service (C.A.T.S).

Here’s how it works. If we raise enough money, we’ll replace an entire London tube station with pictures of adorable cats. If you give us £100 we’ll even put your beloved moggy on the poster.

Let’s use the power of advertising to remind thousands of harried shoppers that their true love isn’t in the sales, it’s stretched out on the sofa at home.

Output needed: Kickstarter page, poster design, PR and influencer strategy.

Challenge 2: Imagine a world where… we treated refugees with respect and dignity

Idea: UniTea

British people are generally very hospitable. We’re calm in a crisis and proud of our ability to talk through any disaster with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Indeed, a warm mug of tea symbolises many things that are best about Britain — warmth, empathy, and friendly conversation.

What if we created a new tea brand that was designed to increase empathy for refugees? We could offer people a simple way for people to show their support while trying a new blend. The company would employ newly settled refugees who may be struggling to find work. We might include personal stories on the back of each box, helping us imagine what it’s like to flee your home as we have breakfast in the warmth of ours.

The profits from this company would be split between relevant charities and the employees themselves. The business would be run as a social enterprise or cooperative, creating employment and connections for refugees who have recently arrived in Britain.

Output needed: branding, product, business plan, market research, PR strategy.

Challenge 3: Imagine a world where… we valued life outside work as much as we covet career success

Idea: #LeaveWithMe

The Puritan work ethic is stronger than ever. But the Puritans also burned witches at the stake. Isn’t it time we updated our cultural ideas of success to become something a bit more human?

Imagine a world where employees and employers got together to end the ‘arms race’ of long working hours. Where managers were encouraged to help us work smarter, not longer. Where we challenged friends to “#LeaveWithMe”, and spend more time with people we love.

We’ll create make viral content to spread this radical idea, including a mischievous spoof: “LinkedOut”. For employers, we’ll create a kite mark that commends those who encourage balance. Do you allow flexible working? Do you encourage your managers to leave on time? Do you allow staff to work less than 48 hours per week? You’re in. Clock out.

Output required: branding, social media content, company partnerships

These are just a few of the ideas we came up with. It was a bit stressful at times because in our desire to ‘let go’ we made the briefs a bit too flexible. But overall it was a lot of fun, and surprisingly productive too.

We think there are lots of people from the creative industries who want to do meaningful work more of the time. If you want to help with any of these ideas, or just to be part of the collective, please get in touch.

And yes, we’re definitely doing the cats one.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated James Turner’s story.