Most stupid ad concept, bar none

Here is an advert for Amnesty International Poland that might just make your brain implode.

Written by
Jeff Brooks
May 14, 2012

The ad industry seem to rely on visual puns to communicate things (you seldom win awards by just coming out and saying something).

Given the assignment of getting people to care about human rights violations, a normal person might consider showing those violations and what other fellow human beings are going through at the hands of corrupt governments.

No. Clearly that is too straightforward.

The brief must have said, ‘Make the viewer feel the pain of the victims’. But rather than communicate that pain by vividly telling the truth, they had to find an indirect, abstract way to say it. Like when they’re selling a product that is large, they show an elephant instead of the product itself.

So, in this instance, the designers decided to make us ‘feel the pain’ by creating a visual vibration, something that most people dislike.

It’s utterly fatuous to compare the suffering of the victims of human rights abuse to the mild discomfort we get from looking at this ad. But worse than that, the pun makes no sense. Close-set vertical bars don’t actually hurt you. Being jailed, tortured, or killed for your beliefs on the other hand, do. The comparison is even less apt than an elephant standing in for the idea that something is big.

And most importantly, the viewer doesn’t know – rationally or emotionally – one iota more about the violations against human rights taking place all over the world.

Click on the image to compare this advert to a very different and highly successful Amnesty campaign also featured on SOFII.

The barely-visible face in this ad is the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Ky, who was imprisoned by the junta in Burma for many years. You may have recognised her, but I wouldn’t count on one in ten average people knowing her by her image alone.

Burma is a repressive police state that uses torture, rape, slave labour and many other kinds of violence to keep its people down. Rather than mention any of that or help us feel the pain this ad serves up an obscure portrait of someone most people won’t recognise.

Could they have gone any farther away from actually communicating, much less motivating action?

Reality and truth are powerful. You can use them to get people to care, to give, or to volunteer. Abstract visual puns? Not so much.

About the author: Jeff Brooks

Jeff Brooks

Jeff Brooks has served the nonprofit community for more than 30 years, working as a writer and creative director on behalf of a variety of organisations including CARE, World Vision, Feeding America, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, National Wildlife Federation, and many more. He blogs at Future Fundraising Now and Moceanic. In previous careers, he’s been an English teacher and a classical musician. He lives in Seattle in the USA.

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