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Real or wrong? Some thoughts before you go for the heartstrings

Published December 18, 2013 at 9:16 am

When it comes to hot button political issues all over the map, there’s no surer way to nab a viewer’s attention than with a “real” subject, whether it’s footage of the underprivileged in struggling countries or images of survivors of a recent disease. Putting a face to an otherwise nebulous issue has become a classic marketing strategy for getting a point across.

But as effective as this is, in a modern age where no one can be really sure about intent or authenticity, tone can be everything. An ad campaign from the Department of Transportation that is running in New York City soon uses the images of people who really lost family members to car accidents to drive home a point about car safety.

The commissioner of this agency, Janette Sadik-Khan, told the New York Post that this is meant to accomplish what dry facts might not.

These ads are clearly straightforward, and are intended to send powerful messages, but companies looking to make an impact this way need to remember that every little detail can make a difference. Last year’s ad campaign in which a series of videos showed poor residents of Haiti reading some of the comparatively vapid tweets that are commonly listed on social media with the hashtag “firstworldproblems”

As Emer O’Toole wrote for the Guardian, this campaign definitely had some questionable undercurrents which probably didn’t occur to its creators.

“There’s definitely an extent to which the hashtag is in bad taste,” she wrote last October. “It might have started out as a rebuke to first world privilege, but it has now become so naturalized that it doesn’t really encourage any sort of empathetic engagement with third world issues.

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