Efficiency and Ethics – How We Create Social Campaigns.

According to Zofia Leszczynska from K2 and Marek Rosłan z Saatchi & Saatchi IS, social ads can be impressive but often lack effectiveness.
Group of people

We, people from advertising agencies, really tend to believe that our exceptional intellects make the world move forward and help to solve the most urgent global problems. As we stick mostly to the homogenous circle of industry people, there is no one to put it straight for us, while the pompous atmosphere of various festivals and all these awards only consolidate our belief that we have really done something immortally historical. It is enough to suggest the lack of awards to make creative department run and scream in panic.

The creatives say that festivals give the meaning to their work. Award-related discussions are very emotional, which proves how much we made a fetish of it. It’s hard to determine who is more to blame — the management, putting a pressure on employees to win awards, or creatives themselves, who learn from the start that their position, promotion and remuneration depend on awards. We rarely talk about the value of our work, as all we see is the award. We get it, case closed. And sometimes, to get it, we are able to do things that we should see as ethically doubtful.

Who do we really try to help?

It is hard sometimes to convince commercial clients to the revolutionary idea, but, luckily, we sometimes manage to hit upon an idea for a social campaign. We will help sick people, excluded people, children or violence victims! So, we find pro bono client, implement our campaign, forward it to a festival, get awarded, get prestige, bonus and promotion. But who did we really help? Those in need or ourselves? Have we ever given it a thought that costs of cases, registration, flights, going to an event and prosecco are sometimes many times higher than the profits we were to make for a foundation? That maybe we did pay for the English-speaking lector to voice our case study, but we forgot to make even the smallest donation for the organization we claimed to help? That campaign promotion, www page hosting and other types of support last as long as the festival season?

Hey! Good news. It is not about you.

It is obvious that not each social campaign commits such sin. Not each campaign aims at fundraising (some of them want to change the attitude), not each campaign is about excluded groups (because sometimes it is about clarity of the language or cleaning after your dog), not each campaign is registered to the most expensive festivals and many of them really do the good job, also with regard to financial gain. This article refers to campaigns deliberately created to win award, instead of helping someone to improve living conditions. An infamous example is the I Sea application, awarded with the Cannes Lion. The fact that it did not help to save even a single refugee seemed to escape the attention of its designers and, for a moment, of the festival’s organizers. And if your mind, my dear reader, is now scanning its resources for a similar example, here it is. You can find it in the portfolio of one of the authors of this article.

Why we don’t discuss the effectiveness?

I believe that discussing the effectiveness of social campaign is a bit a “no-go” subject in Poland. We talk about soft indicators: earned media, “discussion triggering” and Facebook likes. But we do not talk about hard data in competition case studies. Solid discussions are carried out in small circles of festival jury members, and when asked a question about the effectiveness factor in the process of assessment, most KTR jury members often say that this competition is about the ideas. Effectiveness is left to Effie — but this festival is less prestigious among creative employees and the social campaigns are rarely registered there. So, there is no place where we could discuss the good and the bed practices in social campaigns creation, learn from mistakes and analyze success factors. We do not ask our pro bono clients what we could do better. We try hard to stay knowledge-proof. It looks a bit as if we wanted to make the same mistakes all over again and to avoid matter-of-fact discussion between agencies and inside them.

Pro bono clients and agencies: who is the expert?

If someone criticizes our effectiveness we can always say that the client approved the project (and, God, did not say a word that it may fail). But such a statement is made based on experiences from cooperation with big, corporate clients, where the campaign is under constant monitoring of internal strategy department, three brand managers and cost controller. It has no use in case of NGOs. NGOs employees may be experts in a field of children rights, doctors, homeless counsellors, or know how to build a well in Sudan. But they don’t necessarily have to be the marketing experts. It is our, agencies’, job. We approach them as experts and we are responsible for the quality of what we suggest.

