What a tangled, stupid web we weave when we try to win awards

Stupid ads

Say a car dealer calls you up and offers you a really cool car, really cheap. Maybe even free.

Does it fit my needs? you ask.

Dunno, the dealer says. Probably not.

Is it a high-performance car?

Not exactly. To tell you the truth, it barely works.

How’s the mileage? you ask.

Terrible.

Now you’re getting annoyed. You want me to take this crummy car that’s not useful to me in any way. Why?

It’s beautiful. Completely beautiful. I can guarantee it’s better-looking than your current car.

You look out the window at your faithful but dowdy old minivan. He’s right about that. My current car isn’t going to win any beauty prizes, but it does everything I need.

Did you say “prizes”? the dealer says hungrily. That’s why we’re talking. See, if you take this car, we might win prizes

Prizes?

Glory! Fame! Improved portfolio! Trips to New York or even France!

If you are a nonprofit organization, you might have had conversations like this. Not with car dealers offering stupid cars, but with ad agency people peddling stupid ads.

They are fishing for awards. And they want you to pay for it. Frequently, they’ll disguise the fact that you’re paying by doing the work “pro bono.” Which doesn’t cover the opportunity cost and potential damage to your other marketing or even your reputation.

Here’s an obvious example of award-fishing, done on the back of WWF México:

(Or go see it here on Vimeo.)

This ad doesn’t have the brutal stupidity that a lot of similar agency creations have. In fact, it’s rather pretty. But pretty doesn’t get the job done. Especially when there’s no call to action. Not even a hint of one.

All this ad does is say we are all connected. It doesn’t prove we’re connected, it merely asserts it. And it does that only through abstraction, making string the symbol for actual connection. Pardon me, but I think my real-life connection with butterflies, whales, or elephants is more interesting, emotionally deep, and visually beautiful than a fake connection where we’re all made out of twine.

But none of that matters. Because this isn’t an honest attempt at marketing or fundraising. Three things tell me that:


  • The agency and the production house get prominent billing in all the online postings. A clear sign who’s really meant to benefit from the work.
  • The version that’s being bandied about is in English, even though the client and its audience are Spanish-speaking. (See the Mexican version.)
  • It has that wow-how-did-they-do-that quality.

It’s time for nonprofits to stop playing along with this damaging stupidity. If ad agencies want to win awards, that’s fine. Just let them do it on their own dime. Don’t be fooled by their false, pointless glamour. We should not be involved in filling world with dumb messages that accomplish nothing. This crap is crowding out real messages that might actually accomplish some good. It’s crowding it out in our audience’s own minds or in our own organizational bandwidth. It’s not free, and it’s not even cheap.

Worse yet, it can strike a devastating blow against your reputation, like this award-bait masterpiece done a couple years ago for WWF Brasil. This piece actually won an award before people started to notice how vile and dunderheaded it was.

(Or watch on YouTube.)

Save yourself the trouble an embarrassment. Say no to award-fishing agencies!

Thanks to Osocio for the tip.


Comments

6 responses to “What a tangled, stupid web we weave when we try to win awards”

  1. Marjorie Fine Avatar
    Marjorie Fine

    did either of these make money for WWF? what was the goal of the ads before it was made? Thanks. Margie

  2. Marjorie Fine Avatar
    Marjorie Fine

    did either of these make money for WWF? what was the goal of the ads before it was made? Thanks. Margie

  3. I wonder how much longer nonprofits are going to even bother with tv ads. I mean, after all, the world is growing more and more interested in looking at things online, donating through the web. 92% of CEOs have smartphones. Many people in Africa who don’t have computers can surf the web through their phones.
    I think these ads are more the product of dinosaur ad agency thinking than what most nonprofits are actually looking to do.
    What do you think?
    Mazarine
    http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  4. I wonder how much longer nonprofits are going to even bother with tv ads. I mean, after all, the world is growing more and more interested in looking at things online, donating through the web. 92% of CEOs have smartphones. Many people in Africa who don’t have computers can surf the web through their phones.
    I think these ads are more the product of dinosaur ad agency thinking than what most nonprofits are actually looking to do.
    What do you think?
    Mazarine
    http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  5. It’s still possible to raise money on television, but it’s difficult, and it can be very expensive. It’s not for everybody, for sure. Clearly, these ads are indeed the product of dinosaur ad agencies that have no intention of serving their client.
    Marjorie, I have no inside knowledge about the goal of these ads, other than what I can infer from the facts available to everyone.

  6. It’s still possible to raise money on television, but it’s difficult, and it can be very expensive. It’s not for everybody, for sure. Clearly, these ads are indeed the product of dinosaur ad agencies that have no intention of serving their client.
    Marjorie, I have no inside knowledge about the goal of these ads, other than what I can infer from the facts available to everyone.

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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 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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