Friday, February 26, 2010

Should fashion models come with warning labels?

(Image taken from a PhotoShop contest on

First it was the American Academy of Pediatrics calling for a redesign of the hot dog . Now Britain's Royal College of Psychiatrists is demanding truth in advertising. Is nothing sacred?
“There is a growing body of research that shows the media plays a part in the development of eating disorder symptoms – particularly in adolescents and young people," says Consultant psychiatrist Dr Adrienne Key, of the RCPsych Eating Disorders Section. "Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are serious mental illnesses. Although biological and genetic factors play an important role in the development of these disorders, psychological and social factors are also significant. That’s why we are calling on the media to take greater responsibility for the messages it sends out.”

What they suggest is a forum "to collaboratively develop an ethical editorial code that realistically addresses the damaging portrayal of eating disorders, raises awareness of unrealistic visual imagery created through airbrushing and digital enhancement, and also addresses [sic] the skewed and erroneous content of magazines.”

This is part of an ongoing battle with the fashion industry in particular, who can easily be accused of glamourizing unnatural or even unhealthy thinness. Back in October I blogged about a Ralph Lauren ad that was making the rounds, showing a model with an impossibly small waist. So embarrassing was the backlash against the House of Lauren that their lawyers tried to remove the image entirely from the internet, even sending a legal notice to bloggers (bigger ones than me, obviously) who posted it. (Oh yeah, and they fired the model for being too fat as well.)

One of those blog sites, Boing Boing, not only disregarded the notice (fair use, after all) — they used their reach to dig up the dirt on the ad. People thought at first thought it might be a prank, but Ralph Lauren finally came clean:
"For over 42 years we have built a brand based on quality and integrity. After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately."

There are signs of contrition all over the industry, as popular demand for healthier models has led to beanpole beauty bans at fashion shows in places like Madrid, Milan and Montreal. The Times of London even declared the beginning of a "body revolution" in fashion.

I don't buy it. Fashion advertising will always be aspirational. The curves of the ideal body shape may ebb and flow over time, but it will always be just that: an ideal.

We like to think things are getting worse over time, but I think the difference is a technological, rather than a sociological one.

In the mid 20th century, advertising often used illustration to show the ideal — whether it was food, cars or fashion. That's because photography and printing technology of the time couldn't always capture the aspiration that the advertisers were trying to sell. But first airbrushing, then PhotoShop, gradually allowed art directors to get a photographic image "just so".

The thing is, so much work goes into retouching an ad photo of anything that it should no longer be considered a photograph. It is really a digital illustration. Those of us in the industry know this, but consumers apparently don't.

The Girl Scouts surveyed more than a thousand American girls ages 13 to 17, and found:
"A substantial majority of those surveyed say they would prefer that the fashion industry project more 'real' images. Eighty-one percent of teen girls say they would prefer to see natural photos of models rather than digitally altered and enhanced images. Seventy-five percent say they would be more likely to buy clothes they see on real-size models than on women who are super skinny."

So what can we do?

The BBC says:
"According to some in the advertising world, that would mean putting a kite mark [disclaimer] on every poster. Better perhaps for a kite mark to be applied to those ads that have not been digitally enhanced or airbrushed. After all, isn't advertising all about selling dreams? Is it not part of the human condition to aspire? It's no coincidence that several notable movie directors have come from working in advertising. Both jobs involve fictions and expertise in story-telling."

And I agree. Advertising is fantasy. You wouldn't want to see a model's blemishes and love handles any more than you would want to see what a real Big Mac looks like on TV. If you don't believe me, think of the last time you untagged an unflattering photo of yourself in Facebook. Reality never looks quite right once it's captured by any medium. My profile picture on Acart's corporate site is on a digital diet. Even the Dove "Real Beauty" campaign was heavily touched up. But just as fictional movies, TV shows and video games are taken more seriously by the young and impressionable, so is the imaginary world of advertising images.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a matter for education — at home and at school — to "foolproof" kids against the trickery of ALL media. Even the pranksters who made the model below look skeletal to prove that runway models are too waif-er thin:

Here's my warning label: Kids, don't believe everything you see in the media.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

PETA's least sexy celebrity ad

I tend to give PETA a hard time about callously exploiting people and unfortunate events in their ads, but I'll make a slight exception for this one making the rounds of the media:

It may never see the light of day, though. The Orlando Sentinel quotes PETA campaigner Virginia Fort acknowledging that it will be a challenge to get this creative featured on billboards in Tiger's home turf.

