CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: CRE shock tactics risk undermining goal of campaign

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.

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

success.



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

worried.



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.



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