Each year at about this time, Ad Nut's old oak tree starts to fill up with information about a surprising number of ad campaigns that have to do with social issues. 'Surprising', that is, if you just joined the ad industry yesterday, know nothing about its obsession for awards and have never heard the term 'scam ad'.
Ad Nut actually doesn't use that term, as true scam is relatively rare (not to mention hard to prove). 'Award bait' seems better because the stuff we're talking about here runs the gamut—from work that's sincere and worthy to work that is sincerely worthy of derision. After all, it's not wrong to partner with a charity or NGO that needs support, even if it's done in hopes of winning an award or 50 along the way. It's even possible that some of the work below came to fruition without anyone even thinking about awards.
At the other extreme, we get silly, false or impossible claims, or efforts that are clearly one-offs with no chance of actually helping anyone. Ad Nut attempts to separate the former from the latter by rating each item on a 'cynicism meter'. So far this year, there's not much to complain about; much of the work is even laudable.
Ad Nut will add to this archive as the award season goes on. Please let Ad Nut know if you encounter any examples that should be included.
Title: Predict to prevent
Agency: BBDO Bangkok
Cause: Helping people support loved ones with depression
Cynicism meter: Off the charts. Ad Nut can't explain it better than Campaign colleague Matthew Miller already did, so please see, "No, a keyboard app can't 'prevent tragedy from depression'".
Title: Project revoice
Agency: BWM Dentsu (Australia)
Client: The ALS Association
Cause: People with ALS (motor neuron disease)
Cynicism meter: Zero. The needle on the cynicism meter has not moved at all. This is absolutely incredible. Pat Quinn, creator of the Ice Bucket Challenge, lost his ability to talk due to the disease. This project gave it back, and as the video shows, computerised voice technology has come a long way. However, it relies on having ample recordings of the person from before they started to lose their voice. So this long-term initiative aims to help by setting up a voice bank. More info here.
Title: Kids that no one noticed
Agency: MullenLowe Singapore
Client: Omo (Unilever) Vietnam
Cause: Reducing kids' screen time
Cynicism meter: Medium. Ad Nut supports the message that kids should play more in the real world and less in virtual ones, and this campaign fits well with Unilever's long-running 'Dirt is good' stance. That said, Ad Nut thinks the following quote from MullenLowe Singapore is a bit much: "This provocation set in motion the first steps towards progressive change in Southeast Asia, by encouraging parents and kids to swap screen time for play time. It ignited a social debate among parents, schools, specialists, and the media. Families and children were inspired to put down their screens, go out and start playing again."
Agency: Greynj United
Client: True Corporations and the Autistic Thai Foundation
Cause: Greater understanding for people with autism
Cynicism meter: Low, because it's coupled with a tangible commitment by the brand. Read this report by Ad Nut colleague Olivia Parker for details: "'These children are special' says Thai autism awareness ad".
Agency: FCB Milan
Client: Samsung Italy
Cause: Work opportunities for people with autism
Cynicism meter: Medium. An app that makes it easier for people with autism to work productively sounds nice. And a lot of thought apparently went into making it. But managing a pizza restaurant is a weirdly specific application, and the project looks like it may be a one-off. Though this kind of video might raise awareness of the issue, it would be better to see a long-term commitment to developing apps suited to the needs of people on the autism spectrum. Ad Nut is also concerned, based on this and the 'Predict to prevent' item at the top of this list, that Samsung is pushing its agencies too hard for feel-good campaigns.
Title: Unmute Daniel
Agency: MullenLowe Group (Singapore) with Posterscope
Cynicism meter: Low. The campaign involves electronic OOH screens that invite people to use the Shazam app to "Unmute Daniel". The screen emits high-frequency sound, which allows the Shazam app to direct the person to the unmute.sg website, where they learn about actual cyberbullying cases that have occurred in Singapore. Not sure how much this will actually help people, but then again the agency doesn't attempt to claim it's more than an awareness campaign.
Title: Project Free Period
Agency: DDB Mudra
Client: Stayfree India
Cause: Job training for women in the sex trade
Cynicism meter: Medium. The idea is to provide educational opportunities for sex workers during the days of the month when they have their period and thus aren't working. The project is small, so its claim that it's helping women escape the sex trade is a bit hard to believe yet. But here's hoping the intiative grows.
Title: Real beauty ID
Client: Dove (Japan)
Cause: Self-esteem of young women
Cynicism meter: Low, as Dove has of course been devoting itself to this particular purpose for years now. For more on this campaign, see this coverage by Ad Nut's colleague David Blecken: "Dove tries to fix Japan's low 'body esteem'".
Title: Start talking
Client: Gidget Foundation Australia
Cause: Help for women with perinatal depression and anxiety
Cynicism meter: Low. The campaign supports the launch of a legit program to provide counseling to rural moms via video chats. (For another campaign by this same pair that Ad Nut liked, see, "These bunny books are more for adults than kids".)
Title: Good vibes
Agency: Cheil Worldwide India
Client: Sense International (India)
Cause: Communications over distance for two individuals who are both deaf and blind
Cynicism meter: Medium. The use of Morse code is simple but would be effective (albeit slow), as long as the users know the code. On the other hand the agency did not provide detail on how it plans to move forward. If it had a plan to give smartphones to people in need of the app, the initiative might be more impressive. Update: The agency got in touch to say the beta version of the app was introduced at the ‘National Training for Adult Deafblind’ event, organised by Sense International India, in Ahmedabad in January, where it was used by about 60 deafblind adults and their caregivers, providing valuable feedback. Cheil said it is working with Sense International to include the tool as part of its regular training curriculum for deafblind people. The app is available for free on Google PlayStore.
Title: Blink to speak
Agency: TBWA India
Client: Asha E Hope Foundation and NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute
Cause: Person to person communication for people unable to speak
Cynicism meter: Medium. This is a booklet that explains a "language" composed of eye movements. It's a low-tech solution to the same issue addressed by the ALS Association in 'Project revoice' (above). It was done in consultation with experts, according to the agency, and seems like a fit for a country like India, where the high-tech solution above would be out of reach of many people.
Title: L for Love
Agency: Ogilvy Mumbai
Client: Love Matters India
Cause: Acceptance for lesbian women
Cynicism meter: Low. This is just a series of innocuous images of a couple along with questions people supposedly ask lesbian women, and their answers. Sample question: "How do you do it?" Answer: "With love." Ad Nut is all for the intent—making people think of lesbian couples as real, multidimensional people instead of focusing on how they have sex. But it's hard to believe a small photo essay could have much impact. At the same time, that means its creators probably weren't thinking about awards.
Title: Road to frame
Agency: McCann Colombia
Client: Special Olympics
Cause: Funding travel to the 2019 games
Cynicism meter: None! The effort raised more than US$40,000.
Agency: Oberland Agency
Client: National Alliance on Mental Illness (US)
Cause: Overcoming stigma about mental illness to encourage treatment
Cynicism meter: Zero. This is on behalf of a legit organisation that runs a nationwide suicide-prevention hotline in the US, and it's part of an ongoing effort. Take the quiz here to see if you've been infected with stigma.
Title: Daughter and Mother
Agency: BBDO New York
Client: Cure Alzheimer's Fund
Cause: Alzheimer's research
Cynicism meter: Zero. This is a straightforward call for research money, and it played in 1200 US movie theaters. So there's nothing scammy about it. BBDO has apparently decided that a brutal disease deserves a brutal dramatisation—and a brutal call to action. While it may seem harsh to insist that people spare their kids from future pain by donating for research now, it's certainly an imperative any parent would respond to.
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