Friday, January 20, 2006

Blood is Thicker than Water . . . And Faster than Social Activism Too!

Just when I thought that social marketing appeals couldn't get any more debased, the PR industry somehow achieves a brand new low. Yesterday, I came across "In Cold Blood: A nasty new public service announcement from the Red Cross," Seth Stevenson's ad review in Slate. Social marketing experts are apparently no longer content with merely pitching social and civic responsibilities to the lowest common denominators of the viewer's envy, gluttony, lust, and sloth; now they are resorting to the same Brand X vs. Brand Y pitches that conventional spots from the advertising industry use. Thus do-gooding appeals are rebranded as part of a zero sum game in which social marketing campaigns actually must compete against each other.

This new breed of TV commercial can be seen on the blood drive's website, which very obviously borrows from the graphic sensibility of The Truth website. Using the technique of gendered marketing, a pair of spots emphasizes the unintended consequences of social activism: child labor abroad is assigned to the guy, and regional pollution is slotted for the gal. Apparently the laudable goals of ambitious social activism will only waste resources or cause unemployment, so it is better to follow the path of least resistance and just go to your local blood center and give generously only from your bodily humors.

Although several associated blood banks, including the Red Cross, laud the "pro bono" work done by Euro RSCG Worldwide, the agenda of the company's own executives is a little more troubling. The Euro RSCG Worldwide company website is full of advertising-speak intended to describe their youthful target audience: "Prosumer" (professional consumer), "P1" (for "the power of one"), and "CBI" (for "creative business ideas"). Conversely, traditional products are marketed by Euro RSCG using a social responsibility hook. For example, in their "Wittness" campaign for the rebranding of Guinness they boast of their mastery of "under-the-radar media" that include "police-style incident boards" that ask "Are you willing to make a statement?"

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