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Thursday Thinky: Heroes, Voices & Silence

“Not all heroes were capes!” Since the beginning of the pandemic, first responders and essential workers have been referred to as our modern days heroes. And indeed, they put their safety on the line everyday to make sure that they are here for all of us. However, this theme has made its way to advertising and it becomes trickier for brands to use it genuinely.

So this week’s Thinky took the liberty to highlight a good (Mattel) and a bad (Ad Council) examples of that same coin to show you the difference. We also tackle the dichotomy between having a voice and living in silence through AI, the criminal justice system, and people suffering from chronic loneliness. Last but not least, we’ll round up our tour with in the Faroe Islands with the concept of remote tourism.

Have a good read and call your mom on Sunday!


Creative & Brand

From Amy (SVP Brand + Creative): If you’re a regular follower of the Thinky, you may know that we’re not the biggest fans of Ad Council’s creative work. We WANT to be, but there’s always something that just seems to fall short of connecting. Their latest COVID-19 related effort is, unfortunately, no exception.

“In partnership with The White House, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a number of agencies, educational content, an animated series, a custom song, and new digital, TV, radio and print ads are designed to provide simple tips and guidance for what parents can do to help their families stay safe.”

Cooooool, except, that they’re not cool, on the count of trying too hard to be, well, cool. The promo script reads as though it was written directly from bullet points on the brief, the superhero trope has been overdone, and their attempt at humor and cuteness feel neutered. The intent behind all of this work is solid. Maybe it would have resonated more had it been launched 4 weeks ago when we were all in hyper-response mode vs. hyper-fatigue mode, maybe not. But as a parent myself, this isn’t something I find interesting, note-worthy, or valuable enough to share with my kids. Better luck next time, AdCouncil.


From Amy (SVP Brand + Creative): There have been oodles of brands coming out with ads, campaigns, statements, what-have-you to say thanks to all of the frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic. But fewer have actually stepped up to do something to help, and even fewer have done something that has the potential for long-term impact, once we’re (fingers crossed) safely on the other side of this.

Which is why Mattel’s launch of the #ThankYouHeroes action figure and Little People toy series makes me so happy. Not only is this an incredible way to pay tribute to doctors, nurses, EMTs, and delivery drivers (and provide positive play role models for our kids), but 75% of the products’ sales are being donated to #FirstRespondersFirst, the company is making face shields and cloth face masks for medical professions, AND they’ve provided toy donations to non-profit partners across the country. ALL, to my knowledge, without any big splashy media campaign behind it. Intent turned into real action that kids AND adults can support together. It’s a beautiful thing when done right.


Change The Ref – Gun reform group creates gun-shaped soap as firearm sales spike (Campaign Live)

From Amy (SVP Brand + Creative): Until the last week or two, when many states began re-opening their economies, the COVID-19 crisis had slowed the gun violence rate in our country significantly. But the recent rise in protests from angry citizens demanding their own states follow suit has lead to a disturbing spike in gun sales.

Grassroots gun reform group Change The Ref (as in referendum) and Alma, an agency within DDB Latina, “are trying to remind people of what the real priorities should be right now. The group has been creating batches of gun-shaped soap, with messages that say, ‘The more this disappears, the safer our lives will be.”

OK, I get it. Soap is an essential right now, and guns are not, even though in many states, gun shops were deemed essential businesses. And the play on both of them “disappearing” to create a safer world is valid. But where I greatly struggle with this is it’s actual relevance and reach. It feels like a stunt that’s talking to the ad industry, not everyday folks who would likely be a bit confused about the connection without the benefit of an article explaining it. Which leads to the reach part…who is getting this product? Where is it being distributed? Who will see it? What action are they asking people to take? While it may be creative, if it’s too complex for most people to grasp, and most people aren’t even aware of it…then that creativity isn’t really being put to good use.

Meet the former journalist marketing the Faroe Islands on a shoestring (The Drum)

From Amy (SVP Brand + Creative): No one is traveling right now. But travel related searches have soared recently as we’re all dreaming of a brighter future (summer, maybe??) when it’s safe to roam again. Still, much of the tourism industry seems to be stuck in panic mode vs. providing inspiration and a much needed mental escape. Except for the Faroe Islands.

Never heard of em? Neither had most people until last year, when they launched ‘Closed for Maintenance’ – an initiative that invited volunteers to the islands for a working holiday. It took home a ton of industry awards, but more impactfully, put the Islands on the map for ecotourists looking for a destination that’s largely untouched by human development. In the middle of all that’s going on right now, they’re back with a beautifully simplistic campaign that’s not even really a campaign, by normal standards. But more of a remote exploration that’s being documented and followed by millions across the globe.