And as usual PETA is unapologetic about its Machiavellian approach to social marketing, cynically hijacking sex, celebrity and tragedy to promote its own agenda. "The world has been transfixed on Tiger's life after Thanksgiving," Fort says "We're putting the focus where it needs to be."

But she adds, disingenuously: "We're sure Tiger will appreciate our attempt — from a story that's distracted the world and followed Tiger — to turn it into something positive for little tigers."

Yeah, sure. But at least this one's no worse than what you hear in a late night talk show monologue.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Montreal style social marketing

In Montreal today for some soundtrack work on a TV spot, I was stopped by one of the few posters on St. Catherine Street that was actually safe for work:

The glare and the snow flurries you see are exactly how I saw it, too. And so at first I didn't notice anything unusual about it. But this being Montreal, I knew there had to be more to it. So I stopped and looked:

In case it's still hard to see, the phone cord is wrapped around his shoulder in the shape of a comforting hand. Okay, so you don't see many of those phones anymore, and it could come off a little creepy. But at least it's clever.

The big question is, are ads like this too clever? I stopped and looked because I'm an adman, and Montreal is French Canada's own Madison Avenue. I like to see what's up around town.

Clever visuals have been the bread and butter of Montreal (and Quebec) ads for some time now. The people I know from Quebec seem to enjoy decoding them. But then again, most of the Quebeckers I know are involved in my industry in one way or another.

Part of me wonders if this is an effective approach for reaching the severely depressed. Will they see it? Will they act on it? Someone needs to tell me, because I'm not from here. And I occasionally suspect that the competitiveness of the local industry might be outpacing the ability of the target markets to comprehend the messages.

I hope I'm wrong, though. Because it's kind of a neat ad. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

PSAs we really need: School Bus Passing

I can't find it anywhere on line, but the vintage road safety PSA is burned into my Gen-X brain. The beginning is a little fuzzy, but it shows school kids (my age, at the time) getting off a school bus with its stop sign out and its lights flashing. A car ignores the signals — and the legal requirement to stop — and the spot ends with an echoing scream and a freeze frame on one of the little girls, books in hand, looking in horror as she's about to be killed.

Old-school shock advertising, But let me tell you, when I was getting my Driver's Licence a decade later, I sure as Hell knew you don't pass a school bus with its lights flashing on a two-lane street.

And yet, in the past month, I have personally witnessed four separate examples of cars zipping past stopped school busses with all their signals out. The bus driver honked, but they didn't even slow down. Whether they were younger drivers or moved here from elsewhere, I don't think they saw the spot.

They should. It's amazing how some of the rules of the road that we take for granted seem to be off the radar for many drivers. Every day, I see examples of drivers running red lights and stop signs at intersections, cutting off pedestrian crosswalks, and failing to pull over when an emergency vehicle is trying to get through, sirens wailing. (Yeah, I live and work downtown.)

I could wax all moralistic about the selfishness of our current urban society, but I think social marketing has a role to play here. We need to keep these basic road safety messages out there, and we need to find creative ways of hammering them home.

Take something as simple as seat belts. People in Europe are slow to buckle up. But the Embrace Life campaign that has been burning up the viral world (I keep receiving it from friends and colleagues, even though in some cases I'm the one who originally shared it with them!) is putting the issue on the radar worldwide. (If you want more background on the campaign, Marc from the global social marketing blog Osocio sent me a collaborative interview they conducted with the client, published on Facebook.)

