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.'