Kayli Levitan, creative group head at M&C Saatchi Abel and co-founder of The Street Store, spoke at an ORT JET Business Network Breakfast held in collaboration with Mensch. Kayli shared her approach on the importance of advertising and business in influencing social change.

Take HIV and AIDS, the water crises, depletion of rain forests and drylands, homelessness.  Often issues are so enormous that no single person can solve them. “However, if we rather take chunks out of big problems and work on them, this hugeness becomes less”, states Kayli.

She shared her thinking: Functional change is all about getting something done, the egg that gets boiled. This certainly doesn’t mean that all eggs will now be boiled. Consequential change is about changing behaviour but only for a brief period. Buying the toothpaste brand that’s on sale, but then returning to the old favourite.  Or better still, lets evaluate our response to natural disasters. We respond quickly, generously and with empathy in times of crises (fires, floods, earthquakes etc) but don’t always offer support during the year or look to help with sustainable infrastructural solutions. Our response is short term. It is behaviour based.

Kayli prefers to embrace the psychology of transformational change in  her messaging and with this approach has been successful in creating impactful advertisement campaigns of social value. Says Kayli “I have the opportunity to work on campaigns aimed at changing negative behaviour, negative actions, negative stereotypes and negative perceptions.  If we tackle the issues in bite size chunks they become smaller, manageable, less scary. We need to drive change not through what people do, but through how they think. This is transformational change. It is long term”.

The Haven, a shelter for the homeless, approached M&C Saatchi Abel to explore ways of tackling stereotypes associated with homelessness. The answer wasn’t to solve homelessness, that would be too big and too overwhelming.  Nor was it to raise money to build another shelter, while needed that would be short lived and too functional. The response was to rather address the way people view (or rather don’t view) the homeless. Bridges needed to be built, connections made, people seen.

The concept of The Street Store was born.  The store addresses the challenge of breaking through stereotypes as the ‘haves’ fear the homeless, and the ‘have-nots’ think the ‘haves’ are blind to their plight. It was looking to give homeless people dignity, while at the same time enjoying a great shopping experience . It is the world’s first rent-free, premises-free, free ‘pop-up clothing store’ for the homeless; found entirely on the street and stocked by donations.

Since homelessness is a global issue, The Street Store has gone open-source and is available to anyone. To celebrate the milestone of reaching the 700th Street Store, the agency launched World Street Store Day on 10 December 2017, a day where people from around the globe are encouraged to host a Street Store event at the same time and help create a more-connected future. Stores were held in cities across USA, India, South Africa, Canada, Australia and Mexico. And this all started with a brief to a advertising agency in Cape Town, and the belief of the creative team to change the way you think to change the world