Archive for Cause Advertising
In 2007, World Wide Fund (WWF) began an culturally smart advertising campaign to educate the Chinese populace about the wildlife & ecoregion conservation. WWF hired Dentsu China, who in turn charged art director Yan’gang Wang & copy writer Lili Su, with the complex task of communicating the need to employ more sustainable and ecologically friendly approaches to China’s activities as an emerging yet powerful global economic and cultural player. The message is simple and encourages individuals to be conscious of the consequences of their personal consumption and development through incorporating cultural symbols and trends.
The Dentsu team composed three provocative print ads linking man-made violence to wildlife through incorporating tattoos (which is a symbol of a person’s commitment to their beliefs in China). After a basic analysis it is easy to see that this campaign is communicating on many different levels for many different audiences.
|Surface Level||Tiger Tattoo; Male Left Pectoral; Slash wound; blood||Eagle Tattoo; Male (?) back, right shoulder blade; gunshot wound; blood||Shark Tattoo, Male (?) abdomen; stab wound; blood|
|Intended Meaning||Violence against wildlife is violence against human life;||Violence against wildlife is violence against human life||Violence against wildlife is violence against human life|
|Cultural Meaning||Power (or ability to accomplish progress) is in danger of unchecked manmade violence.||Freedom & happiness is in danger of unchecked manmade violence.||Sexual potency and vitality is in danger of unchecked human manmade violence.|
After viewing a video from China Daily, in which the recent growth in positive Chinese attitudes regarding tattoos is discussed and attributed to the import of Western values, it may concluded that this campaign specifically targets Chinese male youth. Not only are these youth more accepting of tattoos, but as males entering a predominately male (and still socially conservative) economy they will encounter industry practices that may be harmful to the environment. Through linking the modern Chinese consumer’s interest in self-expression/conviction with interest in the environment, this campaign evokes the traditional Chinese value of the concern for the community over the concern for the self by including wildlife as part of the community. Well Done!
The Better Business Bureau, the organization that presides over the Beer Institute, recently ruled that the Coors Light Bus Boy ad unintentionally violated the Beer Institute’s Advertising and Marketing Code. According to the code, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not portray or imply illegal activity of any kind.” In the ad, there is a male that is constantly picking up Coors Light beers in a bar setting. After a while, a waitress notes that the “new bus boy” is doing a great job of cleaning off beers on the tables, to which the boss responds “I didn’t hire a bus boy”. While the underlying or intended meaning of the ad is that Coors Light is so good that people will go to crazy resorts to get it, an additional meaning that Coors Light is worth stealing is the reason for the criticism towards the ad.
While I wouldn’t have really taken such a literal meaning from the ad, I believe the rationale of the Beer Institute is understandable. While Coors itself doesn’t really believe that they have done wrong, they have agreed to stop running the ad as a result of the Better Business Bureau’s ruling. Alcohol advertising is a part of the overall institute of advertising that gets a lot of criticism for unethical advertising. I commend the Beer Institute for creating a non-legal but authoritative ethical standard in an attempt to change this reputation. If we as advertisers continue to create standards for ourselves and regulate ourselves, I believe we will be able to eventually gain credibility and positively impact people’s attitudes towards advertising while performing our business related roles.
I also believe that as advertisers we must look at our ads from several perspectives before we publish the work. While Coors intended to sell their product using a humorous story, there are ways to use humor without portraying or romanticizing illegal activities. If we could really scrutinize our work from an ethical point of view, we could avoid wasting time and money airing ads that won’t be approved our self-regulating structures. By taking time at the forefront to view the ethical impact of our advertising messages, I believe we can avoid a lot of time wasted and financial loss in the future.
If you visit the Ad Council’s website you know what to expect; a page explaining the mission of the organization, information on how you can get involved with their programs, educational resources that can be helpful for both parents and teachers, and the prerequisite “Make a Donation” page that you’ll see on every non-profit website. What you don’t expect is a trip back to you childhood and adolescence.
