CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/UNISON CAMPAIGN - Unison has chosen to use strong imagery in its latest spot, Jeremy White reports

Unison's latest campaign, which was launched last week, marks a

radical change in direction for the UK's largest union.

At the end of 1995, BMP DDB unveiled its 'ant' campaign where ants band

together to ask a bear to move out of their way. Delaney Lund Knox

Warren & Partner's latest offering features a woman's slashed wrist.

Hard-hitting stuff. So why the change of tactics?

Mary Maguire, the head of press and broadcasting at Unison, argues that

the issue they are campaigning for demands this sort of strategy. 'The

Tories are proposing cuts in public spending which are not going to

benefit public services and the people that rely on them,' she says.

'You have to grab people's attention. You have to use images that make

people think. DLKW has done this.'

Greg Delaney, the chairman of DLKW, comments: 'We certainly don't want

to upset anybody - but equally we want to draw attention to a serious


However, a Samaritans spokeswoman argues: 'This kind of imagery can be

unhelpful to anyone experiencing suicidal feelings. The Samaritans

advise people against using imagery that can lead to copycat


Advertisers often use hard-hitting ads to get the message across - but

when do they go too far?

John O'Keeffe, the creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, which

produced the recent Barnardo's ads, explains: 'Barnardo's is based upon

insight - it's not shock for shock's sake. Once you've established the

insight and the idea, the client drives the subject matter. Anything we

showed in the ad is tame compared with what Barnardo's deals with every

day. We didn't sensationalise.

'The Benetton poster featuring a man dying of AIDS drew contempt in

certain quarters because the retailer is a purveyor of jumpers. There

was no relevance. That's the key.'

The Unison ad certainly does use relevant, if strong, imagery. 'We make

no apologies for using a hard-hitting image. The end justifies the

means,' Delaney says.

Sue Unerman, the director of strategic solutions at MediaCom, thinks the

imagery used in the Barnardo's ads was spot on, but feels that sometimes

advertisers can overstep the mark: 'The NSPCC work was difficult. It

gets to a point where it is so upsetting that you have to turn


The Advertising Standards Authority has an advisory team especially for

advertisers that are worried about using strong copy or images. The

advice is without prejudice and free. Last year the team dealt with

4,500 written enquiries and more than 7,800 calls.

Gary Ward, the head of communications at the ASA, comments: 'Charities

are usually given a little more leeway than commercial advertisers, but

it doesn't give them a green light to offend. It's a fine line between

causing widespread offence and drawing attention to the cause you are


But in their eagerness to play it safe, are advertisers losing some

important long-term battles? Some issues can't be dealt with using

cuddly bears or animated ants. 'We are bombarded by images all the

time,' Unerman says.

'Getting one that gets through to people and makes them think is hard.'