Pro bono clients we managed to contact say as one that ideas presented by agencies positively affect the organization’s image and are able to increase its presence in media. But the effectiveness of projects with regard to financial gains cannot be assessed so unambiguously. According to Jerzy Zaborowski, manager of SOS Children Villages and Polish Red Cross in years 2008-2014, systematic development of donator database and a long-term plan of communication therewith is much more financially gainful than fundraising campaigns. It is true that campaigns designed by agencies have positive impact on organization’s image, but their financial results are not a knockdown. Jacek Maciejewski, senior creative in Communication Unlimited and member of management board in Rak’n’Roll foundation shares this opinion. Małgorzata Suchała, Promotion and Fund Rising Manager in PCK says: “It is best to cooperate with agencies in creation of PR campaigns and awareness rising campaigns (such as the campaign “Life is not Facebook”). Fundraising campaigns are different story as funds we are able to raise often does not correspond to the scale of the whole undertaking. Such campaigns are awarded but they do not translate to the expected financial effect.” Katarzyna Jolanta Górska form The Polish Humanitarian Action indicates other than financial aspects of cooperation with agencies: “Cooperation with experts from outside is very refreshing. Concepts provided by agencies often help us to expand the way we think about communication and about the ways to approach new recipients. For instance, the campaign “Stay closer”. For the first time we were able to notice the potential of local awareness ads in promotion of global actions.” She also says that agencies are more about creativity than about effectiveness. “It is sometimes quite obvious that the agency works to win award and puts creativity over effectiveness. Sometimes agencies believe that an outstanding idea is enough to achieve expected results.” Irrespective of immediate financial results of a campaign, the original communication-related idea may help organization to embed itself in the consciousness of donors. Wojciech Wiśniewski, the spokesmen for Alivia oncology foundation, when asked about relation between activities of agencies he cooperated with and the effectiveness of fundraising said shortly: “We are thrilled. Without their help we would not be where we are now.”

How many children Golden Drum will feed?

The application called “Zbędne Kalorie” [“Useless Calories”] designed for the Polish Red Cross by the co-author of this article was awarded on KTR and Golden Drum (it was not registered for Cannes). The mechanism was simple: to help people on diet fight temptations. If someone felt like dying to eat a fry, he/she could confide in the app and read the suggestion to exchange useless calories for a meal for a hungry child. After providing the consent, user could send SMS premium to support the program called “Godne Dzieciństwo” [“Dignified Childchood”]. When donation was made, the user could listen to appreciation words read by famous person. The application was downloaded 6,000 times. It did not however have any substantial impact on financial gains. SMS gains from the month the app was started increased only by 1000 PLN in comparison to the average gains from two preceding months, and dropped below this average during following months. A few months later, mobile operators blocked the option to send SMS for the program and so the application became useless itself. 1000 is three times less than the costs of registration to two festivals (one category in each, without accreditation, flights and accommodation). And though these amounts may seem nothing in the world of advertisement industry, the disproportion between them may serve as the starting point for honest afterthought about where we really invest our work and efforts while creating social campaigns. Despite the work of a large team the idea had several obvious shortcomings- from the complicated user path, unclear benefits to ineffective promotion. But these were things we did not consider at that time. Not in a view of awards and congratulations. Today however, co-author of this article cannot chase away the impression that the project was less beneficial for the malnourished children than it was for herself and her carrier.

Client treated as... client.

The campaign “War with cancer” [Wojna z rakiem] for Alivia oncology foundation created with the participation of the second co-author of this article is somehow different example. It has won a few small awards in the local creative festivals but only for small-range actions (mobile game or shooting gallery events). The main part of campaign — the movie kept in a style of high-budget computer game, where the main character fights the cancer — monster, was omitted by the jurors of creative festivals. And yet, it was the movie, along with the clever media strategy, that encouraged people to support the campaign. Financial gains of Alivia in 2016 were more than three times higher than a year before (almost 8 million total). The work on this project resembled however the work on the classic commercial project. It included the brief, internals and acceptance. The whole agency was committed to the idea of “war with cancer” and the movie. The contribution of production studio is difficult to overestimate, and the media effect would be much worse without engagement of PR agency.

Whom we keep outside the room, while we should not.

Let’s be honest. Creative ideas require committed creative team. Effective ideas frequently benefit from the presence of the strategy expert, UX specialist, consultation with external experts or from the attempt to really understand how the organization works. If the creative team narrows down the number of persons working on the idea, it can enjoy the peace of mind but it also risks a lot: from the critical opinion of festival jury that specializes in nit-picking to creation of a product that misses users’ needs, a solution that is not able to properly support the targeted organization or event work to its detriment (like in case of product for children, when we do not feel like verifying its safety). So, therefore, ideas that we should handle with the utmost care are created quickly in the pre-festival fever of deadlines, losing their chance to become the best possible version of themselves. “I wish that agencies spent more time to know the strategy of the organization they want to work for and to understand the nature of its operations” — says Jerzy Zaborowski. “Moreover, finding the best solution requires flexibility and being open to modifications.” Katarzyna Górska of PHA shares this opinion. “It happens that the agency stubbornly sticks to its communication idea and does not understand why we reject it. Whereas, after 25 years on the market we have crystallized identity and the way we address subjects we are dealing with. Sometimes we need to convince agencies that we know better — in particular, when it approaches us with specific, refined idea, that is not in line with our strategy.