Within the Ad Council’s Campaigns section, there is a page of historic public service campaigns that those of us living in the US during the 1980s and 1990s will never forget. In looking through these campaigns the thing that struck me was how each of them not only delivered a message, but also how vividly those messages reside in our memories. The campaign examples listed below were so powerful in their execution that a mere image can recall not only actual commercials, but also the message they conveyed. You will most likely recognize the campaigns before playing the video:
We remember seeing these ads as children. Sure, we may not remember exactly where we were the first time we saw them, but they made such an impact that the images and messages are branded in our memories. They reside in our autobiographical memory as part of our past experiences and ourselves. Even if we cannot relate these campaigns to a specific episode in our lives, they still reside in our long-term memory. This is significant because of the millions of ad messages the original audience for these campaigns has seen since then, there are few that we can recall quite as easily. What’s even more significant is that these ads weren’t meant to sell a product or service. They were produced for free in hopes of having a positive effect on society. These messages not only achieved their goals of public awareness and action, but also have had continued influence beyond their years.
So what was the key behind these ads’ success? What made them became embedded in the culture of America? With Vince and Larry, the Crash Test Dummies, the campaign walked a fine line. On one hand it started to evoke an emotional response from seeing the results of not wearing a seatbelt, but at the same time, it was artificial and humorous enough to still appeal to children. The humorous dialogue between Vince and Larry and the play on words used as taglines, “You could learn a lot from a dummy. Buckle your safety belt,” and “Don’t be a dummy. Buckle your safety belt,” helped to offset the negative response some consumers have to ads that evoke too much fear or discomfort. Additionally, the use of an actual crash test dummy, paired with the taglines acted as a redundant cue to reinforce the message of the ad. With the “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” and “This is your brain on drugs” campaigns, the imagery as analogies (of glasses crashing as cars might and the frying egg symbolizing the effects drugs have on your brain) used in both campaigns created such an impact in the minds of the viewers that at the height of these campaigns, few could crack an egg or make a toast without being reminded of the ad messages. In these cases the imagery used to convey the messages became a retrieval cue for the memory to recall the messages.
In looking at these campaigns I wanted to see how today’s PSAs stand up to yesterday’s standards. It’s not often today that you hear discussion about anti-drug campaigns even when working in the advertising business. This is likely because many of today’s PSAs take a much different approach to relay their message. We’ve already seen discussions on this blog about how some PSAs have gotten lazy in their creative and turn to violence and shock value in an attempt to get consumers’ attention. Many of today’s PSAs, especially with regard to the anti-drug campaigns, are using such shock ads featuring excessive violence or graphic images in an attempt to garner attention. See example below:
While this ad definitely evokes a strong emotional response, it’s certainly not an image that we as viewers want to retain in our memory. In this instance, the images may be so disturbing that the viewers retain them in their short term memory, but are so appalled, that they avoid rehearsing this image in order for it not to embed in their long term memory. Some argue that today’s messages use such strong images to break through the clutter of the thousands of messages to which today’s consumers are exposed. Conversely, how effective can a message really be when the viewers not only can’t, but don’t want to recall the message. In my opinion, this makes for an ineffective campaign. If put into a situation of being offered cocaine (the drug used in the ad), a young person is not likely to recall this message when considering his or her choice.