The era of '70s Drivers' Ed shock films may be over, but the need for strong messages on basic road safety is as great as ever. If anyone in the private, public or NGO sectors is interested in trying to develop a partnership for a new campaign on school bus safety, send me a live at results[at sign], and write "attn. Tom" in the header.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Inhale fail

Having seen a similar creepy effect in the movie 1984, I really wanted to like this ad more, and I did — until the end.

Created by DDB Toronto for the Canadian Cancer Society, it appears to have everything going for it. I at first assumed it was part of the tough, street-level campaign I blogged about last fall. And I also assumed that the ad was going to try to persuade young adult female smokers to quit before their habit robbed them of their looks.

A sexist approach? Certainly. But one that might actually have a shot with the young.

After all, smoking really does age you prematurely. It's as bad as too much tanning. And it's scientific fact.

According to a 10-year-old Japanese study quoted on BBC, it was found that the compounds in cigarette smoke increases the enzymes responsible for breaking down healthy skin tissue, while reducing collagen production by up to 40%. The result? Early onset of wrinkly, leathery skin.

This process affects men as well as women, but this is where a very ancient double standard kicks in. Humphrey Bogart's signature smoking killed him tragically young, but by male standards he still had "rugged good looks" into his 50s. Men are allowed to age gracefully, it seems, and a little weather on the bark might actually improve one's looks.

Women get a raw deal on this one. Female beauty, evolutionarily tied to a shorter period of fertility, is all about youthfulness. Look — I didn't make up these "rules", but they are a pretty standard observation across human cultures.

Of course, our modern culture has taken the quest for youthfulness to expensive and even dangerous extremes, with surgical interventions and a loosely regulated beauty industry pitching all varieties of snake oils.

Cancer is truly the worst-case scenario for smoking, and it's obvious why the Canadian Cancer Society would choose reduced lifespan as a consequence. But this concept, on its own, could have been a great wake-up call to all those women in their 20s who are still smoking (so to speak). Even if it might be perceived by some as politically incorrect, it speaks to instinct. And instinct is more powerful than making people do math.

Long-term, you're gambling with your life. But the smart money is on the fact that you won't even leave a beautiful corpse.

Friday, February 19, 2010

So long, Sal

He's one Mad Man who won't make a comeback. According to New York Magazine, Bryan Batt — the actor behind Sterling Cooper's suave former Art Director, Salvatore Romano — has not been asked to sign on for Season Four of Mad Men.

For those who don't watch the show (you fools!), Sal was a closeted gay Art Director struggling with self-hatred over his own sexuality. He was unhappily married to a woman, and constantly made awkward heterosex-talk with the boys at the agency, even while turning down a romantic opportunity with an interested peer, harbouring a secret crush on a colleague, and eventually cheating with a bellboy on a business trip.

This last assignation was accidentally spotted by Sal's boss, Creative Director Don Draper, who kept the knowledge to himself. But when an abusive (and also closeted) big tobacco client gets turned down by Sal in a dark corner on an ad shoot, the client insists Sal be fired. Sal went to Don for support, and was summarily dismissed with a sneering reference to "you people".

TV Guide has this explanation from the TV show's creator, Matthew Weiner:

“We don’t murder people on our show, but for there to be any stakes, there have to be consequences. [losing Bryan's character] was a tough moment for the show, but that’s where we are. I know how people felt about Bryan. I obviously love working with him, and he has been an indelible character since the pilot. But I felt it was an expression of the times that he couldn’t work there anymore. It’s the ultimate case of sexual harassment.”

An expression of the times — New York City in the early '60s. Sexism, racism, and greed abound.

But how far have we really come?

Sure, violent gay-bashing and discrimination in the workplace are now illegal (but not unknown). However, open discrimination — of the kind that would not be tolerated if it were talking about "race" — continues. Just this week I saw a Houston Chronicle editorial by Unitarian Reverend Dr. Matt Tittle, describing the seminars held for law students at the fundamentalist Liberty University as "dehumanizing homosexuals":

"On Friday, they held a conference titled, 'Understanding Same-sex Attractions and Their Consequences.' The keynote speaker was Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, an organization whose stated goal is 'to effectively communicate the message of freedom from homosexuality.'

