Archive for "Social Action"

Artspiration: Breathtaking Aerial Photography of Namib Desert by Mario Gerth

Creativity, Photography, Social Action, Things That Inspire Us Mar 21, 2017 No Comments

Photographer Mario Gerth Flys Above the Sands to Capture the Beauty of Southern Africa’s Namib Desert

Great photography is always a source of inspiration for our creative team, especially when it comes from someone with such a passion to make a difference in the lives of others. German photographer Mario Gerth is just such an inspiration.

Gerth, who spends much of his time on the African continent, recently traveled to southern Africa to shoot a series of breathtaking, mostly aerial, photos of the Namib Desert. Previewed here, and included in detail on his Flickr Stream, Gerth’s images capture the beauty and elegance of the sometimes harsh natural biosphere that is this coastal desert.

Gerth’s work is quite remarkable, highlighting the intricate beauty of this expansive desert that stretches for more than 1,200 miles along the Atlantic coast through the countries of Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

Mario Gerth is an accomplished photojournalist who has shot on location in more than 65 countries on 5 continents. His passion for capturing the graceful beauty of these locales and highlighting the cultural dignity of its peoples truly makes him one of the good guys.

His images can viewed on his Flickr Stream, licensed from Getty Images, or you can visit his site at Mario Gerth Fotgrafie.

Mario Gerth - Namib Desert
All images by: Mario Gerth Fotografie / Mario Gerth Fotografie




How a Doberman Helps Me Champion the Cause of U.N. Refugees and the Blue Key Campaign

Agency Initiatives, Blue Key Campaign, Cause Marketing, Social Action, Things That Inspire Us Oct 12, 2016 2 Comments

They Say That ‘Dog’ is ‘Man’s’ Best Friend

Like most dogs, mine’s an uber-loyal companion. He’s the best four-legged pal I’ve ever had; and I’ve had many. I jokingly tell my human friends that my dog is treated better than a whole lot of people. And sadly, I’ve realized that’s no joke…

My dog is a 120-pound Doberman Pinscher named Oberon. Some people, mostly other dog owners from the neighborhood, believe he’s named after a character in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I don’t have the nerve to admit that rather than taking my dog-naming cues from literary icons, I’ve instead taken them from a craft beer brewed by Bell’s Brewery in Michigan. Oberon Ale is a really outstanding beer. And Oberon Dog is a really outstanding dog. So, I guess the name fits…

The Charmed Life of an American Doberman in Chicago

Oberon came into our lives when he was only 12 weeks old. A quick six years later, I’m told he’s now considered a “senior” for his breed — something I find hard to accept, since he suffers from a chronic case of arrested development. Standing 28” tall at the withers, he’s still more puppy than old man. And that’s how I’d like to keep it…for a while anyway.

Oberon leads a very charmed life. In the summer when I’m hard at work, Oberon hangs out on the balcony of our 38th floor condo located in what some may consider a “fancy” high rise on Chicago’s lakefront. He despises the constant buzz from the engines of small planes dragging advertising banners that encourage beachgoers to buy coconut rum or find love online. And, he shares his displeasure for these intrusions every chance he gets. Something my neighbors really appreciate…

Oberon eats some of the healthiest dog food money can buy. He drinks only filtered water, mainly because that’s how it comes out of the dispenser on the refrigerator door. And, he’s got a whole hoard of organic treats and indestructible toys stashed away in his own oversized ‘goodie’ chest – or what we call the hall closet.

He enjoys being chauffeured around in our late model, gas-guzzling SUV and often drools down the passenger door or sneezes as the wind blows up his nostrils. And when he’s not strapped in for a cruise to the local Forest Preserve, he can be found stretched out in a comfy king-sized bed, head firmly planted on pillow.

When I think about it, it’s all kind of ridiculous, actually.

A Lifetime of Meals, Balls and Scalpels

Over the years, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on food, healthcare, toys and various dog-related accessories, even one that lets me to sling a tennis ball farther than I normally could otherwise. As a puppy, he had a habit of eating things that he shouldn’t, mainly because I’d left them laying around the house rather than putting them away where they belong. As a result, I’ve paid too many surgeons too much money to remove items from places they were never meant to go.

Yes, Oberon really has it great. But, like many of us, I don’t think he’s aware of it.

