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For A Real Revolution, Occupy Madison Avenue

To change how corporations treat the world, change how you treat corporations: Vote with more than just your wallet.

In major cities around the world, people are revolting against big business. Occupy Wall Street grew to be a global phenomena, but has yet to create any real change. But unlike Wall Street, there is one street where everyday people can create a revolution. A revolution that will have a profound impact on the health of the planet and people around the globe. That street is Madison Avenue, the literal and figurative center of the advertising industry.

What’s truly exciting is that this revolution will be about a lot more than just the advertising industry. This revolution will fundamentally change the way that corporations behave and will lead to huge differences in the lives of millions.

Corporations control this planet. Of the world’s 100 largest entities, 51 of them are corporations. Walmart, for example, is economically bigger than Norway. And virtually every major corporation is awakening to the fact that traditional advertising is no longer sufficient for building a world-class brand. Advertising is a $300 billion industry in America alone. More importantly, it is the connection point between consumers and trillions of dollars of commerce. But advertising no longer works as powerfully as it once did. Consumers have gone through a communication revolution, while advertising is almost exactly the same as it was during the Mad Men era. Consumers don’t watch or believe ads the way they once did. Technology gives them the truth in the form of ratings and reviews. So this generation’s Mad Men know that great brands are now built based on great corporate behavior, not on great advertisements.

That’s what will make Occupy Madison Avenue different from other protests. The one commonality in the Occupy Wall Street protests is that on one side, you have individuals speaking up and on the other side you have the corporate suits trying to maintain the status quo. What’s exciting about the possibility of an Occupy Madison Avenue effort is that great corporations are welcoming this revolution with open arms. Protests aren’t needed.

I spent the past year interviewing some of the most influential people in the business world for a documentary called The Naked Brand. What I learned is that Madison Avenue has awoken to the fact that no amount of advertising can get people to buy crappy products from an unethical company. So, the advertising industry is now helping corporations change their behavior. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, but simply because being responsible is the only efficient path to profitability. Thanks to social and mobile technology, power has shifted to consumers.

In the advertising industry, we call it transparency. It means that consumers have the ability to see everything they want about corporate behavior. Transparency has forced corporations to create better products, offer better customer service, have better environmental responsibility, and invest in better corporate culture.

You—as consumers—now have the ability to vote with much more than your dollars. You can participate in the revolution by speaking out on social channels. The advertising industry has the tools to listen. When you post on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, it’s not just friends that are listening. Technology connects your comments to corporate boardrooms. Corporations listen to those comments and use them to drive strategy. We are looking for creative solutions for meeting your needs because we know the same techniques from yesteryear are now antiquated. We know that if we listen first, we can grow great brands.

When consumers demand change, it can result in incredible progress. In many ways, it started when Dara O’Rourke outed Nike for unethical labor practices in a report published in the New York Times in the late '90s. When they were exposed, the company lost billions in value and the corporate world woke up to the power of consumer revolt. Nike subsequently changed its behavior and became one of the top-rated apparel brands for manufacturing ethics.

Now that we are constantly connected through technology, change happens faster. When Jamie Oliver reported in his TV show Food Revolution about the use of "pink slime" meat treated with ammonia, consumers took to social media to speak up, sharing videos and articles with millions of other people. Within weeks, McDonald’s vowed to change its ingredients and remove the pink slime, while the company that makes the ingredient closed three out of four of its plants. Even the beloved Apple felt the threat of bad consumer sentiment, when its labor practices at Foxconn in China became an incendiary topic on social media. Apple is making changes so it doesn’t become this decade’s Nike. They know that no amount of clever advertising can offset a consumer revolt against the brand.

It’s not just about thwarting bad behavior. Great brands are focusing on better behavior to create a competitive advantage. Patagonia invests in healing the environment. Zappos focuses on corporate culture and customer service. Under Armour turns recycled bottles into high-performance apparel. These are all forms of advertising in the modern world of transparency.

The question is, what do you want from corporations? The world is transparent. Let them know. If you want more products manufactured in America, if you want more environmentally responsible behavior, if you want better customer service, if you simply want higher quality products. We are listening. Corporations want to be known for more than a fancy jingle. Tell them what you want. You can occupy Madison Avenue.