Stupid ad accuses repressive governments of absent-mindedness

Stupid ads

Another nonprofit tries to spread the word through inept abstraction!

You probably know that in many parts of the world it’s dangerous to be a journalist. In fact, in the places where the light of news reporting is most needed, reporters are at best kept from doing their work — and at worst being jailed, tortured, even killed.

I think that’s a pretty urgent situation. It’s a story — especially when you get to the specifics — that could get people to rally around with donations. Don’t you agree?

Apparently Reporters Without Borders (or their ad agency partners) don’t agree. They’ve decided to tell the story through an abstract metaphor.

Check it out:

RSFbluepen

Let’s analyze this: Many people absent-mindedly chew on the ends of their pens. Pens get all ugly as a result. This is somehow analogous to the violence and repression suffered by journalists? Some countries gnaw on journalists’ heads while they’re thinking about something else?

The metaphor is not only abstract, it’s inept. Repression of journalists is highly purposeful, the acts of evil and corrupt governments that know they’re better off in the dark. It’s not a preoccupied compulsion.

As with other Stupid Nonprofit Ads, the question is this: Why resort to abstraction when the truth itself is so powerful?

One of the ads in this series comes perilously close to working. It’s the red pen version, where the red ink looks enough like blood to calls to mind the violence journalists face:

RSFredpen

Well, it almost works.

Just remember: Beware the ad agencies. They’ll do work like this for you. (Though, as a recent commenter pointed out, it’s your own fault if it happens; the ad agencies can’t force nonprofits to look stupid.)

Thanks to Osocio for the tip.

More Stupid Nonprofit Ads.


Comments

14 responses to “Stupid ad accuses repressive governments of absent-mindedness”

  1. I don’t know; I like it, personally. The obvious reason that ads like these use conceptual metaphors instead of the literal truth is that people have developed filtering processes for brutal images and straighforward descriptions of horrendous suffering. As good as, for example, the Indra Sinha long copy ads were for Amnesty and the Bohpal campaign, I doubt they’d be as successful now after 20+ years more exposure to that style.
    As commentors frequently point out here, it’s about results, and only about results. If we don’t have them, it’s hard to judge an ad, much less justifiably call it stupid.

  2. I don’t know; I like it, personally. The obvious reason that ads like these use conceptual metaphors instead of the literal truth is that people have developed filtering processes for brutal images and straighforward descriptions of horrendous suffering. As good as, for example, the Indra Sinha long copy ads were for Amnesty and the Bohpal campaign, I doubt they’d be as successful now after 20+ years more exposure to that style.
    As commentors frequently point out here, it’s about results, and only about results. If we don’t have them, it’s hard to judge an ad, much less justifiably call it stupid.

  3. Hi Alasdair
    Indra Sinha’s Bhopal Medical Appeal adverts are successful to this day. Anyone who is interested can see some examples here: http://www.sofii.org/node/184. I’m with Jeff on the Reporters without Borders ads though – they don’t work and bear all the hallmarks of an agency wanting to look clever, instead of be clever. The tiny call to action indicates to me that raising money was the last thing the creatives were thinking about!

  4. Hi Alasdair
    Indra Sinha’s Bhopal Medical Appeal adverts are successful to this day. Anyone who is interested can see some examples here: http://www.sofii.org/node/184. I’m with Jeff on the Reporters without Borders ads though – they don’t work and bear all the hallmarks of an agency wanting to look clever, instead of be clever. The tiny call to action indicates to me that raising money was the last thing the creatives were thinking about!

  5. Great ad campaign that has received great results. Contact Reporters Without Borders and find out. Ads serve a different marketing function than monthly direct mail letter appeals. It’s amateurish to think they are trying to accomplish the same thing.

  6. Great ad campaign that has received great results. Contact Reporters Without Borders and find out. Ads serve a different marketing function than monthly direct mail letter appeals. It’s amateurish to think they are trying to accomplish the same thing.

  7. I can’t see anything wrong with these executions. Clear, clever metaphors with the broken/chewed pens. Simple & uncluttered. I am now aware of RWB & talking about it.

  8. I can’t see anything wrong with these executions. Clear, clever metaphors with the broken/chewed pens. Simple & uncluttered. I am now aware of RWB & talking about it.

  9. Too abstract means you lose viewers attention in the extra time it takes to figure it out. Even if pure engagement is the goal – on the basis that emotional engagement leads to action in time – the abstraction diminishes the likelihood of engagement!

  10. Too abstract means you lose viewers attention in the extra time it takes to figure it out. Even if pure engagement is the goal – on the basis that emotional engagement leads to action in time – the abstraction diminishes the likelihood of engagement!

  11. I wouldn’t call it stupid, but I do think it comes up short.
    A pen isn’t a person. Absently chewing a pen isn’t the same as jailing a person, and certainly falls far short of murdering a person. There’s an element of fear and malice in how repressive governments treat journalists that can’t quite be conveyed by damaging a disposable ballpoint pen (tho’ the red one, with its blood-like spilled ink, comes closer).
    Hey, at least it’s better than the short-lived new Gap log. Try again… An inset of a journalist’s photo might help.

  12. I wouldn’t call it stupid, but I do think it comes up short.
    A pen isn’t a person. Absently chewing a pen isn’t the same as jailing a person, and certainly falls far short of murdering a person. There’s an element of fear and malice in how repressive governments treat journalists that can’t quite be conveyed by damaging a disposable ballpoint pen (tho’ the red one, with its blood-like spilled ink, comes closer).
    Hey, at least it’s better than the short-lived new Gap log. Try again… An inset of a journalist’s photo might help.

  13. I do think these “stupid ad” posts are a little black and white – as a previous poster pointed out (and as I’ve pointed out on other similar posts) it’s all about results, and while abstractism in direct fundraising generally doesn’t work, it’s far too simplistic to say abstractism never works in any form of charity marketing.
    These ads are aimed primarily at journalists and writers – they are people with a natural empathy for the charity’s cause, and an institutional understanding of pen abuse! They’re also people who are fairly immune to images of real abuse – which are literally everyday images to them.
    As an ex-BBC journalist, I get this ad straight away, and it raises my awareness of this charity extremely effectively. I wouldn’t expect it to have the same effect on my Gran, or on you, but then it was never meant to.
    I don’t really think it is fair to dismiss an advertising agencies work as “stupid” or accuse a charity’s marketing teams of wasting money, when you don’t know how well the ad did, or even on occasions understand who the ad is aimed at.

  14. I do think these “stupid ad” posts are a little black and white – as a previous poster pointed out (and as I’ve pointed out on other similar posts) it’s all about results, and while abstractism in direct fundraising generally doesn’t work, it’s far too simplistic to say abstractism never works in any form of charity marketing.
    These ads are aimed primarily at journalists and writers – they are people with a natural empathy for the charity’s cause, and an institutional understanding of pen abuse! They’re also people who are fairly immune to images of real abuse – which are literally everyday images to them.
    As an ex-BBC journalist, I get this ad straight away, and it raises my awareness of this charity extremely effectively. I wouldn’t expect it to have the same effect on my Gran, or on you, but then it was never meant to.
    I don’t really think it is fair to dismiss an advertising agencies work as “stupid” or accuse a charity’s marketing teams of wasting money, when you don’t know how well the ad did, or even on occasions understand who the ad is aimed at.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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