“People from all over the world have been logging on to the dedicated microsite to watch the day’s local guide traverse the islands’ rugged coastlines, wide open plains and postcard perfect villages via a livestreaming camera attached to her hat. They can also join the queue to ‘remote control’ the explorer – commanding her with a virtual controller to run, jump, turn left or right, continue forwards or turn backwards.” It’s an incredible example of creating virtual experiences–translating something we’re all yearning for into something digitally connective. It’s slow, it’s deliberate, and it’s everything we didn’t know we needed right now. How can brands and NPOs learn from this, as we figure out how to create our own virtual experiences as part of whatever “new normal” lies ahead?



REFORM Alliance – Meek Mill and Droga5 shine a light on inmates’ coronavirus fears (Ad Age)

From Melvin (Account Director): REFORM Alliance, the foundation created by hip hop artists Meek Mill and Jay-z to fight the injustices of the criminal justice system and to reduce the number of people who are unjustly incarcerated, launched on Monday the #AnswerTheirCall campaign. This awareness campaign aiming to draw attention to the most dangerous coronavirus viral hot spots in the country: its jails.

“To create the campaign, Droga5 interviewed 23 people currently in prison, who recorded unscripted conversations for the videos. The effort encourages viewers to share the conversations to amplify the voices of inmates.”

In order to reach as many people as possible, REFORM used Meek Mill’s social media followers by simply posting a phone number (1-833-229-8300) that lets you listen to the stories of these inmates. This is precisely the use of raw audio footage that makes this campaign so compelling and striking. They followed up that launch by publishing some of these testimonies on social and asking their audience to share and carry the voices of those behind bars who are most at risk of contracting the virus because of their living conditions.



Designing the First Genderless Voice with Emil Asmussen (Design Your Life)

From Amy (SVP Brand + Creative): Siri. Cortana. Alexa. OK Google. What do they all have in common, besides the obvious? They’re all voiced by “female” sounding AI. As more people tune-in (pun intended) into the subconscious gender biases and stereotypes that are ingrained in our everyday experiences and interactions, some innovators are working to correct it.

This podcast interviews D&AD award winner Emil Asmussen about how he developed “Meet Q,” the first genderless voice for AI, his creative process, some of the surprising backlash he received, and what he hopes Meet Q will mean for the future of technology, and our society as a whole.




From Puzzles To Plastic Straws: Merch Plays A Key Role In Trump’s Fundraising (NPR)

From Nicola Leckie (Account Director): Do you have a rapid response merchandise strategy? The Trump campaign does and I hate to say it, but it’s kinda brilliant. The campaign has realized that a large following of people will not donate outright to a campaign, but they are willing to purchase merch which is also considered a donation. And according to the digital marketing firm Bully Pulpit Interactive, about 10% of the campaign’s overall Facebook ad spending this year has been explicitly to market merchandise.

After seeing puzzle sales spike they jumped on the trend to capitalize on the moment. They also took advantage of consumer annoyance with paper straws and have sold over $1million in Trump plastic straws since last fall. The campaign is having success at employing ecommerce strategies in a fundraising environment and is able to gain financial support from people who wouldn’t otherwise give. Back in my retail days, I would have called these buyers “red line shoppers”, they are more transactional. We see the same thing in donor segmentation, some donors will not give without a premium, and that’s ok, it’s part of a segmented strategy to ensure you’re reaching the right audience at the right time with the right offer…and not missing out on a whole segment of your audience that you might not be reaching.



HelsinkiMissio demonstrates how the world looks like for the lonely (Ads of the World)

From Clara (Senior Advocacy Account Strategist): “For some, this is how the world has always felt. Show the lonely they are not alone.” That’s the tagline for a moving and very timely campaign by a non-profit organization in Finland, that provides social support systems for those who suffer from chronic loneliness.

The campaign video and creative shows scenes of emptiness from some of the busiest spots in Helsinki, which, during this time of COVID-19 are quiet and deserted. The campaign is a brilliant move to get into people’s hearts and minds and speak to the current reality, and raise funds to combat loneliness and depression—an issue that many may not realize is even a problem in what is ranked the happiest nation in the world. There is another campaign to combat loneliness in the UK; it would have been neat to see this video spark similar ones throughout the rest of the world and address the issue on an international level.


Thanks for reading today’s Thinky. See you next week!

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