Blissful Ignorance with Eyes Wide Shut

Most Americans take a whole lot of things for granted; especially those of us lucky enough to have jobs that afford us a relatively comfortable lifestyle. And like most Americans, my American dog is oblivious to how his life could be so different in so many ways.

If you pay even the slightest bit of attention to the news, you’ll notice that things are pretty awful in a lot of places around the world. There’s an ever-increasing number of people who aren’t remotely fortunate enough to live a life approaching that of my privileged American dog.

It’s probably fair to say that some might be envious of Oberon if only they knew how he lived. They may even be downright angry. I know I would be if I hadn’t been living right there in blissful ignorance with him…

Refugees and the Blue Key Campaign
Image by: homeros /

Our Global Village is Crying Out for Help

When she was still only a first lady, Hilary Clinton explained that “it takes a village” to raise a child and elevate a civilization to the level you want it to reach. I didn’t fully comprehended how prescient she was when she first turned this phrase into a bestseller. But now, my eyes have opened wider and the picture I’m seeing of our village isn’t very pretty.

As I type this post in the air-conditioned office of my home, my privileged dog is sleeping soundly — belly full of food — on our comfortable sofa. At this same time, there are 43,700,000 people from our global village who’ve been forcibly displaced from their own homes due to war, political unrest, threats of personal violence and ongoing persecution for such basic concepts as their opinions, lifestyles or religious beliefs.

43,700.000 people who can’t eat fancy organic food, don’t drink filtered water, and have no option to sleep in comfortable beds or complain about the roar of single-engine planes disturbing their lazy sun-bathing. 43,700.000. That’s a VERY big number. One that should make us all open our eyes to the reality of suffering and brutality taking place in our village, and one that very seldom makes it to our television screens.

Champion For a Cause

Over the years, I’ve gone to great lengths to take care of Oberon. And it goes without saying that there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. But unlike Oberon, the world’s refugees haven’t had me around for the last six years to help them out. That all changed recently when I decided to take Shonali Burke (@shonali) up on her offer to join the Blue Key Campaign as, what she calls, a “Blue Key Champion” – folks who are active online and want to help change the lives of some very needy people.

I first became aware of The Blue Key Campaign after noticing little images of blue keys popping up on Twitter as people began modifying their profile photos in support. Then there was the first Blue Key Tweet-a-thon that I watched on my computer screen one night. It was this Tweet-a-thon that woke me up from my own life of blissful ignorance.

The Blue Key Campaign

If you’re not familiar, The Blue Key Campaign is an initiative of the USA for UNHCR, to generate donations for UNHCR, teh UN Refugee Agency. The UNHCR has more than 6,000 staffers and volunteers working in 140 countries around the world to provide protection, shelter, emergency food, water, medical care and other life-saving assistance to millions of refugees.

I now find myself one of UNHCR’s Champions for the Blue Key cause, assisting Shonali and a host of important people from the business and humanitarian world who, I believe, have way more chops than me and whose skills and online networks are far more impressive than mine.

I wonder if I’m not a little over my head here, as I’m not sure how much of a Champion I’ll be. To be honest, I’m not really sure what I can do to help so many people who need so much. But, my guess is that if I can offer one petulant Doberman a better life than many people can ever imagine, I should be able to do something for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

A Life of Nothing is No Life at All

It’s not my intention to diminish the severe plight of refugees by comparing them to a spoiled American dog. But by introducing you to Oberon and to his privileged lifestyle, I hope to open your eyes to the many things that each of us take for granted every day.

Refugees receiving aid from UNHCR have lost everything. It’s not a stretch to suggest that, without help, they won’t have a chance at a life remotely approaching the level of comfort that we often provide our own pets. And I think that’s just plain wrong. I’m with Hilary. The way we as a civilization continue to treat the rest of our global village must change. And I’ve decided it’s way past time that I start doing something about it myself.

Refugees and the Blue Key Campaign
Image by: homeros /

43,700,000 Reasons to Help. Or, Lattes, Leftovers and Little Blue Keys

You can help me help the world’s 43,700,000 refugees right now. And you don’t even need to become a Blue Key Champion. However if you’d like to throw your hat in the ring, I’m sure UNHCR wouldn’t mind. But if you do nothing else, please visit The Blue Key Campaign website and open your eyes to what’s happening in our world. For just $5, you’ll get your own Blue Key and will become part of a growing community of Americans committed to opening the door to a safe and secure village for millions.

