Public service announcements have a long history of giving creatives a wide-open canvas to work on, and have produced some of the most memorable ad campaigns to make it into pop culture: think of “This is Your Brain on Drugs,” Smokey the Bear or “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”
But as advertising has evolved to accommodate online video, so have PSAs, as demonstrated by the winners of the recent Webby for Good awards. The awards are a collaboration between The Webby Awards and WP Engine highlighting projects created to promote social good.
With a larger share of consumers—particularly in the younger generations—becoming video streamers and cord-cutters, the same creativity that once was deployed to create TV commercials is now at play in preroll videos and short films created especially for online viewing. Some of this year’s Webby for Good winners showcase the uses of video to tell stories that can’t be contained in a commercial spot.
“Tech is changing the way we tell stories,” said Benjamin Vendramin, Chief Creative Officer at Narrative, one of the Webby for Good winners.
The videos take on serious themes by leveraging emotion and in some cases, user behavior—the turning of a mobile phone to get a larger video player—as tools to break new ground. Outside the limitations of the 15-, 30- and 60-second format, creatives have experimented with everything from documentary to animation.
Syria Stories, International Red Cross
Agencies: Apt, POL
The Syrian crisis has raged on for years, and NGO continue to fight to keep the conflict in the foreground of discussion while also trying to aid the many survivors affected. The Red Cross wanted to get the Norwegian public involved in its annual national fundraising event, “TV-aksjonen” by showing them the growing need for help and appeal to the empathy of far away donors in Scandinavia, who felt far removed from the reality of the war.
To immerse the public in the reality of the Syrian Crisis, Apt created a series of video films around footage captured by the Red Cross inside the war zone. The videos were published as Snap series on Snapchat, so in keeping with the format, they were brief, but achieved their impact in a short time.
The experience was designed to be consumed on the go, in mobile devices. It had to be easy to navigate, brief but striking. Thanks to the Red Cross’ efforts documenting conditions in Syria, the producers had an extensive library of interviews with civilians and documentary footage to work with. The result was 28 short films that drove the message home and enabled mobile donations.
As a result, 100,000 people became involved in the Red Cross’ campaign. A record high of 220 million Norweigan Kroners ($27 million) were collected during the fundraising drive.
A Love Story, Chipotle Mexican Grill
Agency: CAA Marketing
Chipotle has used online video throughout its branding history to drive home its positioning as a fast-food chain that focuses on pure and natural ingredients. It has experimented with genres from documentaries about food to a scripted streaming video series poking fun at the food industry.
But the fast-food chain’s biggest success to date has been a series of animated musical shorts that have gone viral. Previous installments, such as “Back to the Start” in 2011 and the award-winning “Scarecrow” in 2013 have animated the company’s ethos of fresh, natural ingredients and taken a strong stand against factory farming.
The same formula holds true in “A Love Story,” from the quirky, heartwarming animation to the Top 40 covers by big-name artists such as Willie Nelson and Fiona Apple. In this case, a cover of The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” sung by the lead singers of the bands Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket underscores the video, which tells the story of two kids’ competing juice stands that become fast-food empires, and how runaway marketing nearly destroys them. As with the previous films, the song was also released as a single on servies including Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud.
The video, made to promote the fast-food company’s summer rewards program, launched at a time when Chipotle was reeling from a series of food poisoning scares that threatened its business. The message was a calculated risk, but the company chose to proceed carefully with the campaign and later added more ingredients, such as giveaways and an online game based on the film.
The film tested highly, according to Ace Metrix, which noted it was the highest-scoring quisk-service food ad it had tested, despite its length. Chipotle’s research found 71% of consumers surveyed said they would be more likely to agree that Chipotle uses high quality, whole ingredients after seeing the film, and 65% said it made them more likely to trust the company.
Dillan’s Voice, Apple
Agency: TBWAMedia Arts Lab
Apple has always prided itself on its iconoclastic brand image and “Think Different” celebration of people who don’t fit the mold. While limiting the brand’s presence to showing the iPad at work and an Apple logo at the end, this video fits in that tradition, but stands on its own.
The company wanted to create a message around Autism Acceptance Month in April 2016 and found a spokesman in then 15-year-old Dillan Barmache, a non-verbal, autistic high-schooler. Dillan, who communicates using an iPad outfitted with a speech app, became a viral video star when he used his tablet to deliver a middle-school graduation speech.
A short documentary-style feature follows Dillan through his day—jogging, attending school and at home with his mother—with a narration by Dillan himself via his iPad. In his own words, Dylan explains the importance of being able to communicate and the difference it has made in his personal life, his studies and his relationships with friends and family.
“So many people can’t understand that I have a mind. All they see is a person who is not in control. But now you can hear me,” says Dillan, through his tabled. “Having a voice has changed everything in my life. No more isolation.”
The video has already passed more than 4.28 million videos on YouTube. A second video, “Dillan’s Path,” featuring interviews with his mother and therapist, has passed 1.1 million views.
Change Perspective, RushCard Prepaid Visa
A spoken word performance by a black man, describing his wife’s fears for his safety every time he dresses to leave their home, completely changes meaning based on the tilt of the phone. When held in one direction, the man appears wearing a sleeveless t-shirt; when the phone is turned, the same man appears wearing a policeman’s uniform. The Black Lives matter message threads a fine line and balances the All Lives Matter response beautifully without losing any of its power.
“It’s super smart, and a totally different way to experience video,” said Claire Graves, managing director of the Webby Awards. “It looks really cool.”
Narrative had worked with RushCard, a credit card designed for the underbanked community and targeting primarily an African-American audience, for a couple of years when the issue of policy shootings of black men began making the news thanks to cellphone videos of the incidents.
Marketers were afraid to touch the issue, but given RushCard’s presence in the African American community—its founder is rap mogul Russell Simmons—it had to be part of the discussion, said Sabina Khilkani, Narrative’s group strategy and business director.
In the course of interviewing citizens and police, similar complaints emerged about being prejudged, said Vendramin: “We said: ‘Oh my God, they’re saying similar things’ … We knew we had a story,” he said.
Executing the poem and getting the words just right was half the work, he said, since it had to resonate with both the supporters of Black Lives Matter, and people who felt the police were being attacked. “I think the tonality was really key. There was a level of respect. This idea of empathy and fostering this idea of people coming together.”
Based on their insights and the decision that the campaign should be a mobile-first effort, given the part cellphone video had played in Black Lives Matter, Narrative leveraged its in-house developers to create a film that would switch images using device orientation technology.
The change in image was key to the effort’s success, said Vendramin: “There was a big ‘Wow’ moment. The technology took the idea to a whole other level.”
If creating the video required care, distribution had its own set of challenges, said Vendramin. The agency had multiple discussions with social media platforms to make sure the device orientation technology could work. They worked around it by liking social posts to a site hosting the video, http://makemoves.com/.
Thanks to Simmons’s social profile and influencer network, the video kicked off without a big media buy and quickly spread via sharing. Earned media expanded the reach as the story was picked up by media outlets. Positive sentiment for the brand went up 25% on Facebook and users were engaging with the video with 88% view-through rate, said Khilkani. The impact of the video was so great, RushCard stayed with it, instead of moving on to other executions that were being considered.