Earned Discomfort: PSA’s Pleas for Awareness
Working in marketing, I get tasked daily with RFP’s that earnestly instruct me to “cut through the clutter,” “think outside the box,” and the most loathsome of all, “connect with Millennials.” Faddishly buzzy as these instructions may seem to the brief writer, the direction should simply be, “how do we make people care?”
An emerging trend adopted by many non-profits has been to shy away from the surprise & delight tactic in favor of shock & awe. Shock at what we’re seeing and awe - or perhaps more appropriately, shame - regarding how far-reaching the problem is, and how little is being done to help it.
The first ad of this kind I encountered a little while back, and was created by the Swedish Fund for UNICEF.
In it, a youngster deadpans into the camera about the struggles he and his family are currently enduring, but concedes “it’ll be alright” because the Fund is on track to score 200K Likes on Facebook. The clip is buttoned by the tag, “Like’s don’t save lives,” and it is simply fantastic. It’s short, it has three acts, and it effortlessly dashes absurdity that social “Likes” translate into anything but self-satisfied bursts of serotonin. I love it.
Another one that I stumbled upon yesterday was for International Women’s Day (which incidentally is today):
This video gives you a first person view of a day in the life of a young woman as she goes about her business while using Google Glass to film her friends and neighbors without their permission (but that’s a post for another day…). The video concludes with the woman shockingly becoming the victim of domestic violence. It’s a bit grisly.
This video is much less successful, because it isn’t a fair dealer. It’s a tad long by viral video standards and the abrupt twist feels unkind to the sympathetic viewer who followed along for the 2:20 to get to the point. All-in-all the message is not lost on me, but the execution seems a tad ham-handed. Undeniably, this is very serious issue, and as such it should be handled with sympathy not sensationalism. All the same, it’s made it into this post and many others like it (for better or for worse), so the argument could be made they reached their goal.
The most exceptional one I’ve seen to date was created by Save the Children UK. Since being posted on Wednesday it has amassed 16.5MM views. The ad takes advantage of the popular “Second a Day” motif to make the tragedy in Syria personal:
This video is 1:34, but it feels like you watched Children of Men and then 4 hours CNN International. The video captures 1 year of a young girl from birthday to birthday, and over the course of the year, some nondescript British city becomes a war zone. The video closes with something of a perfect tag: “Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”
The execution is sweeping and cinematic, it stokes empathy, and takes the viewer on a meaningful journey that puts people in the shoes of Syrians’ circumstances. Sure, it’s a tad cynical by implying that the only way we get people to care about this crisis is to make the victim(s) white middle-class Europeans, but the message that, no matter where you’re from having to live under such horrifying circumstances is unacceptable, wins out.
It’s an interesting trend. I think the most exciting thing about these videos is the risks that these groups are willing to take - as cringeworthy as it may be to say - thinking outside the box, challenging consumers to engage with the message. At the end of the day, the big question for these groups whether or not this sort of messaging translates to fundraising dollars. Given the limited resources of many of these organizations, that will likely be the biggest indicator of whether or not you’ll see more ads of this sort in the near future.