'On Saturday, they held a symposium titled, 'Homosexual Rights and First Amendment Freedoms: Can They Truly Coexist?' The titles of individual panels at the symposium were:

'Homosexuals or Homo Sapiens: Who Deserves Protected Class Status?'

'Hate Speech and Free Speech: Will the Advancement of Homosexual Rights Silence Others?'

'Hire Them and Don't Fire Them: How Homosexual Rights and Privileges Have Eroded Employers' Rights and Destroyed Religious Freedom.'"

The Reverend thinks Liberty's law school should lose its American Bar Association accreditation over this. But we all know that systematic discrimination against gay people continues in the majority of States where same-sex marriage remains illegal. And even here in Canada, the "anti-gay-marriage" lobby is pretty damn strong.

Personally, I don't get it. From my point of view, being anti same-sex marriage today is like being "anti-miscegenation" back in the 1950s. If the government wants a hand in the legal contract that is marriage, then it should be available to two men or two women as much as it is to a man and a woman. Why not? Who cares?

I admit that Pride Parades often make me cringe, though, because of all the silliness. Part of me just wishes that this issue would be resolved as an obvious human rights one, so I can go back to not thinking about it. I'm sure many people feel the same. But as my Mom, a Presbytery head in the United Church of Canada (and "breeder") reminds me: It's our duty as members of a majority to speak up and stand up for the rights of the minority.

So here I am, luring you in with a cool pop culture reference and hitting you up with the gay agenda. But I also have to be honest with you. While I've cast plenty of families with parents of mixed ethnicities in my ads, I have yet to show a family with two mommies or two daddies without any obvious advocacy in mind. You know, as if it "ain't no thang". I'm seriously starting to wonder when we'll get there.

The last time we saw Sal, he was cruising Central Park at night.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A new, and scary, kind of online PSA

If you haven't been to Please Rob Me yet, you should do so now. Not because you are in any imminent danger, but because it's an interesting new development in public service announcements.

Created by Dutch designers and developers Barry Borsboom, Frank Groeneveld, and Boy van Amstel, Please Rob Me is just a template for displaying a specific type of Twitter search, one that amalgamates Tweets from voluntarily location-aware applications like Foursquare, and uses the context to tell everyone that the Twitterer is no longer at home.

From the developers:

"Hey, do you have a Twitter account? Have you ever noticed those messages in which people tell you where they are? Pretty annoying, eh. Well, they're actually also potentially pretty dangerous. We're about to tell you why.

Don't get us wrong, we love the whole location-aware thing. The information is very interesting and can be used to create some pretty awesome applications. However, the way in which people are stimulated to participate in sharing this information, is less awesome.


The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you're definitely not... home. So here we are; on one end we're leaving lights on when we're going on a holiday, and on the other we're telling everybody on the internet we're not home."

And here's why I think this qualifies as a social marketing PSA:

"The goal of this website is to raise some awareness on this issue and have people think about how they use services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Google Buzz etc. Because all this site is, is a dressed up Twitter search page. Everybody can get this information."

Mashable adds:

"These guys have a legitimate point. Stories about status updates leading to burglaries are becoming commonplace. You may remember that video podcaster Israel Hyman was robbed after tweeting that he was out was out town, and there’s even evidence to support the notion that burglars are turning to social media to find their targets."

It's an interesting way of raising awareness of the way social media power-users are giving away far more information than they may have bargained for. But I wonder if it breaks any privacy laws itself. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Sometimes it sucks to own a brand category. Just ask Zamboni. Or better yet, Google "Olympic Zamboni fail".

