This Week’s Awards - 31/10

Bouquets & Brickbats

Jon Allen
03rd Nov 2014

Illustrations by Bill Sanderson & Dave Hopkins 

A bunch of handpicked wildflowers (randomly self-seeded by the wind) to a major fundraising campaign. It was just before the morning news last Wednesday when I turned on Radio 4 and heard Lenny Henry's unmistakeable tones. With this being the BBC, I knew it couldn't be one of his commercials for that hotel chain which makes him sleep outside surrounded by tourists who ignore him. It became clear that he was talking about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the appeal was on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). I won't be alone in being a bit surprised that Ebola has been labelled a Disaster and awarded that Very Serious TV and Radio Ads Status which allows politicians to force themselves on unsuspecting viewers ahead of elections or signifies a massive natural catastrophe. This campaign has a nice warm blanket coverage rather than saturation. I saw the BBC TV spot a few times and also spotted a press ad. It's double-branded with the DEC logo - so I suppose there might be a very, very slight risk of its being confused with their last appeal but only by people with the IQ of Fox TV viewers.

Is Ebola really this a 'Disaster' like the subjects of previous DEC campaigns? The 2004 Tsunami around wiped out more than 250,000 people. To date, there have been nearly 5,000 known deaths in four West African countries. The DEC's own website estimates the TOTAL cases as 10,000 cases and 13,000 cases (a 30% margin of error!?). It's the measured, preventative tone of the DEC's work and its timing which are especially praiseworthy. 

The heroic nurse William Pooley returned home to the UK with the disease from volunteering in West Africa. There was a little Daily Mail-style panic mumbling about his presence being the precursor to us all being wiped out, but he was cured using experimental drugs in a Hampstead hospital and has now flown back to continue his work in Africa. If you are dumb enough to watch Fox TV to keep up with world news, you're dumb enough to believe their hysterical coverage. Such ignorance has had an effect in the US where a returned nurse has tested negative, yet her local authority want her in quarantine, effectively putting her under house arrest. I'm reminded of the 1987 blanket 'Don't Die of Ignorance' tombstone campaign about HIV - which did little good because most people were not affected and were unlikely to be unless the disease progressed beyond at-risk groups. Far more effective was the targeted work of the Terrence Higgins Trust - a fundraising client we worked with for around nine years - which pointed out that people could only be infected via bodily fluids. Now IS the time to fundraise and inform about Ebola because the outcome of exponential growth is potentially catastrophic - and there are very simply understood strategies and equipment your money can pay for.

On the DEC site I see that the BBC and ITV don't share a single fundraising film, but have their own individual appeals. I'll remove a dandelion from the bouquet for that - no matter what the reasoning. It's not as if Lenny Henry's BBC (2 mins 50 secs) spot could be usefully tested against ITV's (3 mins 10 secs) spot fronted by the actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. They both told much the same story in much the same way... but ITV's shopping list ask had more heart than the BBC's. The £25, £50 and £100 requested would pay for the same things, but Chiwetel's script made it all sound more human.

Now press 1 and listen to interminable holding music while I tell you about this week's brickbat recipient

While Ebola might well threaten the future of homo sapiens at some time, this week's brickbat goes to a sector of society who have done pretty well to bring us all down financially while lining their own pockets. An award made from an ugly lump of demolished high street is heading to Britain's banks for their current advertising. The industry as a whole can share the award, but a special mention goes to three banks in particular. The first is Lloyds for having the brass neck to run full page press ads with the headline: 'Helping Britain prosper'. Satire's obviously not dead. Neither is being shameless. 

Which brings is to the ludicrously mis-cast TV commercial for Cooperative Banking. A topless bloke (oh the irony!) with an indefinable and indescribable accent boasts that they sometimes refuse to lend. Hardly a USP these days, I'd have thought. Of course, the Coop couldn't possibly associate with customers who don't live up to their high standards - those of a bank whose Chairman was indulging in serious Class A drug use and much else besides guaranteed to excite the tabloids. Well at least, as a lay preacher, he was practising what he preached. In the deranged logic of this la-la-land commercial, the odd-voiced protaganist proves what a trustworthy bank he represents by having some guff about ethics tattooed on some part of his body. Wouldn't it be refreshing if the marketing geniuses holding this particular poisoned chalice realised that some of the audience might be aware of what actually had happened - and opted not to insult our intelligence?

Meanwhile Barclays is running a follow-up commercial to the irritating and smug one about the valuable assistance the bank gives to help a standing football team of blokes whose running days are over (someone's been watching Father Ted re-runs) to post updates on facebook. This has been superceded by a callow youth saying Barclays will be offering advice on body language to other callow youths so they can get a job. I'll tell Barclays here and for free what will enable people young and old to get a job: they and the other banks should get on with lending to perfectly viable businesses at a decent rate of interest. They could even advertise the fact.

The (wannabe) Dangerous Bros circa 1984. L: Classic Campaign Pose. R: Subsequent embarassment
In other WPP news, the agency group is struggling to find a new Chairperson. Maybe the £450,000 salary gives rise to esteem issues, given the gulf between it and what Sir Martin pays himself according to this story.

And a nearly brickbat to... WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell who this week issued a warning to his shareholders that Ebola was "grinding down" confidence amongst major advertisers. Amongst the populations in West Africa, it's having a slightly more disastrous effect. Thankfully, one advertiser is spending quite a bit of money to tell us about it.

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