Creative Interviews

Why advertising needs to be a force for good

Thomas Kolsteris the author of Goodvertising (Thames & Hudson) about how advertising can be a force for good. He’s an enthusiastic and awarded advertising creative, with Thomas Kolster Goodvertisingmore than 13 years experience and has worked for a diverse range of clients, from McDonalds to Amnesty International. Before founding his own agency, Inkognito, he has worked for three prominent advertising agencies, most recently DDB.

What is your digital advertising vision?

We are now living in the digital age and I love the possibilities. Today, for the first time in our history, it is possible for consumers around the world to write a Tweet or a Facebook update about a brands dubious environmental claims and that single comment might inspire others to speak up, developing into a screaming kettle of consumer pressure on that brand. And all of this can happen from the comfort of your armchair!

You and I are as much a part of that movement. We’re an army of armchair Greenpeacers armed to the teeth with our digital weapons. I believe this is a big driver towards a more fair and just society, where brands and companies can’t hide their missteps and the market talks back. Moreover, digital also offers unprecedented possibilities for collaboration and innovation: Crowd sourcing, crowd funding, crowd surfing or any other word that can follow the word crowd.

Check out sites like where friends share stuff and earn money from it (Just think of the resources we can save through initiatives like this!) Or where you can simply scan a product in the supermarket with your mobile phone and goodguide gives you reliable information about how healthy or environmentally friendly that specific product is. Try it out. The possibilities are many and what I truly enjoy; it’s open, democratic and honest.

Brand Inspiration

I admire brands that aren’t afraid of using their voices and their actions as a canvas for positive change. As we in the communication industry have been partly to blame for pushing the trolley of consumerism to the edge of the climate cliff, I’m certain that we can also use those very same skills to promote a more sustainable mindset and ultimately, more sustainable behaviour.

There are plenty of brands and campaigns worth mentioning; such as the fast food chain Chipotle, which has played an active role in promoting a more humane and sustainable food industry. Among their many efforts the commercial Back To The Start is an epic tale of why we need to rethink our current means of food production.

I also respect MTV’s continuous efforts to promote a more sustainable mindset in todays youth. The print campaign Sex Is No Accident deserves a special mention, as it is an excellent, insightful piece of communication. A great example of how a good idea can lead to unbelievable reach.

Another favourite is the director Jason Zada’s personal project,, teaching us to be more aware of our online privacy. Or even the clever fundraising campaign for Greenpeace new Rainbow Warrior III ship, where one could fund anything from a fork to the ships sails. I could go on and on.

Tell us about your new book Goodvertising?

In all the debate about a new responsible revolution in the articles, on the blogs and on the bookshelf, what has been sorely lacking is the call for creative communication. I missed the confidence, the firm belief that we as the communications industry can make a real world-changing difference. I can’t help pushing for this again and again. We can solve these worldwide problems in a responsible, sustainable and engaging way. Not only do we know the market and the consumers, we have an abundance of skills that we have used to beg, cajole and convince consumers to buy things they may not particularly need.

We’ve built brands stronger than nations.

We have sold razors with an additional blade every year, which no one knew they couldn’t live without until we told them they couldn’t. We have built relationships with every little boy and girl from Copenhagen to Cape Town so powerful they can tell you why brand X is better than brand Y. It’s time that we stand up as professionals and dare to put our talents to good use. After all, we are no better than the messages we put out there to our loved ones, our children, our friends and our fellow global citizens.

Thomas Kolster Goodvertising

In my book Goodvertising I deal with why brands need to change and why we need to turn our backs on traditional, selfish advertising and embrace goodvertising. It’s better for the brand and ultimately for the bottom line. Not to mention the fairly important stakeholders such as our global society and the planet as a whole. In the book I have showcased vanguard brands and agencies that have succeeded in challenging the status quo and standing up for good – and interviewed thought-leaders from businesses, agencies, non-profits and governments that are all offering their best advice on how to move forward responsibly, creatively and profitably.

Shameless Plug – The book is coming out in late September, but is ready for pre-sale:

A Typical Day for a Writer

It’s hard work and it reminds me of a quote my good friend, the director Esben T¸nnesen, shared with me the other day from the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami,

“Writing itself is mental labour, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labour. It doesn’t involve heavy lifting, running fast, or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study. If you have the strength to lift a cup of coffee, they figure, you can write a novel. But once you try your hands at it, you soon find that it isn’t as peaceful a job as it seems. The whole process – sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track – requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine.”

What is a typical day for me? Yes, I’ll grab my bicycle to get to work. Then I’ll spend the first couple of hours answering emails, doing phone calls and Tweeting a bit. If it’s a good day, I’ll have an exciting campaign to work on with a couple of brain storming sessions. I’ll probably do some writing on an article, opinion piece or an interview and then I’ll head home or meet up with some friends. If I can squeeze it in, I’ll go for a run around the harbour of Copenhagen; it’s a relaxing way to end the day. Then in the evening before I go to bed, I’ll do a final email session and hopefully get to read one of the many books lying on my bedside table.

How Long Did it Take to Write?

I reckon about 9 months, but the whole process all in all has taken about 2 years. My only advice to aspiring writers would be: Do it! You won’t regret it.

Sources of Inspiration in Advertising and Digital

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues that share a lot of exciting work, then I often look to Twitter or do my usual round of blogs and ad news. There still aren’t many sources focusing on Goodvertising, so it’s always a bit of a search.

Which Mad Men character are you closest to?

I couldn’t tell to be honest, but this question reminds me of one of my favourite scenes in Mad Men:

Don Draper is invited to his boss’s office and Roger Sterling confronts the novice with his responsibility, There are few people that decide what happens in this world, you’ve been invited to join them.

The same counts for you. With communication as your weapon, you have the power to influence millions of peoples lives, build brands that are stronger than countries and change not only the mindset of people, but their behaviour too. With power comes responsibility. Now it’s up to you to decide how you want to use your influence in this world.

About Thomas Kolster, author & sustainable communications consultant

Thomas is the author of the up-and-coming book Goodvertising (Thames & Hudson) about how advertising can be a force for good. He’s an enthusiastic and awarded advertising creative, with more than 13 years experience and has worked for a diverse range of clients, from McDonalds to Amnesty International. Before founding his own agency, Inkognito, he has worked for three prominent advertising agencies, most recently DDB. Through the years he has won numerous local and international awards. Now he is consulting, giving presentations, writing articles and is a fierce advocate for change. His belief is that the communication industry has a pivotal role to play in promoting a more sustainable mindset, and that by making advertising better we can make the world better. Follow Thomas on Twitter @thomaskolster or his book @dogoodvertising.

Visit thomaskolster

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