The problem is, those environmentally responsible ice resurfacers that wrecked the ice at the men’s 500 meter speed skating event on Monday weren't Zamboni® brand. They were Canadian-made Olympia machines from Canada's Resurfice, "What every ice resurfacer should be."

According to the CTV coverage of the incident, VANOC says they chose the Canadian supplier due to a significantly lower cost. At the same time, it has long been known that old-style gas-driven machines are really bad for indoor air quality, and that the adoption of electric Olympias was part of Canada's attempt at creating a "green Olympics" image. Oh yeah, and the whole "Canada #1" thing.

What makes this really tragic for the Canadian supplier is that they had beat out a giant in the industry. According to Zamboni's latest press release, they were the exclusive supplier to the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Salt Lake, Nagano, Lillehammer, Lake Placid, Sapporo, Innsbruck and Squaw Valley, and "participated" in the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary and Sarajevo.

Zamboni got a further boost when it became publicly known that Olympics organizers were shipping in a trusted old Zamboni from the Calgary Olympic Oval — overnight and over the mountains — to fix some of the problems.

You'd think Zamboni would be cheering. But brand leadership does not work that way.

From their release:

"This past weekend, the ice resurfacing equipment at one of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games apparently malfunctioned and was unable to perform its resurfacing task. These machines were not manufactured by the Zamboni Company.

A few media outlets have published inaccurate information regarding those machines, associating the Zamboni brand name with the malfunctioning ice resurfacers.

While it is unfortunate that there was an interruption to the Winter Olympic events, please note: the resurfacers which were on the ice during those events were not Zamboni® brand ice resurfacers and should not be referred to as "Zamboni machines"."

What's the big deal? When you're the leader, you have everything to lose. Just as we commonly call all adhesive bandages "Band-Aids" or all tissue "Kleenex", Zamboni is suffering from being used as a generic term. Intellectual property lawyers hate this, because it means losing control of the brand. (It's also the reason that the cutesy jingle "I am stuck on Band-Aid, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me!" has become the awkward "I am stuck on Band-Aid® Brand, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me!")

In Zamboni's case, while the brand certainly benefits from name recognition when an Olympia is generically referred to as a "zamboni", they also suffer much more damage when their name is taken in vain over a competitor's fail.

Zamboni got off easy. At least they weren't misidentified as having a key role in a horrible massacre, leading to their name being forever associated with mind cults and control. That honour goes to Kool-Aid. Turns out Jones may well have served up Flavor Aid instead.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, or Reconsider?

Over a decade ago, I inherited my grandmother's 1977 Plymouth Fury. That was a fun car. I used to drive it around with my elbow out the window, blasting the soundtrack from Shaft, and feeling pretty retro cool.

But that car was also a pain in the ass. It was difficult to street park in the Byward Market, where I lived at the time, it used a lot of gas, and the bouncy '70s suspension made my girlfriend (and future wife) slightly queasy. It wasn't long before I sold it off.

While I knew the gas guzzling was bad for the environment, I really didn't drive it all that much. But as we now know, the worst thing about old cars is the exhaust. Exempt from emissions testing because of its age, that Fury was a major polluter. According to the owner's manual, it didn't even meet SEVENTIES emission standards in California or Colorado. I hope it has since been scrapped.

But your car doesn't need to come from the disco era to be nasty. According to Environment Canada the average pre-1995 vehicle in Canada produces 19 times more smog forming air pollution than newer models, which have to meet much more stringent emissions standards. They estimate at least five million of these nasty old burners are out on our roads now. Clearly, the time has come to retire them (at least, the ones without true vintage value).

The current initiative is incentives for vehicle scrappage, Retire Your Ride, which offers cash, discounts on new or used cars, and sustainable transportation options like bikes, car-sharing, and public transit.

That's where we come in.

As a member of — and social marketing agency for — the Canadian Urban Transit Association, our job is to try to reduce the number of cars on the road and increase transit ridership nationwide by persuading Canadians to trade in their old cars for transit passes.

