Creative Public Service

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Creativity is energy. It’s vibrant. It’s original. It should also be strategic and analytical. Above all it should be easy to understand in its execution.

I was baffled by the Census 2010 Superbowl advertisement, which was widely panned as a flop. The “public service” announcements featured cast members from Christoper Guest mockumentaries such as “Best in Show” in a pre-production meeting for the production of Snapshot of America.

The ad may have been creative, but only if you understood the Hollywood reference. From a strategy stand point, the ad failed miserably. The information component was missing.  What is the census? What is the value of participating? What was the incentive to visit the Web site?

During the NCAA tournament this past weekend, I saw another Census advertisement that was more promising in its mission to educate recipients and influence survey returns.  The punchy musical message shared the importance of mailing back the census survey in a creative and strategic manner.

This ad, along with videos on YouTube and the Census Web site more clearly articulate the reasons for completing the census. These are part of $340 million promotions and advertising campaign targeted to the 120 million household required by law to complete the census, including targeted audiences such as Native Americans and Hispanics.

What makes the music ad better the Hollywood teaser?  It’s simple, memorable and entertaining. More importantly it contains information that has the potential to influence and change behavior. You can’t measure creativity, but you can measure campaign objectives.

After all, the primary goal of a public service campaign is to educate and inform the public about a desired behavioral outcome. “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” “Stop. Drop. And Roll.” “Keep America Beautiful.” More contemporary public safety campaigns include “Click It. Or Ticket” and “Over the Limit? Under Arrest.”

Given the effectiveness of these public service campaigns — did you know Smokey the Bear was 65? — perhaps the census promotions would be more effective over a longer period of time. Not just once every 10 years.

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