There’s a Blue Key With Your Name On It\

In the weeks to come, I plan to keep you updated on my efforts to live up to my new title. And in order to do it right, I need you to help me. If you’d like to support my efforts to change the lives of so many people who have so little through no fault of their own, please think about simply agreeing to do without just once a week. Do without your morning latte today. Take leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Carpool to work another day. And, put those few dollars you otherwise would’ve spent towards The Blue Key Campaign. Doing without and giving will not only open your eyes to the many things you take for granted, but also help open the door to a new life for some very needy person whose life will forever be changed by your choices.

Please get your own Blue Key now. Even Oberon has one. And he’s likely to have a few more by the time we’re through, as I’ve decided he’s going to be doing a little “doing without” himself. Unless he’s smarter than I think, it’s my guess he won’t even notice. But I guarantee you some very deserving person somewhere in the world will as a result.

Adspiration: MyShelter Foundation’s “Isang Litrong Liwanag” (A Liter of Light)

Advertising, Cause Marketing, Social Action, Things That Inspire Us Sep 16, 2016 No Comments

MyShelter Foundation is Bringing Light to Filipino Families

Isang Litrong Liwanag is a campaign dedicated to providing sustainable lighting to dispriviledged communities throughout the Phillipines. “Isang Litrong Liwanag” is Tagalog for “A Liter of Light,” and is the subject of cause-related ad spot from the MyShelter Foundation that is using inventive recycled soda bottles as a cost-free light source for thousands of Filipino families living in darkness.

Designed and developed by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Solar Bottle Bulb featured in the spot delivers solar powered light to once-darkened homes. The unique lighting source is based on a concept that provides simple and easily replicable technologies to address the basic needs people in developing communities.

The MyShelter Foundation was established by Illac Diaz in order to create a system of sustainability and reliability through capability-building and employment-generating projects.

You can support the efforts of the Liter of Light campaign here, and you can follow Illac Diaz on Twitter @illacdiaz. His work is truly inspirational.

How Twitter and Tats Will Change the World

Advertising, Creativity, Social Action Aug 12, 2016 No Comments

What’s up with this trend toward “Twactivism?”

Can the many catastrophes (both natural and man-made) currently sweeping across the globe really be influenced, or even fixed, by Twitter? Admittedly, Twitter’s shown an innate ability to be a powerful tool for organizing social change. Refer to this week’s London riots (for better or worse), the ongoing uprisings in too many Arab countries to mention, and during anti-government demonstrations by Moldovan citizens back in 2009.

Tweets and Tats for Change

But can tweeting while tatting really change the world? The Social Tattoo Project hopes so. The Project is yet another organization currently involved in attempting to spread awareness about the ails of society via Twitter. The group is encouraging us to “care” about world headlines long after they disappear from our RSS feed. Probably a valiant cause, either way you look at it.

Of Ink and Trending Topics

Tattooed love boys, or merely pretenders? We have yet to see. Social Tattoo Project volunteers are encouraged to ink themselves with eternal art representing a current trending world view. For each tattoo, the group pledges to post 4 trending topics on Twitter; and the most tweeted trend will be the subject of the tattoo. Other Tweeters vote by including #SOCIALTATTOO and their favorite trend to @social_tattoo in an effort to ensure these activistic tats will “make what the world empathizes with today, what you care about forever.”

We like Twitter. And we like Tats. And if together the two can change the world, we’re in.

If not, the broadcast spot isn’t half bad either. At least there’s ink and some skin.

How to Censor Your Social Media and Still Thrive at Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Online Marketing, Social Action, Social Media Aug 15, 2015 No Comments

Twitter, Facebook and Social Change

Recently we’ve shared some posts focused on how inventive marketers are using social media channels as a method to effect social change and generate awareness for cause-related efforts. Examples of these uses of Twitter and Facebook are numerous, read CreativeBurn posts How Twitter and Tats Will Change the World and Nikki Reed and MTV Want You to “Give-A-___” (some people don’t like us using the “S” word…).

But with the ongoing UK riots continuing, the discussion of how to control social media channels during times of civil unrest has once again been raised again; this time in Parliament. Which causes us to ponder the results of censorship activities in our social communities.

To Blackout Twitter or Not to Blackout?