Here's the campaign, which is running on busses and bus shelters in cities across Canada right now:

Yeah, I know. It's a tough sale. People love their old cars, and if they feel they depend on them for work, personal errands, or even just a sense of self worth, we realize that we probably won't get them to trade it all in for transit.

But that's not how social (or cause) marketing works. We don't preach to the choir, but we also don't preach to the parking lot. We are talking to the people in the middle, who have a car or an extra car that they don't really need. This campaign is designed to help them break up with that tired old ride by showing them that there's an option that also supports sustainable transportation.

It's talking to the guy with the rusty Fury and the queasy girlfriend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It bears repeating...

I missed the original broadcast, but apparently the U.S. Air Force Reserve ran this ad during the Super Bowl (link HERE - via AdFreak)

Don't look for it on YouTube, or on the Reserves' recruiting site, in the news, or almost anywhere else. It's essentially been scrubbed from the Internet.

Why? If you're a White Stripes fan, you probably have a clue. From their site:

Despite the damning move of having eliminated the offending spot with extreme prejudice, the Air Force issued an official statement: "We had no intention to use existing music from The White Stripes or any other performer. Any similarity to them or other artists was certainly not intentional."

I don't buy it. I've been doing this long enough to know that clients and agencies do get "inspired" a little too literally by copyrighted material when scoring new ads. Particularly after finding out that the artist they wanted to use is either too expensive, or refuses to sell out.

Just five years ago, Tom Waits sued General Motors Corp. and McCann Erickson over an Opel ad that used a singer and musicians imitating his trademark style (after he turned them down).

For those of you unfamiliar with the White Stripes, here's the original song.

Judge for yourself:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I really hate to do this, because it's an important campaign for a very serious cause, but who on earth let these ads run with this headline?

If you don't get it, don't feel bad. It just means you're less cynical and paranoid than the average agency or client person. We have to let our minds crawl into the gutter to troubleshoot headlines and images for unintentional (and very unfortunate!) double entendres or easy and damaging parodies. Something everyone involved in these ads seems to have failed to do.

There's a third execution, BTW. And I have no issue with it.

I've seen this campaign on the sides of busses in Ottawa since before Christmas, but failed to get a picture in time. Ironically, I could never remember the call-to-action, and I was afraid that even trying to Google the campaign would get me on some sort of RCMP watchlist. Just this morning, though, I finally found a story about it on CTV., a national tip line for suspected cases of child exploitation on the Internet, gets operating money from communications giants Bell, Telus, Shaw, MTS Alstream, and SaskTel, among others — including the Government of Canada and the Government of Manitoiba (where the project began).

Obviously, it's in everyone's interest to protect kids while still keeping the Internet reasonably liberated. But as both a creative professional and a parent, I just think it's a shame they didn't look at that copy one more time.

Still don't see it? Good for you. It's better that way.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Life in 12 Easy Searches

Like many Canadians, I had to wait until after the Saints fans finally partied themselves out to see what I really wanted to get out of the Super Bowl: The ads. (Okay, I could have previewed some of them, but where's the fun in that?)

And as usual, I was mostly disappointed. More smut from GoDaddy. Megan Fox duckfacing it up for Motorola. Vizio snatching borrowed interest from Beyonce and a bunch of tired old Internet memes.

And then there was Google, doing its first ever major TV buy after this campaign enjoyed several months of viral success:

Two words:

While others invested in celebrities and special effects, Google relied on the way its brand is woven into everyday life. So we get to see an American studying abroad, falling in love, and succeeding in the ever-challenging LTR.

This is what good advertising is supposed to be: relevant, entertaining, emotive and authentic. It is everything I strive for. Great work.

Another ad I enjoyed watching was the "Timothy Richmond" biography. Although the idea, tone, and even music are lifted pretty neatly from the opening sequence of The Royal Tenenbaums.

You can watch the rest of the 2010 lineup at Mashable or AdAge.