Others PSAs are using dramatic portrayals in “slice of life” style ads to illustrate the dangerous effects of drug use. These are designed to incite a strong emotional response from viewers, but without the ill effects of graphic images shown in the ad above. I think that these can be effective. Because they make the viewer consider what their lives may be like if they were to allow themselves into those situations, however, nothing particularly memorable struck me in watching any of these PSAs. Perhaps the most successful, in terms of memory and message retention, that I viewed is an anti-heroin ad that was released four years ago:
This message is effective for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it uses an egg to represent your brain and a frying pan to illustrate the effects that drugs have on your brain. This acts as a retrieval cue for those viewers who have been exposed to the 1980s anti-drug campaign. The original campaign was so effective that it lead to strong trace strength in our semantic network from the egg and frying pan to an anti-drug message. However this ad takes those images to a new level, illustrating not only the effects of drugs (represented by the frying pan) on your brain, but also on various aspects of your life, including friends, family, job, etc. This ad illustrates very effective use of memory and retrieval, but builds to add other associations in our memories to increase the effectiveness of the original campaign. In taking a technique that had proven effective, this ad was able to build on an existing memory and strengthen its message. It’s not to say that I believe that today’s PSAs are ineffective, but in terms of the messages achieving their goals of public awareness and action, and continued influence beyond their years, it may serve today’s creative’s well to take a cue from the past.
Advertising for a cause in tangent with a product is all the rage these days in the industry. When done tastefully, cause-advertising can really be an altruistic gesture and a way for a company to give back. Unfortunately, all too often it seems as though these philanthropic tendencies are supported by ulterior motives, mostly dealing with a company’s bottom line. Consumers today will get on board with almost anything that seems like a worthy cause. It’s trendy to be tolerant, chic to be charitable. But how far are some companies willing to go to make the public believe that they are in support of the various causes of today’s society?
In a recent article on Advertising Age, KFC takes heat for joining forces with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation in an effort to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. For every pink bucket ordered, KFC pledged 50 cents to Komen. While this certainly seems like a philanthropic cause, it raises a few questions.
For one, it’s hard to understand the correlation between breast cancer awareness and a bucket of fried chicken. KFC probably could have found a more relevant way to show support for a cause. That aside, it is difficult to understand who exactly KFC is trying to target with this campaign. Instead of advertising with the intention of being perceived as a restaurant chain that offers delicious crispy fried chicken, KFC is attempting to be branded as a cause worthy, charitable corporation. In reality they should probably stick with that they’re best known for and not try so hard to fit in with the multitude of other corporations aligning themselves with the next popular movement.
The FTC had bigger problems with KFC’s campaign. The article cites (then) Federal Trade Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour:
‘KFC … is fully aware of our nation’s struggle with obesity, yet has cynically attempted to exploit a massive health problem through deceptive advertising. Companies should not be allowed to benefit monetarily from this kind of deception, especially where the health and safety of consumers are compromised.’
KFC broke a golden rule: When advertising for one cause, make sure you aren’t simultaneously undercutting another one. It seems obvious, especially since “fried” is in the name. The article begs the question, why does KFC feel the need to be perceived as a company filled with philanthropic ideals and healthy attitudes? The whole campaign seems like an oxymoron, and completely incompatible with the fact that fried chicken is a guilty pleasure, not a fight against cancer. This incongruity makes KFC’s efforts seem transparent and their motives questionable. Regardless of whether or not KCF was trying to advertise responsibly, the campaign was interpreted as simply another means for KFC to make a profit off of charitable consumers. Consumers can be manipulated by advertising messages; they form inferences and interpretations based on marketing elements, a concept called subjective comprehension. KFC’s campaign seems more like an attempt to twist their image into something that will be misinterpreted by consumers as “good for them,” rather than a genuine concern for breast cancer awareness. This misuse of cause advertising is irresponsible and a poor reflection of the industry.
KFC can’t be blamed for the fact that they sell an unhealthy product. Tons of companies sell products that are bad for people. However, if KFC is going to continue to advertise through causes they would be wise to do so more tactfully, and more virtuously. Since they are a company that sells food, perhaps they should look into joining the cause against hunger. While they might take some criticism for the obesity epidemic sweeping our nation, at least they could make a case about the relevancy of their contributions. Ultimately, they could argue that they do have a genuine interest in the fight against hunger, as opposed to the seemingly irrelevant breast cancer awareness campaign, and in a less blatant way than trying to make people feel good about themselves for getting overweight.