English Prime Minister David Cameron recently raised the generally uncomfortable specter of censorship when he suggested that social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and mobile messaging systems could be faced with restrictions or blackouts during times of civil unrest when it has been determined that demonstrators were using such channels to communicate and organize. A few weeks ago, here in Chicago, it was reported that mobs of teenagers were allegedly using Twitter and other instant messaging apps to organize and coordinate en masse attacks on random citizens at high-visibility, high-traffic locations like the Michigan Avenue shipping district and the Chicago lakefront, the latter causing police to forcible close several Chicago beaches.

Social Commentary vs. the Common Good

The topic of censorship is that forever-cliched “slippery slope” to most in Western society where any talk of restricting individual rights is generally met with opposition. But where do we draw the line between the use of social media channels and potential censorship of our online communities? Is there a place where the so-called “common good” takes precedence over the passions of change seekers? Do we want to nurture communities while restricting the free exchange of negative ideas?

Is it Time to Censor Social Media?

While it’s not our intention to discuss politics, this idea of online community censorship is something worth talking about. As creative brand chaperones, social media gurus and community managers, our agency is keenly aware of the issues surrounding word-of-mouth marketing. And as such, we think it’s necessary to address the topic of censoring social media channels, while defining what this means when it comes to subjects of law, the general order of things, our society and our online communities.

Community Management is Not for the Weak of Heart

The concept of moderating communities isn’t a new one to anyone interacting with customers via either open social media channels or private online consumer communities. The potential for consumers to openly post unrestricted, unmoderated, unobstructed feedback strikes fear in even the most capable community manager. Grey Matter has worked on many social initiatives directly for our own clients as well as those of our strategic partners. And the decision whether or not to moderate — generally considered a “politically-correct” term for censorship — comes up often.

The threat of having potentially negative feedback posted by community members for all the world to see, is often a tough pill to swallow for those unfamiliar with social media. When discussing topics of negative feedback, we’ve seen the color drain from the faces of jittery clients and trained marketing professionals alike. Our professional counsel has always been to focus on the primary goal of the community. What is the true intent of your social media marketing initiatives? This should always be to champion open, honest and genuine interaction with members wherever you find them.

Censorship is Never Good Practice, Much Less Best Practice

There’s nothing that sinks the heart of a brand manager more quickly than reading a scathing review on Yelp or a brand-killing report of a customer service experience gone wrong on Google Places. No matter the situation you find yourself in, the most successful approach is to tackle the negativity head-on, in an open forum and resolve the issue to the best of your ability. As a general rule, we never encourage the censoring of member posts.

Negative reviews, less-than-positive commentary or other potentially damaging feedback should be viewed as an opportunity to change opinions about your brand. When members see you’re involved, that you engage unflattering issues directly and are actually working on real solutions, your respect level increases exponentially.

Negativity will happen. But never ever ignore this feedback or remove these posts, even if you have the ability to do so. There’s nothing worse than having an unflattering post languish unanswered; this is your opportunity to effect your own version of change. Even worse than that is having members read a negative post one day, then have it been silently “disappeared” the next. Don’t run your communities like a banana republic dictator. Such activities will kill your efforts faster than ice melting on pavement in Tucson in July.

Establish Rules of Engagement

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. Some include your taking action on personal attacks aimed at community members, or the use of highly inappropriate language, or the posting of patently objectionable or illegal material. A good rule of thumb in these instances is to ensure you handle these situations appropriately, while adequately explaining your actions to remove offensive materials or squash personal attacks. The more open you are with your members, and the more honesty you share, the more they will ultimately respect you.

Best practice to effectively manage a private community is to develop and post rules governing acceptable behavior. And outline the results or penalties for breaking the rules. Most people welcome these guidelines, and will likely help you police inappropriate activity. Everyone wants a safe, drama-free environment in which gather. It’s your role as community manager to give them the tools to do so.

If the Goal for Your Community is to Fail, then Go Ahead and Censor Member Feedback. You Won’t be Around to Have the Problem for Very Long

Long story short. For any brand seeking committed open, honest and genuine communication, negative feedback should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a deal breaker. While negative comments will happen, this is your chance to resolve any issues. Your community will see that you’re as invested in them as they are in you. Embrace the unflattering. And never ever ever ever censor your members.

So, to answer the question: How can you censor your social media channels and thrive at your word of mouth marketing efforts? You can’t. And you won’t. Choosing this plan will seal your fate, sooner than you ever expected.