How Fiber Can Beat Sex and Happiness

Media and marketing messaging are critical for brands. Maybe they can help the UN’s SDGs, too.

September 13, 2019

1:27 pm

Former Obama White House chef Sam Kass was discussing the unfair appeal that junk food has over healthy food.

“One promises fiber, and the other promises love, sex, and happiness,” he said. “And love, sex, and happiness beats fiber every time.”

Kass, who under President Obama was also the White House Senior Advisor for Nutrition and Executive Director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, was at UN Headquarters in New York, on a panel during an all-day event called the SDG Media Summit. The idea behind the event — held yesterday in the UN’s Trusteeship Council on the cusp of the annual UN Week and Climate Week NYC — is to catalyze journalists, advertising executives, and creative thinkers to help spread the existentially critical message about achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are, of course, the UN’s 2015-approved, 17-Goal blueprint for saving the planet.

“The people in this room need to help us fight that battle,” said Kass, who noted that there was a connection between food and virtually all of the SDGs.

The annual SDG Media Summit is a joint production of the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP) and the Pvblic Foundation, the latter a nonprofit media organization that “harnesses the power of media to drive social change.”

And the proceedings kicked off with a very stark reality check on where we stand on the progress of achieving the SDGs.

“We’re four years in ...,” noted Robert Skinner, Executive Director of the UNOP, “and we’re behind.”

The SDGs are a framework for making significant and substantive change on a variety of issues, from education and health to gender equality and climate action. They are a part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda, an initiative to take dramatic action to make planet-saving improvements. And yet, nearly a third of the way through this 15-year plan, we’ve barely made a dent in the Goals.

“We need to drive a decade of action to deliver the SDGs,” said Skinner, addressing an invite-only chamber of more than 200 media and marketing professionals. “In this room [today], we have the minds and the ideas to get these ideas across. We have to do better.”

After Skinner’s opening remarks, the day unfolded in a series of about a dozen panels, interspersed with emotionally moving video campaigns that were submissions to this year’s Cannes Lions awards. The Cannes Lions are the Oscars of the advertising and marketing world, and 2018 saw the introduction of new SDG categories — one award for each of the 17 SDGs.

“If you’re in a creative media agency, or you’re in the media, you have the power to influence for good,” said Claudia Romo Edelman, Founder of the We Are All Humans Foundation, who was instrumental in getting the Cannes Lions to create the SDG awards categories. “You need to link stories to the bigger picture [globally].”

Some of the moving, award-winning campaigns shown at the summit included Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive, a clothing line for the disabled community that emphasized self-sufficiency; the Do Black credit card, which enforces a monthly carbon-emissions limit on you, the card holder; and a collaborative effort that saw the purchase of one of Poland’s most popular porn magazines, just to shut it down, but sending it off in ironic style: the last-ever issue was a feminist masterpiece, featuring articles on sex education and non-pornographic profiles of some of Poland’s most powerful women.

The panels also unveiled some inspiring case studies, including Safe Ground. Produced by UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) — the UN service responsible for removing landmines from war zones — Safe Ground is a campaign for “Turning Minefields into Playing Fields.” Lee Woodyear, UNMAS Global Communications Officer, noted how UNMAS workers, after de-mining an area, will always play a game of some sort — sometimes cricket, sometimes football — to demonstrate to locals that it was now safe.

Over the course of the seven hours of programming, each incredible story or campaign was followed by an equally incredible one: a campaign called I Am Your Protector, which captures stories about heroic individuals who "speak out or stand up" for those who are vulnerable (a Jewish patrol that protects a London mosque; a Syrian refugee who helps the homeless in his new home of Seattle); UN Department of Global Communications initiatives like the SDG Media Zone, which communicates critical messaging about the Global Goals; a Small Island Developing State initiative called the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway that helps such countries (collectively responsible for less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions) cope with resilience issues tied to the climate crisis.

The summit's program language noted that the conference was “looking to engage executives from advertising, media, marketing, film, journalism, data, technology, and entertainment industries to participate in shaping public opinion and transforming society by using their resources for good.”

In his closing remarks, Pvblic Foundation Chairman Sergio Fernandez de Cordova noted, “The power of creatives is the power to change the world.”

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