I first became aware of social advertising when I was a child and saw the famous Ad “Crying Indian” ad for Keep America Beautiful in the early ‘70’s, as well as the long-running Smokey Bear campaign for forest fire prevention.
The first time I actually worked on a social advertising campaign was while I was still working at a small ad agency in the mid-‘90’s. Our client was the Freedom Forum, a group that educates the public about the importance of First Amendment (to the US Constitution) rights, such as free speech, the ability to petition the government, freedom to assemble, etc.
Our assignment was to create a campaign targeting teenagers, who tended to have very little knowledge about First Amendment rights, and we wanted to challenge them to think about these issues and debate them with their friends and families. Having worked exclusively on commercial product advertising for nearly 10 years, I quickly learned how difficult it is to get a social message just right. There were so many more nuances and tricky issues to work through in the creative as compared to ads for everyday products. I got excited by the intellectual challenge and the potential impact these ads could have.
The best campaign experience I had at the Ad Council was working on the Foster Adoption campaign. Of all the “asks” the Ad Council makes of its audiences, adopting a child was by far the most difficult one we had ever attempted. Until we launched this campaign, typical ads for adopting children focused on the children themselves and how sad and pathetic they were. The ad agency that developed the Ad Council campaign turned all that around and put the focus on the parents, and all their fears and concerns about adopting a child from the foster care system.
The strategy they developed was that you don’t have to be perfect to be a parent (of an adopted child). Because this strategy was new and really tapped into a very human insight, the creative team was able to develop some fantastic, very funny work. You can learn more about the campaign and see the creative at http://www.adcouncil.org/default.aspx?id=17
. The impact was beyond our wildest dreams; tens of thousands of prospective parents responded to the ad and began the process of adopting these kids.
My worst social advertising experience was with the Ad Council’s Breastfeeding campaign, which urged new mothers to breastfeed their child for a full six months. The ad agency working on this campaign was insistent that we needed to use a negative consequence strategy – that if you don’t breastfeed your child s/he will be more likely to become ill with a range of diseases, allergies, etc. While they tried to use humor as well in this campaign, I believe that the creative turned off a lot of new mothers. It also got the attention of the formula companies, “competitors” to the whole idea of breastfeeding. A lot of negative publicity and political will about the campaign ensued and it ended very quickly.
My sense of Russian social advertising so far is that there is real interest in using very graphic, shocking images in order to shake people up. One road safety ad I saw recently to prevent people from speeding showed two cars speeding and then crashing into each other with great impact and reality, while this whole incident was being watched by two young children. I think you have to be very careful using these fear-based messages as you might turn people off from the issue altogether, or cause a viewer to think, “that couldn’t be me – I would never do that!” Personally, I think we do better when we appeal to people’s positive instincts and work to help them see how they could benefit from taking the desired actions and behaviors the ads prescribe.
I look forward to meeting with you all in Moscow at the Social Advertising conference and having more detailed conversations on these and other issues.