Waiting Gains Us Nothing

CVS Pharmacy announced that it will no longer digitally alter its in-house beauty ads beginning in April. They aren’t the first to take such a stand, nor will they be the last. On a wave of advertising-based activism, CVS is yet another in a long line of brands ready to enter the pool.

Ah, that paragraph probably sounds a little cynical.

If you met me you’d know that activism is close to my heart. I believe in taking a stand. Raising your voice. Pulling another chair to the table.

I guess a part of me still has a hard time believing that Brands can have the same cultural influence positively as they do negatively. To be honest, while a part of me hopes they can, a larger part of me wonders if it will ever be enough. When it comes to causes like CVS’ – the perpetuation of an unhealthy and unobtainable definition of beauty –  we have literal lifetimes to make-up for. It’s a daunting task.

But yes, it’s worth trying.

CVS’ stand is large. And they are in a place to encourage other large brands to follow suit. Over a decade ago, I worked at Ogilvy when Dove’s Real Beauty campaign hit the market. I remember, as a young art director, it sparked a passion in me, a hope, that someday I’d create a cultural shift with my work. That the stars would align and I’d get the right client at the right time and create a true change in thinking.

I’d be an integral part of a campaign and I’d save the world somehow.

But, if I’ve learned anything in the years since, it’s that while those moments do happen, it’s less the giant alignments that matter. Waiting gains us nothing. Trying is always foremost a worthy effort. As designers, we are called every day to move the needle, even if it’s in the most minute of ways.

Yes, these large sweeping campaigns and standards are absolutely necessary. They push the industries that surround them and, even in the cases they fail (Kardashian with a Pepsi, anyone?), they still are fodder for discussions that are absolutely and desperately needed.

But, what about all of the smaller decisions, the meetings over the phones and emails sent to photographers? The staffing of strategy brainstorms, or the workshops, and team meetings? What of all the tiny things we as design companies do every day?

We have the power to create change, even when the great planets of opportunities don’t align — too often we forget that. In this era of giant cultural tension, of go big or go home, of Million Woman Marches and governmental shutdowns… there is still the every day. There is still the designer behind their monitor at their desk who once dreamt that the projection on that screen would create a shift for the better.

I am still there, with that tug on my heart, my reflection dim behind the art boards of Sketch.

It’s our responsibility as creators and builders and innovators. It’s a calling as much as the pixels and code and wireframes we live in.

So yes, big brands with giant campaigns are moving forward doing great things to redefine some of the most basic stories our industry has been building since its inception. And it’s about time.

But so are we, individually. So are our teams one project or sprint at a time. Our best clients come with our hardest discussions. How do we tell this story? How do we redefine what you may take for granted? Who is at the table? Who are we representing? Whose stories do we choose to include? How can we make this more relevant? How can we raise the bar?  Not just as a brand, but as people, as human beings who strive to bring some light…

I am inspired by moves like the one CVS is making, and I envy the people who were around those tables at those meetings to get them there.

But, I am here and I am no longer waiting for that big break to change the world. Every project can make a difference. Every meeting, every discussion, and every comp is an opportunity. I am doing my part; one day, one meeting, one design at a time.

We all do. Every day. I see it.

And it makes me hella proud.

This article was originally published in Campaign US.

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