Friday, February 5, 2010

People for the Unethical Treatment of Advertising

You've got to hand it to PETA. For every step they take towards mainstreaming their cause, they take a giant leap backwards:

Now, for those of you saying "but it's true! Psychopaths do tend to start on animals!", you're absolutely right.

But allow me to fill you in on the local context:

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) not to re-run a billboard campaign featuring Steven Barker, the man who tortured 17-month-old Peter Connelly and was subsequently found guilty of "causing or allowing" the infant's death.

The ASA received one complaint that the ad was "offensive and distressing, used unnecessary shock tactics and exploited the death of Baby P", and "was also located in the area where Baby P lived and died" (Haringey, North London), and therefore "particularly offensive and distressing to residents of that area".

The Baby P tragedy was a horrific story of child sexual and physical abuse— as well as the total failure of medical and social workers to recognize and stop it.

This is not the first time PETA has exploited human tragedy to get attention for its animal welfare cause. Last year, they ran a billboard in Berlin that juxtaposed pictures of Jews in concentration camp bunks and chickens in a factory farm with the headline (in English, to ensure international press) "To animals, all people are Nazis". It was ordered taken down.

And they've been doing it for years. In 2001, after a series of shark attacks in the U.S. left two people dead (including an 8-year-old child) they ran a billboard that said “Would You Give Your Right Arm To Know Why Sharks Attack? Could it Be Revenge?".

And then there was this:

Look, PUTA. I don't lose sleep over the fact that you sexually exploit willing women worse than American Apparel. I merely snort in disbelief when you tell me I'm abusing my child by feeding him meat. And I was kind of amused when you decided it was in your best interests to make fun of fat people.

But leave the victims of tragedy alone. Engage in cruelty-free advertising.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ads like this make me wish I liked light beer

Via LiveLeak, this is apparently the Bud Light ad that got "banned" from the Superbowl. It was posted Monday on BL's Facebook fan page.

I don't know why this would be censored from broadcast. It's not so much shock advertising as a funny comedy sketch with great viral potential. But that's the whole point of getting banned, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Remember our Elder Abuse campaign? You're not alone!

Back in June, the Government of Canada launched our Elder Abuse campaign for HRSDC.

We were really proud of this spot, and everyone who worked on it — at HRSDC, Acart, SOMA, and even the actors — felt that we were obligated to do our best for such an important and emotional issue.

Apparently Canadian viewers felt the same way. We just found out that, in research conducted by TNS Canadian Facts last fall, this campaign achieved an amazing 58% unaided recall among Canadian adults outside Quebec!

As you can see, the benchmark for federal government campaigns is 36% unaided. Our clients told us these are the best results they've ever seen.

Of course, with social marketing, it's not enough to be seen. The actions taken by viewers (including those who recalled the ad with prompting) show that the campaign was successful in getting people to talk about the issue:

As a taxpayer, you'll probably be happy to know that the ROI was good, too: 28¢ per recall, and $3.22 per action.

The reason Québécois were not included in this phone survey is because the campaign did not run there. The Province of Quebec was doing its own campaign on the issue at the same time.

We did, however, produce a French version as well (for the many francophones in the rest of Canada).

Kudos to everyone involved in this, an excellent example of doing Work That Matters.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is Fake 'n' Bake the new smoking?

Caught a Newswire yesterday that The Canadian Dermatology Association has launched a new campaign to raise awareness about the risks of tanning beds:

There are also print ads:

The campaign site includes video files of the PSAs, as well as printable PDFs of the print ads/posters. And it has in-depth stories behind the women of the campaign.

From the news release:

"Indoor tanning before the age of 30 has been associated with a significant increase in the risk of melanoma, and recently sunbeds (UV tanning beds) were moved up to the highest cancer risk category - group 1 - 'carcinogenic to humans' by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer.

'Research shows 70 percent of indoor tanners are female, primarily 16 to 29 years old. Indoor tanning at this age increases the risk of developing skin cancer. It is very important for women to be aware of the risks of artificial tanning,' said Cheryl Rosen, dermatologist and national director of CDA's Sun Awareness Program.


