In the past few years we have become accustomed to seeing social advertising. These kinds of ads appear on television, but the catchiest slogans are on huge billboards that read: “You can’t abandon him,” “Hold on tighter to your father’s hand,” “Children are never outsiders,” and “Let’s love each other.” Kyiv recently recovered from the shock of seeing the anti- drug advertisement “Mom, why am I a freak?” So far, social advertising boils down to a lot of proposals and noble goals, but no limits that would prevent advertisers from displaying unnecessary or overtly harmful visual information.
ADVERTISEMENTS THAT PEOPLE NEED
Researchers are adamant that the importance of advertising should not be underestimated: on the one hand, it reflects our reality and, on the other, influences it. Olena Lishchynska, senior research associate at the Institute of Social Psychology, compares the human psyche, which is bombarded by all sorts of information, to a piece of plasticene that rolls around on a dirty surface every day. As a result, our minds (especially children’s) become filled with all kinds of dirt, and the lion’s share is attributed to ads.
There are two types of institutions that offer Ukrainian society social advertising: the State Social Service, embracing more than 1,000 centers and specialized associations, and advertising agencies. The trouble is that social service employees, who have an excellent understanding of human mentality, know little about the techniques or art of creative advertising, while admen are skilled in devising catchy and striking ads but are prone to overdoing it, which leads to harm.
A few years ago civic organizations in the Czech Republic decided to raise funds for people with leukemia and, strangely enough, succeeded in their task. They took a very unconventional approach to their task. How would you react if in your mailbox, on the doormat in front of your apartment, or on the windshield of your car you found a postcard with the following message: “I am ready to give my dog to a good owner, because I have leukemia” or “I am looking for someone to take care of my apartment, because I am being hospitalized for a bone marrow transplant?” The card includes the number of a bank account where people can send their donations. This was a tough and depressing kind of advertising because it stirred up feelings of guilt and fear of one’s own future, i.e., it played on human weaknesses. But it made an impact.
The State Social Service is gearing up for the upcoming 2nd National Festival of Social Advertising. Anyone can participate by submitting a drawing, collage, or photo, audio or video clip on such topics as patriotism, family values, healthy living, etc. According to State Social Service director Svitlana Tolstoukhova, a deal has already been concluded with the Ukrainian Association of Outdoor Advertising to display the winning works on billboards and supermarkets free of charge. The best ads will be selected according to how well they promote the prevention of orphanhood in Ukraine and encourage married couples to adopt orphans, thus establishing foster families and family-style shelters.
Still high on the agenda is the quality of this kind of advertising. Lishchynska is convinced that social advertising has a tremendous potential to inculcate high moral values — not very popular these days — in Ukrainians and rally people around these values. But the problem is that for young men and women (students) who take part in these competitions, the opportunity to create an example of social advertising can only become a method of self-affirmation. In other words, they may devise something extraordinary instead of propagating common human values. Lishchynska also thinks that when an advertisement or any other information that’s going to be displayed in the media or public places), its designers should be guided by scientifically-based criteria.
CRITERIA BEING IGNORED
According to research conducted by the Institute of Social Psychology, ads should be free of information that inspires fear. Nor should they portray satisfaction with something (this may arouse envy), violate logic, include inconsistent text, provide inadequate motivation for activities and success, create a semantic disparity between ethnic cultural values and the ideas being promoted, and violate national, cultural, or gender identity. Social ads should not change the semantic meaning of words, re-codify language, pit certain groups of people against each another, create the image of an enemy, and sever warm emotional ties. They should be free of blatant lies, errors, mistakes, and jargon.
Now, recall the ads that we see and hear every day on television, radio, in the subway, and on the streets. We are exposed to nothing but plays on human weaknesses, lack of logic, and corruption of values. As a rule, this applies to commercial ads, and the black billboards reading “Mom, why did I die?” have already been removed.
Advertisers and researchers differ in their attitudes to this notorious ad. Lydia Leontieva, director of the State Institute for Problems of the Family, Children, and Youth, is convinced that society will not benefit from this kind of depressing social ad prominently featuring the color black. But Tolstoukhova says that she has seen even more aggressive and tough advertising in the West.
The problem is that Ukraine lacks a unified and intelligent information policy. Some say there are standards, while others have never heard of them. Some categorically forbid scaring people, while others are doing just that.
It would also be wrong to blindly copy other countries’ standards. In the long run, an advertisement should affect the collective subconscious of a society, which differs from nation to nation. For example, while the German nation regards order and discipline as major values, effective social ads are those that appeal to logic and common sense. Conversely, Ukrainians are a heart-centered people, i.e., most of us perceive ideas through the prism of our hearts and emotions. So, a light hand should be used to approach this kind of mentality.
In any case, the debate on designing and distributing social advertising has just begun. The State Social Service has already drafted a bill on social advertising and together with civic organizations will be lobbying for the creation of an advertising council. The only thing that is not in doubt is that the potential of social advertising can and must be exploited through the joint efforts of scholars, advertisers, and social workers.