It’s pretty rare that an ad forces you to think. Even rarer that it
absolutely demands that you act. But whatever else you might think of
Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper’s debut poster campaign for the Commission for
Racial Equality, it qualifies on both counts.
If you saw any of the three executions that went up last week - see the
story on page six - you will undoubtedly have been appalled. Or at least
you should have been because, as you will now have gathered, that was
the whole idea.
Judged on this basis, the campaign has already been a runaway
People did think and they did act: more than 30 of them complained to
the Advertising Standards Authority within its first two days. The
campaign even managed to get the Bath and Avon constabulary to order the
posters to be pulled down.
Whether it is a success when measured by more useful criteria is less
clear, however. The campaign may have had a big impact but will all the
controversy over its tactics and the condemnation of the CRE itself by
ethnic minority MPs really further the anti-racist cause? While there’s
no such thing as bad news for commercial advertisers who set out to
offend, campaigning groups have to be much more careful about the nature
of the press coverage they generate.
Which is why, if I were responsible for this campaign, I’d be
Not because I have any doubts about the power of the ads - the rape
alarm execution, in particular, is quite brilliant - but because the
tactics are in danger of reducing that power. It’s a great shame, but
while the aim was to stimulate a debate about racism, the danger is it
will only generate yet more column inches about the morality of shock
tactics in advertising.
According to the agency, the tactics were arrived at in order to
generate impact in a society that is bored with anti-racist messages
because it thinks racism has gone away. Personally, I think they are
spot on with their campaign strategy of targeting the passive racism in
most people rather than out-and-out, active racists.
But wouldn’t this message have been equally impactful if the ads had run
with a small CRE moniker and anti-racist slogan tucked away where you
wouldn’t notice it at first glance, but which would hit the point home
as shocked onlookers searched the poster in search of an explanation? Or
the teaser ads could have run in newspapers or magazines followed by the
explanatory executions on the following page.
The only thing such tactics wouldn’t have achieved is a huge number of
complaints to the ASA - and therefore the press coverage. With a small
spend it’s easy to see why the CRE was attracted to the rogue advertiser
route. But surely, in this instance, a little good, honest PR would have
been more advisable?
Caroline Marshall is on holiday.