A Comment on Christmas TV Adverts and a lesson for NGOs.
After watching Monty the Penguin, I felt a little teary; after watching Sainsbury’s World War I Truce ad – I felt a little nauseous.
Both appeal to socially responsible values, endearing us to a world of friendship and love; but context is key.
Yesterday, I attended a workshop on the use of “values” in communications.
Conducted in the name of the “Common Cause”, the good folk of PIRC brought to our attention the idea of the intrinsic-extrinsic values map. Using research from social psychologists worldwide, they explained how appealing to certain sets of values is more likely to result in certain behaviours. (The work is fascinating and can be read about in depth on their website here) .
The major take-away message for social do-gooders is that to encourage socially responsible action, communicators need to appeal to related values in their work, e.g. inner harmony, social justice, equality (see green areas in map).
What’s more, it is noteworthy that these “universal and benevolent” values are much more frequently considered important by all sectors of society. So connecting with such value sets in most communications is a good idea, especially if you want to truly engage the viewer and encourage generous behaviour.
And indeed, while us not-for-profit lot were eagerly scribbling away, drinking green tea and talking about moral responsibility, the British retailing big-boys were releasing their TV ads. And as usual, they’re ahead of the game. Yet the results are unsettling.
Penguins vs The Trenches
If you watch the Christmas TV ads from either Waitrose, John Lewis or Sainsbury’s you will see that all of them feed into the idea of love, friendship and belonging. They’re activating those universal values, as even FOR-profit organizations realise that activating these values is more powerful than those associated with individualism.
But while some adverts can be considered successful, others seem to be in terrible taste – highlighting the importance of context.
#Monty the Penguin is an all-time favourite. Watching little boy Sam tenderly care for his best friend, a viewer can’t help but engage all those intrinsic values related to universalism and benevolence(see map above) – for example, loyalty, equality, love, friendship, unity with nature, broadmindedness, a world of beauty. The end message of the advert is that the boy’s faithful and unfailing love of his penguin is mirrored by YOUR love of your own children – a love that can be demonstrated by purchasing a nice present from John Lewis.
Nothing too offensive in that – and indeed, something we can all rationally choose against if we so wish.
The Sainsbury’s advert is, on first comparison, a similar, if not more powerful, emotional roller-coaster. Depicting a fairytale vision of the front line, this exquisite short film tells the true story of human connection breaking the barriers of war on Christmas Day in 2014. Compassion and love triumph barbed wire and bombs. Those lovely intrinsic values of universalism and benevolence are activated once more in the on-looker at home. Moreover, wider group values relating to national security and social order. The end result is a feel-good montage of “BEING PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER” – a message which chimes with Sainsbury’s family focused Christmas campaign last year.
But while I’m a fan of both Monty the Penguin and Sainsbury’s Family advert (I watched the full 60 min montage a NUMBER of times over), this WW1 Truce leaves me reeling.
The reason = context.
Sainsbury’s, John Lewis and the rest of the corporate gang are clever. Very, very clever in getting ahead on communications territory which by rights, should be the preserve of those trying to serve the public good. They understand that:
- 1) Viewers want to be told a story.
- 2) We want to feel that other people feel what we feel (similar values).
- 3) We want to become the people we want to be by following a certain action (e.g. buying a present, shopping in a certain store).
Yet, despite their canny knowing, they don’t seem to have grasped the idea of social sensibility.
Using the events of World War One is frankly sinister. Sure, there’s some reference to a charitable chocolate bar – and yep, they’ve worked in partnership with the Royal British Legion. And don’t get me wrong – I certainly think that this is a beautiful piece of film about WW1 which if used for the purposes of the Royal British Legion alone would have been glorious.
However, is it not cynical to use the deaths of 100,000s of people, fighting for democracy, to sell turkeys? This of course, let’s not forget, is ultimately the aim of this advert. If you asked those men that died how they’d feel about their story being used for the supermarket retailer to buoy flagging sales – I’m not sure what they’d say.
The result is a tangible feeling of disconnection on viewing the advert.
It should of course be noted that the vast majority of people commenting on message boards, Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, have had v. many positive things to say about Sainsbury’s. But I’m not sure that they’re aware of the reality of Sainsbury’s aims in creating this advert. They want to increase the shareholder value of Sainsbury’s. The Royal British Legion is a secondary CSR detail.
Lesson for Not-for-Profits?
Values are important. Storytelling is important. Having viable actions for viewers to follow up on is important. But so is the frame within which you’re communicating your message.
Us not-for-profits have a long way to go. And we need to learn more quickly, and implement more expediently. But let’s try to remember the lessons of our corporate route-masters. These guys have got they’re first, they’ve created amazing pieces of artful communication, with more panache and style than many of us. Much of their success is due to healthier budgets, but some is due to professionalism.
But as this proves, corporates haven’t retained the moral high ground. They’ve been scrabbling for it, as the recent retailers’ “War on Values’ was declared, with Sainsburys & Tescos scrapping about bananas. Sainsbury’s CEO Mike Coupe even went onto do a little piece about the “value of values”. But there’s nothing substantive for them to talk about. The truth is that their values can be found on a spreadsheet in numerical form, where as civil society’s are held within our collective sense of right and wrong.
Let’s capitalise on that and let’s move ahead – using values and frames to make an unashamed moral difference.