The posters feature actual melanoma survivors who are urging their peers to learn the facts about indoor tanning. In each case, the women thought tanning made them look beautiful but they had no idea that in a few short years they would be battling melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer."

It's an important message — and given the facts quite a timely social marketing effort. But is it the right approach?

If we are to look at the issue in Acart's own SIMPl model, for younger target markets indoor tanning as a major cancer risk would be all the way to the left, in the "uninformed" zone:

(That is, if you're not old enough to remember when the even nastier old-school beds went out of fashion.)

Our communications strategy for this would be "to focus on informing target audiences about the basic facts". That's standard. But I wonder if the creative is strong enough to even get people's attention for that long.

Testimonial can be a powerful thing. And these women's stories are truly moving. But the problem with health testimonials is that they tend to take a standard format. Whether on TV, print, or radio, they all start to look and sound the same.

In print, I think these ads try to say too much, when they should say one surprising thing about UV risk and say it SIMPLY and LOUD. Same with the TV — one story, with some buildup and reveal would be enough to get people making the connection and seeking out more info.

The biggest barrier to getting the public to take a new (to them) hazard seriously is cynicism. When faced with endless (and similar) campaigns, it's easy to tune out the less common messages, and dismiss them as hysteria.

I really do hope this message gets through to people, because I really hate cancer. But I think this issue has a lot of work ahead of it if it's going to be the new smoking.

Simple, smart, and effective

I love the power of a single-minded idea:

This ad, by Rethink for Canada's own Predator Watch (site "under construction" ?!?) turns the tables — almost literally — on anonymous perverts looking to exploit minors on the Internet. (via @AdFreak)

What I like about this ad is its simplicity. The pure idea, grounded in reality, allows the spot to build a proper story and hit home with a punch.

I also love the casting of the predator as just an ordinary guy, husband —and even father. After all, the hardcore creeps living in vans down by the river are not going to be affected by social marketing, while the opportunistic skeevos doing "research" could be scared off by the idea that they are essentially cruising schoolyards in public. And they have a lot to lose.

The only thing that disappoints me about this campaign (besides the Web site fail) is the print. That stuff is just plain creepy:

Should I mention one more time that the call-to-action goes to an "under construction" page? Kind of undermines the whole "we're omnipresent on the Internet" thing. (The client, Children of the Street Society, should've just sent people straight to their homepage.) Oh well, I still love the spot.

Monday, February 1, 2010

So bad, it's good? Or just so bad?

The Telegraph reports that the following ad was withdrawn by the Austrian Military by order of the country's Defence Minister:

Another YouTube poster (and apparent fan of Mafia Wars), gives this rough translation:
Audi Driver: hey Girls, wanna go for a spin in my fast ride?
Girls: ehh not sure, there's not even enough space for all of us
Soldier: wazzup girls, in the mood for a joyride?
Girls: *yaaaaay*
Soldier: join the army if you wanna drive a tank
Soldier2: jump in, starting engine
Audi Driver: hey, what about the spin?
Girl: forget it, I want to drive something big
Narrator: the Austrian Armed Forces offer unique opportunities for young people who are at least 18 — everything else is just everyday life

Low-budget production, apparently amateur acting, vehicular penis envy, and downblouse shots... What's not to love?

According to Judith Goetz of the Austrian Students' Union, quite a bit:

"The video is trashy and an embarrassment... It is totally archaic to show such an obviously sexist video at a time when women are already part of the Austrian military."

Indeed, the commercial is offensive — in many ways. It appears to insult the intelligence of young men as well as women.

But is that what they were intending all along? One of the inevitable downfalls of aging is that younger people stop making sense. Not to mention that humour rarely translates well (especially from German or Japanese!) What I'd really like to know is what the average Austrian 18-year-old thought about this ad.

Col Johann Millonig, from the Austrian army's marketing department, claims this ad is "so dorky it's brilliant".

I'll leave that up to you to decide.