Monday, December 11, 2006

serious creativity

Creativity is a powerful tool when it comes to communicating serious messages. Audiences have become desensitized and bullied by graphic images of poverty, cruelty and disease. Humour and imagination can draw people in before flipping preconceptions and landing a powerful point.

This is exploited – in my opinion, very cleverly – in this advert for the NSPCC.


The trick is to collide comfort and discomfort in a way that jars the audience and really makes them think. This is a wonderful opportunity for the creative industry: To use its cleverness for good!

But is this always the case?
Amnesty International’s ‘Protect The Human’ campaign is an admirable cause for human rights but there is a series of ‘virals’ that has been released that in this blogger’s opinion completely fails and perhaps even undermine Amnesty’s intentions.

The short clips, posted on MySpace as well as the Amnesty website show a group of four comedy actors trying to recruit a fifth member. In each audition scene the characters take the most horrific ideas (rape, torture) and attempt to make them funny. Of course, the people auditioning all find it incredibly offensive and the overall intention of the movies is to show that these things are clearly not funny at all.

Fine in theory but there’s a problem. The clips ARE funny. And what’s more, as unsuited to jokes as the topics are, they are not new territory for comedy. Others have been there before. Comedy has been darker and audiences will never be the same again.

The result is that the clips do not have any impact. If anything, they will make some people laugh in the same way they do at Jam and Brass Eye. But the horrific reality that Amnesty is trying to communicate is absorbed into the comedy.

Another example where the message is not landed well is a viral game for Oxfam called A Bit Unfair.

Again, the agency behind it forgets the audience, who in this case would have switched off long before the message arrives. The quiz show vernacular is dwelled upon too long and is neither entertaining enough to keep you watching, nor quick enough to get to the point.

Another Amnesty campaign – this time educating about the arms trade – caught my eye a few months ago. It was quite brilliant. The clip is shot in the style of a TV shopping channel to illustrate how easy it is to get hold of a firearm.


It is very clever. It sets up a powerful platform on which to communicate a horrible truth to an audience that has their guard down. But what happens?

In my opinion, the makers of the clip completely missed the opportunity. Instead of abruptly interrupting the humour with the message, they continue the comedy right to the end. The key moment for me is when the teenager fires the weapon. This was the moment when the brutal truth should have been revealed. This was the moment to show that real children are firing these things. But the clip merely shows a western kid in a tracksuit using it. The potential impact of this idea of child soldiers is completely destroyed.

The clip finally ends with simple typography describing the arms problem. These words look like words we’ve been reading for years. They don’t make me think. They don’t shock me.

What a wasted opportunity.

In this blogger’s opinion, the reason for this wasted opportunity – as with the others – is the egos of the creatives getting in the way of the message. It becomes all about being funny, or clever, or just indulging in the idea from a purely creative perspective.

The countering argument will be that certain audiences need entertaining to pay attention. This is true. But if your final message is to be taken seriously, then that entertainment must open the doors to the message, not overwhelm it.

Improve Your Karma
is a site designed for Motorola’s Product (RED) campaign by iChameleon. It’s a lovely simple thought but it is so over the top that I couldn’t even find the message in the site after actively looking. The message about helping to tackle AIDS in Africa is bullied out of view by a silly character smacking his own bottom.


This kind of thing happens every single day in hundreds of agencies. When it compromises the messaging for a deodorant brand or a fast food restaurant, then so what? And anyway, a bit of humor is good for the brand. But when it is about messages that could change the world, it’s a different matter.

This last viral is a simple idea. It could have been taken further, but the agency, Poke did not allow any personal desires to ‘have more fun with’ the concept get in the way. It is simple. It is quick and it lands a message.

'Creatives' have an unparalleled opportunity to communicate to the world. I hope that when given the chance, more use that opportunity to say things that benefit other people and not just themselves.

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