Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Perils of Passionate PSA Production

It's a sad day when I find myself anywhere near the same position as Fox News on anything -- let alone marketing.  Yet, here I am, partially in agreement; and I have to say I really resent it.  (Glad it doesn't happen every day).

Here's the back story:  In the UK, several charities pooled their resources to produce a public service ad promoting their carbon emissions goals: Reduce emissions 10% by 2010.  The resulting piece is offensive and the charities have publicly disowned it.  There's really no room for disagreement on the offensive bit, unless the viewer is a masochistic, homicidal sociopath.  But, please, view it for yourself and don't take my word for it -- or anyone else's.

Here's the link, now go ahead and watch it -- I'll wait here.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSTLDel-G9k .  BTW, don't let your younger kids watch it over your shoulder.  Seriously.

Back? Having seen it, can't you just imagine someone in the planning meeting for this video saying how important it will be to create a PSA that "resonates with the public on a visceral level?"   And off they went ... 

On the bright side, it does provide us with a profoundly bad example of environmental cause marketing.  And it's not even greenwash -- it's just disturbing.

Which raises the question, how does this happen among people who are not masochistic, homicidal sociopaths?  You may not realize it, but something similar happens rather often in marketing.  

The "No Pressure" video you just saw is an extreme case of what can happen when a team with lofty goals becomes too isolated in their pursuit of impact.  At some point the collaborative process breaks down and the cohesive unit starts putting the notion of "Impact" ahead of the goal itself.  They cheer each other on to increasing levels of bad judgement and lose complete track of the message.  In the end, you get a memorable ad, video, or commercial where the message is overpowered by graphics, special effects and/or sensationalism.

Ever remember a televised commercial, but not the product it was pitching?  Same thing, only tamer.

When this applies to a cause people are passionate about, the stakes become higher, the team often becomes more insular (i.e., less collaborative with other stakeholders), and the desire to make an indelible impact on the market becomes more pronounced.

How can we avoid this happening to us?
1.  Involve at least two experts over the age of 40 in managing the project -- so you have someone who knows what to watch for when the creative process starts to take on a life of its own, plus a spare.  S/he will need back up.
2.  Avoid trying to be too cool, too smart, too avant garde -- speak to your audience in their language vs. your own.
3.  Do not settle for drinking your own bath water, as my mother would say; i.e., make sure your team is not too insular, a variety of points of view are part of the process, and a decision maker on the client side is part of that team.
4.  Build sanity checkpoints into the process.  At those points, run your progress by an outside party(ies), get their impressions/feedback, then incorporate it.
5.  Screen the final version for a well-constructed focus group, record their feedback, use it.
6.  Don't release anything publicly without your clients' approval.

That should keep you out of Fox News -- at least for your marketing efforts! ;-)

As always, just thinking out loud ...