How The Most “Purchasable” Industry Helps Us To Learn

Gone are the days of watching a great movie when all of a sudden, in the middle of the most intense part of the action, a commercial break would interrupt. That was the moment when (if you weren’t by any chance working in advertising) you began to hate commercials.

Why? Because you knew a powder wouldn’t remove the red wine and chocolate stain on your favourite white T-shirt, and because a smart head with big glasses and a white robe couldn’t convince you that he had invented the best medicine for all your problems.

We got used to really, really bad commercials, and it’s hard to convince anyone that some of the work done by advertising agencies can actually be educational, inspirational and generally good for people. The agencies primarily still need to sell a product or service; but have you noticed that some of them have started to add real additional value?

Always has given this trend a big boost through its recent cooperation with the Leo Burnett advertising agency. Last year they found themselves dealing with one important question: “How to make girls feel comfortable in their own skin?” Living through the most sensitive years of early life, surrounded by media that dictate impossible beauty standards, and seriously coping with challenges to their self-esteem, they have also been called too girly when it comes to various tasks. That is why Always assembled a group of young people and challenged them to show what it means to run like a girl, throw like a girl and fight like a girl. Teenagers older than 10 behaved foolishly and acted out the most typical girly behaviour while younger girls put their best skills on display. They ran as fast as possible and fought passionately. Always and the creative people involved in the campaign realized that the phrase “Like a Girl” had become an insult, when it should actually work the other way around. With a viral video called Like A Girl, Always tried to change the whole perception of masses of people. The campaign got tremendous media attention and has, since the whole video became available on YouTube, recorded more than 58 million hits, ultimately launching the whole #LikeAGirl movement. Always’ original intent of making girls comfortable in their own skin was achieved with a 3-minute video that has been playing on repeat since its release in 2014.

American Greetings, in cooperation with the Mullen ad agency, has taken on the task of highlighting the important role played by a special segment of the human work force. They staged a few online job interviews after which the people being interviewed were expected to sign on for brutal conditions such as working 135 hours a week, constantly on their feet with a daily regimen requiring a high level of stamina and with no vacations; all for a pro bono salary. Yep, for $0.

As expected, people were shocked by the workplace conditions as represented and frequently asked if the job could even be legal, especially with a job description that includes being seriously insulted by the clients. The employer also revealed that there are billions of people who hold this position at the very moment.

The final shock for the people being interviewed came when they asked who would be willing to do The World’s Toughest Job for free and they then learned: our beloved moms.

Most people watching this commercial burst into tears or at least picked up the phone and called their mums immediately. The biggest impact the commercial had was to make people aware of the struggles their mums are going through and the number of hours they invest into being there. Even though American Greetings told viewers to at least send their mums greeting cards for Mother’s day, they also contributed by making everyone notice someone who should always be praised and cherished.  

Advertising is changing; and the old, desperate commercials are ignored if they don’t inspire or add to human understanding, treating viewers like individuals and not just like numbers. They have pushed our “awareness” buttons, and they have started making changes. Opening eyes is essential and sometimes quite necessary when addressing our worst problems. That is why Save the Children’s Most Shocking Second a Day Video was done. Addressing the civil war in Syria, the video aims straight at the British public by transferring the horror of war directly to London. The heart breaking 90 second video films a girl at the age of 8 living a calm life, then in the next year her life is turned inside out through the dramatic device of one-second-a-day-video. As the video dramatizes the war, the little girl is exposed to bomb attacks, constant struggle, living in a basement and becoming homeless and at the end a fatherless refugee. By producing a pseudo-documentary placing the whole war in London, in locations its habitants see daily but now as settings for terrifying scenes, the Don’t Panic advertising agency educates people about a big problem they are still closing their eyes to.

Shock is the important factor when trying to open eyes and coax people out of their comfort zone with only a few minutes of video. However, sometimes a humorous image of an unpleasant event can be effective too; and that is what McCann Melbourne and Metro Trains have tried to pull off. Accidents and even death have been increasing due to irresponsible and unsafe behaviour when people are using public transportation. To prevent this, the campaign aimed at engaging an audience that really didn’t want to hear any kind of safety message. Consequently the agency invented twenty-one animated characters who get themselves killed in increasingly stupid ways, culminating in the last three characters being killed by trains due to unsafe behaviour. And since the message needed to be loud and unforgettable they have accompanied everything with the Dumb Ways to Die song. Adding a humorous note, a perfect combination of small creatures dying stupidly and a song melody that is hard to get out of your head once you hear it, Metro Trains scored big. The video received over 100 million hits, inspired a number of parodies, triggered at least $50 million worth of global media attention and at the same time contributed to a more than 30% reduction in public transport accidents.        

All in all, commercials are not as bad as people perceive them to be. Fundamentally, they are a constant reminder for us to eat healthy, to exercise, to open our eyes and step out of the familiar. And in the end, to always care about each other.

This article was originally published in Youth Time print edition, 31th issue. Click here to check the content of the issue, subscribe here, purchase one issue here.

Photo: Shutterstock

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