For years I never really thought much about marketing. Occasionally, a flashy ad or movie preview would catch my interest but I never really considered the sheer amount of time and effort devoted to campaigns. Then in my last job, I worked for an organization focused on research, early diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases. We were launching a new Public Service Announcement campaign with both print and commercial elements and I ended up working with the marketing team on and off. They spent weeks getting ready. There was casting, followed by the contracts, the scripts, the settings and a million other small details.
Then came the day of the shoot and although I wasn’t involved in that aspect of it, my boss had asked my colleague and I to attend. We took a cab down to the Meatpacking district from Midtown and there was plenty of traffic. We were very late and when we finally arrived at the venue we went to the wrong stage and ended up on the set of a Honda commercial. We were promptly told off which my colleague didn’t take so well which led to us getting kicked out of the building all together. Fortunately we finally found another entrance and made it the right stage and it was close to chaos. My boss was terribly upset as lunch never arrived, one of the actors couldn’t get his lines right and the pink background on one of the sets wasn’t quite the hue she had envisioned.
After the shoot was over the editing began and that took weeks as well. In the end we were quite proud of the final product. They were simple PSAs but they got the message across. The response we received was largely positive as one would expect given that it was a simple healthcare focused PSA but we still had our critics. In one of the ads, the actor, a young blond boy says, “when I grow up I want to be a fireman”. We received countless emails and social media posts about this campaign as “firefighter” is more inclusive. In addition, people were also critical of other aspects of the campaign from the roles chosen for the actors to the scripted stories and so on.
While our campaign was largely a success it impressed upon me just the number of ways campaigns can go wrong and the amount of planning required and different angles that must be considered. Some high-profile examples include Guinness’ use of a four-leaf clover instead of a shamrock in a Canadian ad. Other examples include, “The Perfect Body” ad released by Victoria’s Secret which created a backlash for featuring a dozen women of all the same tall thin body type.
Some of the more amusing examples I came across dealt with cultural misunderstandings. Some words don’t translate well to other languages. I learned this living abroad and even words as simple as common names can have a different meaning in another language. For example, Anneick is a lovely name in most languages but in Arabic it literally translates to “I F***”. IKEA experienced issues with the names of its furniture as some took on other meanings in different languages. Translations can also be difficult and one example is the Pepsi campaign launched in China with a slogan that should have translated to “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” but due to a bad translation really said “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”
It is fascinating to think about the details that must be considered for any campaign and also the ways a campaign can go astray.