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Special Project

Special Project
From the 4th Annual Shorty Social Good Awards

Nothing Changes If We Don't

Entered in On a Shoestring


Most of us in the ad industry don’t believe we are racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted, or ageist. But there are times when our intent and our actions are misaligned. Because ad agencies often lead pop culture, OBERLAND launched “Nothing Changes If We Don't” as part of the agency's year-long effort to address the unconscious bias that we have witnessed- pulling from seen and heard experiences in the industry. In a series of internal and external initiatives, including a powerful short video series, OBERLAND rallied the ad industry to take an honest look at their assumptions and actions, then laid out a framework about how agencies can address them. Using OBERLAND's prowess (and in-house production team), the agency used it's voice, network, and reach to create a movement, all with less than 100 dollars in paid social.

By highlighting racism, sexism, tokenism, homophobia, and ageism, “Nothing Changes If We Don't” is a campaign that led an industry movement, by inviting other agencies to share stories, co-create content, and provide advice and perspective, which increased to reach exponentially. Changing the ways agencies operate and hire is the big, audacious goal, but OBERLAND is leading the charge.

Strategy and Execution

When OBERLAND became a B-Corp and a Public Benefit Corporation, the agency wanted to make an impact outside of its walls. To shine a light on the systematic problematic behavior that wouldn't alienate agency owners the campaign aims to engage, OBERLAND added an "ish" to monikers that illustrate bias. When people are called out as racist, they tend to recoil and immediately push back. "Racist-ish," "sexist-ish," and "ageist-ish" soften the messages and get people to double-check their beliefs.

The ad industry is inherently biased. Curating negative experiences faced by people in the industry revealed a host of scenarios that made compelling storylines. Sometimes discriminatory behavior is abundantly clear. Other times, slights are less noticeable. Real-life stories were the genesis for online videos. The vignettes end with calls-to-action from diverse industry influencers like Cindy Gallop, Keni Thacker, Rosemarie Ryan, Carol Watson, Patrick O'Neill, Caroline Winterton, Jim Joseph, and Shelley Zalis. Since the ad industry drives pop culture, creates trends, and changes minds, it's on us to course correct to better use our tremendous collective power to shape values, opinions, and actions. Shining a light on often-overlooked discriminatory issues and securing industry support from 40+ agency owners is fanning the movement's flames. So are targeted press hits and headlines.

An idea that started to percolate in August of 2018 went into overdrive from concept to completion in two short months. Ordinary agency situations, from new business pitches, casting sessions, creative reviews, and career conversations serve as the backdrop for “Nothing Changes If We Don't” vignettes. Holding a critical mirror up to agency owners, including those at OBERLAND, ensures agency leaders get a clear view on biases that exist within their walls. OBERLAND created OBERVIEW to produce “Nothing Changes “ videos in-house to control costs. It also secured space to shoot at no charge from Project Worldwide and Huge. The backing of industry powerhouses at the end of videos from agencies including Wunderman Thompson, Barton F. Graf, and Co: increased reach and scale. All videos were shared on OBERLAND's Medium and YouTube channels, and social-media efforts boosted engagement. Leaning on our partners and message, we were able to create a groundswell of support on practically no paid media.

To address a problem, one needs to look at yourself first- which is precisely what OBERLAND did. The agency invested in a compensation study, environmental analysis, diversity and inclusion training, mental health and harassment training and a comprehensive HR policy audit, in public, to guide other small-agency owners through the process. The goal of "Nothing Changes If We Don't" is to create change that is easily replicable around the industry.


"Nothing Changes If We Don't," with less than $100 in paid media, has not just moved OBERLAND forward, but been a rallying cry for the entire industry.  The business impact is rooted in behavior change. The currency of boosting social justice is, indeed, priceless. Millions of impressions were garnered from press hits in Ad Age, Muse by Clio, and MediaPost. The #nothingchangesifwedont hashtag harnessed industry conversations around “Nothing Changes “ and boosted reach and impressions. With support from ad agencies like Publicis, FCB, Ogilvy, and Barton F. Graf, along with original videos created by Dinoto and Story Machine, industry leaders are backing the initiative.

With this momentum, "Nothing Changes If We Don't" has resulted in major speaking engagements for OBERLAND’ s founders to discuss the movement. Most prominently, Bill Oberlander was chosen for a daily speaking spot at Cannes Lions. As one of the headliners of the Cannes Can: Diversity Collective- Inkwell Beach, Bill hosted "The Daily-Ism" where, each day of the festival, he hosted five industry leaders, Cindy Gallop, David Sable, Bob Greenberg, and Singleton Beato, among others,  discussing bias in the ad industry with a C-suite audience, amplifying the impactful voices to the "Nothing Changes" choir. Speaking engagements also included key presentation roles at the Ad Age Small Agency of the Year conference and the Cause Marketing Summit.

"Nothing Changes If We Don't" has been instrumental in the OBERLAND's 2019 growth and was a key reason for the agency's selection as Ad Age's 2019 A-List "Agency to Watch.”


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