Is it time for the new paradigm?

We recommend modification of the way social campaigns are implemented. Let us treat the decalogue below as the starting point for the discussion focused on ethical instead of financial aspect of participation in festivals. We have capabilities and competencies to change the world for the better and it seems that we have forgotten ourselves in this race for awards. What could we change then? What does not work and should work?

Ten steps to better implementation of social campaigns:

  1. Stop to be afraid of co-workers. Let’s engage strategy experts, UX specialists, e-commerce specialists to work on the social campaigns not only to inspire creation or increase reliability during presentation of the project to the client, but to make the idea more effective and increase its chances for the real interaction with users.
  2. Start to ask questions. Reach for the external experts — ask the opinion of teacher if we do something for the kids or the transport psychologist, if we design a product to be used on the road.
  3. Discuss things that do not work. Let’s talk about our social campaigns in the wider group than a few members of a festival jury, and let’s talk about them inside the agency — employees of other departments are often those who are able to notice shortcomings of a campaign designed with hope for the award.
  4. Invest in long-term relationships. By establishing a long-lasting cooperation with pro bono clients, by learning their strategy, the way they operate and meeting their everyday needs (and that means things that may not be awarded but will surely achieve the goal) we provide them honest, professional service and we develop our own competencies. And finally — who know, maybe we will get awarded for something that really works?
  5. Every client is a client. Let’s be professional. If we undertake cooperation with NGO, we need to treat it with the same seriousness as we treat corporate clients, not only as signatures of our works or beneficiaries thereof. It means asking for effectiveness evaluation after the campaign is over and about what we could do better. That way we will be able to make better campaigns in the future and our client will not feel used as a mean to achieve festival-related goals, watching as in the social media as we stand on the beach in Cannes with glass of wine, making toasts to the malnourished and homeless, which we hold so dear.
  6. The NGO client has the right to make a fuss. If we treat this type of client seriously we can’t be like “my way or the highway”, meaning that you can take our idea as it is and with no reservations or we take it other NGO. Moreover, the client may demand the effectiveness of a concept (trying to convince NGO client that “media will catch it” or “you will be satisfied” may not be sufficient, the same it would not be sufficient for the commercial client). Questions about effectiveness of our previous campaigns should not be surprising for us as well.
  7. Let’s be the real experts for our clients. Concepts are only half of the job. We need to help NGOs to gather knowledge — even if the organization does not employ a person dedicated to conduct studies or has no money to conduct such studies, we can offer simple exploration or evaluation using passive assessment tools. There are numerous ways and our role is to support clients with regard to data collection and monitoring of actions’ effectiveness, both during and after the campaign.
  8. Let’s educate. This point is a result of discussion held with Jacek Maciejewski: if we truly want to do something good, we need to educate NGO clients and we need to learn from them. We can hold training courses and show them things we are the best in — wide range of subjects — from positioning, TV production to fan page running. Moreover, we can ensure free-of-charge access to experts who assist in evaluation of campaign concepts.
  9. Let’s revise our rules. Dear jurors. Shouldn’t we start to pay attention to social campaign results alongside the creation-related competition? Why, the marketing communication has to be persuasive by default. Treating it as the art for the art justifies the use of NGO for “conceptual” purposes. Whereas it is more complex than that. This is the art that needs to reverberate and induce change of the attitude or behavior. Not only on French Riviera but also in Radom, Pruszków or Krynki.
  10. And the most difficult of all — humility. It is a sheer pleasure when we can put our hands together for campaigns that brought real changes, and it restores the faith in advertisement industry. But if we know that effectiveness of our work is embarrassing we’d better refrain from spending thousands to make it present on every festival worldwide. If the profit for our client is scarcely visible, we’d better not be an eyesore showing how much money we spend on festivals (all the more if we forgot to designate 1% of our income tax for the client’s organization). Let’s be honest — umpteenth award for the social campaign will not change our position on the job market. We have comfortable, quite well-paid job. And if we don’t know how to live without the next lion then….we have a serious problem.

The article was published on: www.press.pl/tresc/49362,efektywnosc-i-etyka_-o-sposobie_-w-jaki-realizujemy-kampanie-spoleczne.