Sunday, May 3, 2009

Unprepared for the tinfoil hat brigade

Today is the first day of Emergency Preparedness Week across Canada. I'm a bit of a boy scout about these kinds of things already, but this year I'm paying particular attention because I worked on the Government of Canada's 72 Hour Emergency Preparedness campaign.

You can watch the TV ad here: Link.

I'd like to embed a YouTube link, but we can't post the ad there due to talent rights. I did, however, search to see if anyone had bootlegged it. And that's what I was truly unprepared for.

Here's one, for example. A lower quality copy, but otherwise unaltered. However, it was the context imposed by the poster that really threw me off:

"Ask yourself - why would the canadian government be putting out this commericial - not to mention at the end where there is a big bang outside - say like a nuclear device??? (I realize that its thunder, but its the idea) And everyone turns as if - oh -sh*t - it happened...

God help us..."

I was informed, while working on this campaign, that no matter what the government tries to do to help people prepare for emergencies, someone will always react with "OMG!!! What are they not telling us?!?!" But I was still amazed when another YouTube search brought up this gem of paranoia:

"Canada has recently started a new advertising campaign to ensure that Canadians are prepared for an emergency. They call it the 72 hr response. This is a very heavy campaign and considering we the public aren't expecting anything ... what is it that the government is preparing for?
This coincides with a threat on Fox television from their media that "maybe the US should invade Canada" ..."

Easy on the foil there! Our ad was also noticed in the States by something called the "National Terror Alert Response Center" which is a little over-the-top, but at least they got the message.

I guess there's no escaping misinterpretation when the government advertises, but as someone who actually creates and writes government ads, I can tell you that there is absolutely no ominous backstory or subtext to this spot.

(That's me bothering the director, Yan Lanouette-Turgeon, while he was having a snack.)

Like every other government social marketing campaign, this one was developed based on research into how aware Canadians were about their role in emergency planning. The emergencies they want to prepare people for are mostly natural disasters, which are common in Canada and quite diverse.

It was precisely because of this diversity that we chose a power outage caused by a storm as our "symbolic" disaster. Thunder and lightning are easy to portray in a 30-second video, and everyone can relate to the situation, no matter where they live. (As opposed to floods, forest fires, earthquakes and other events that are more regional.) The creative team at Acart developed several different scenarios to use as ad concepts, but we kept coming back to the stormy blackout as the easiest to comprehend. These concepts were focus tested, and the one you saw is the one everybody understood and liked.

It's interesting to see how a viewer can analyze the details of the commercial. We really do put a lot of work into production, and no word, action, prop or set is there by accident. However, most of the effort we put into the details is about ensuring that the emergency kit contents were accurate (but generic), that the house and story were average enough for anyone to identify with, and that the production quality was high enough for people to suspend their disbelief and get absorbed in this family's story for 30 seconds between hamburger and car commercials.

Government advertising is many things, but it is never purposely cryptic. (That's just the accidental outcome, sometimes, when too many people are involved in approvals!) The 72 Hours spot was one of the most straightforward public information campaigns I've done for the government, and it was for that reason that we were able to produce a nice, professional TV spot. There's just no need to look any deeper for motivation than that you should be able to look after yourself for the three days or so it can take first responders to set up emergency services in any disaster.

1 comment:

  1. But Tom, if you carefully analyze the hours at the bottom of the screen, and what numbers they stop at. Add them all together, divide them by the number of territories, substract the number of provinces, add the number of children Stephen Harper has, you get 20. 20 is simple enough, but wait... 9 + 11 = 20 -> 9/11!!!