Monday, December 24, 2007

Advertising disabilities with darkness

Among other things, Mae West is famous for a shrewd observation: "It is better to be looked over than over-looked". She was commenting on the matter of women being the subject of unsolicited attention, but the context today might equally be marketing communications and a similar challenge to capture unsolicited attention.

It is the starting point of most agencies working on behalf of clients today to bring heightened attention to a specific cause. This is a time of marketing abundance and a barrage of communications daily that dulls the senses. It makes the first challenge the need to break through the barrier of indifference and be registered. If the advertiser is fortunate, the message will also be read and processed in its entirety rather than being partially processed and abandoned.

This is not to suggest that shock tactics are always a good idea and should be justified. It is merely to provide the perspective that it can be needed in order to gain traction in the first instance.

The campaign in question certainly does that. Which is better however: a less controversial approach that doesn't get noticed as much, or one that is polarizing and inspires greater involvement? The number of responses to the original article is a testament to the latter. There is a rubric in advertising that states that effective communications that engages, moves and persuades will never appeal to the everyone: an authentic point of view will by definition be polarizing. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty of which a principle OFDer was one author is an example: there are plenty of women who reject this vision and accessibility of beauty, but a core and zealous group that does not.

Like good art, good advertising will provoke a response, which inevitably will be favorable among some and unfavorable among others.

The above duly noted, the campaign does cross the line into poor taste in our view at OFD. Positioning disabilities as 'taking a person hostage' is true in a conceptual sense - but not compelling when expressed in a literal sense. Positioning any person as a victim is not a constructive way to frame the issue. Moreover, the dark overtones of this strategy are likely to alienate more that win people over. Top marks for creativity, but miss-applied in our book. A good idea to drop this approach and pursue another.

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