Advertising Week Could Do Worse Than Mimic Tap Project

Instead of Panels, Let the Industry's Most Brilliant, Creative Minds Tackle a Noteworthy Cause

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Unicef's Tap Project is a case study in what Advertising Week could and should become.
In its first year, only in New York, Unicef estimates the Tap Project raised $6 million.
In its first year, only in New York, Unicef estimates the Tap Project raised $6 million.

Advertising Week's organizers have greatly improved the event since its inception three years ago. This year there'll be fewer panels and programming clashes, more marketing disciplines represented, and even some highlights that don't include the Jolly Green Giant.

But it's still an event in which the industry flies into and takes over a city (or three) and then talks to and about itself. There's a danger that such an approach reinforces the worst perceptions of the business -- such as the idea that it's a creator of a lot of noise and nuisance, with a worrying tendency to believe its own hype.

The stated aims of those who dreamed this thing up in the first place were to raise morale among people in the business, improve its image among potential recruits and perhaps show a good side of advertising to the general public. Surely the best way to do that would be to harness the incredible power of today's marketing and media industries to do something for a charity or for the good of mankind.

Pick your favorite cause. Then imagine how Advertising Week might tackle that problem. Imagine what could happen if even a 10th of the most brilliant, creative minds in the industry subjugated ego for a day to come up with the strategy, communications architecture and collateral for a one-week campaign of unprecedented scale. Imagine if one in 10 marketers gave over a day or two of their marketing budgets. Or if one in 10 media owners gave over even one-10th of their ad space for a week.

It sounds naïve, but David Droga is already proving what's possible. In case you don't know the Tap Project, it's basically a scheme whereby, for one day, restaurants ask customers if they'd like to pay a dollar for a glass of the local tap water. Droga hatched the idea with the aim of helping Unicef provide clean water to the hundreds of millions of people around the world who don't have it. In its first year, only in New York, Unicef estimates it raised $6 million. Next year it'll roll out in more cities. Wieden & Kennedy has already volunteered to execute the scheme in Portland, Ore., Goodby in San Francisco, and Leo Burnett in Chicago. R/GA will bring an overarching digital component to it. And Droga says he has Taxi ready to take it to Canada and Dentsu wanting to implement it in Japan. Mayors and governors are getting involved. Marketers are standing by to become global sponsors. Unicef is already describing it as its biggest project in 60 years.

"Wouldn't it be amazing if, through our reach, creativity and networks of contacts, we could really change access to clean drinking water all over the world? Our industry will be able to say, 'We, the ad industry, did that,'" said Droga -- who is almost unnaturally ego-less about the whole thing, seeming only to get a kick out of creating a collaborative dream team of his favorite creative people.

That, to me, is a vision of how to improve the image of the ad industry. Today's high-school and college kids are more likely to want to be a part of a an industry that creates Tap Projects than an industry that gets together once a year for a few panels and brews. And the people in the business? They have hundreds of opportunities to meet with their peers, but most have only a handful of chances to collaborate with those peers to make a difference and show the real power of their business.

Droga agreed: "Advertising Week is all the best minds talking for one week of the year about what they do for the other 51 weeks. What if they just did what they do for the other 51 weeks, only they did it for a different reason? It could be huge."
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