It’s the time of year when every single media channel in America feels compelled to do something around the Super Bowl and the million dollar ads that get as much attention as the game. Even Harper’s is on in the action. This month the magazine gathered a small group of creative directors and challenged them to come up with a Super Bowl ad that might make people think better of the United States Government, a brand that is constantly criticized for a whole host of shortcomings.
The assembled creative directors managed to identify some of the problems:
- Government is too associated with politics rather than with its actual mission and accomplishments
- Most Americans don’t even realize how the branches of government work and relate to each other
- We take too many of our freedoms for granted and credit our forefathers for their creation rather than our current crop of civil servants for preserving them.
However, while the concepts generated to fulfill the assignment may be clever, it’s unlikely they’d convince the public of anything. One uses the metaphor of a grade school class trying to decide if they should get vanilla or chocolate ice cream. No one loses because they all get ice cream. Another reminds us that we can doodle on the paintings of our leaders and not get arrested. We have free speech in this country. A third attempts to show that all of us — motorists, cyclists, cops, and hippies — manage to co-exist somehow. And a fourth simply choreographs the different branches of government running out onto the field as part of the half time show. Buzz-worthy yes. Convincing? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
It does prove that advertising ain’t brain surgery. It’s much harder.
Meanwhile, in The New Yorker, a brilliant article by David E. Hoffman takes us behind the scenes of a real-life, government-in-action story detailing how the Pentagon took on the swine flu. We learn how microbiologist Darrell Galloway at the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (bet you never heard of them) took quick and bold action, established the Transformational Medical Technologies Initiative, and launched an effort to quickly invent the therapeutic drugs and vaccines that might protect us against both bio-terror attaches and natural viruses.
We discover DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Protection Agency, conceived by Eisenhower in 1958 to undertake high-risk research and work to modernize and accelerate the production of vaccines, a task equal in challenge to inventing them in the first place.
In a race against time, government biologists distill the background if influenza, dissect the intricacies of the virus itself, and determine strategies that will work to counter its spread. It’s a true story that reads like a Grisham novel.
In Harper’s we see the same old messages regurgitated and learn nothing new. In The New Yorker we get proof and a demonstration of why we should actually value our government.
OK, so maybe it would be tough to fit all of the above into a 30-second Super Bowl spot. But read these two articles yourself and you’ll get a valuable insight into marketing and advertising.
Tell me what I already know and I’m unlikely to pay attention.
Open my eyes with something new and unexpected, demonstrate rather than declare, imbue it with drama, and you’ve got me.
How would you sell the U.S. Government?