When creative communications helped democracy
The ‘Choose Your Future’ campaign would be a defining moment for any agency. The video has been viewed 34,138,776 times. Mikael Jørgensen, CEO of agency of the year, &Co., goes into detail about the campaign that got people voting again.
400 million people are eligible to vote in the European Union. That’s a lot of ballot booths. It’s the second largest democratic election in the world. And yet the number of voters have declined year upon year.
The European Parliament were stumped. How could they grab people’s attention and convince them that voting is important. They turned to professional communicators, specifically, the creative agency &Co. The Copenhagen-based agency is part of the North Alliance (NoA) – one of the Nordic region’s most successful and award-winning advertising, design and tech networks.
&Co. received the brief late 2018. The purpose, Mikael explained, was “to get people off the couch and into the voting booth.” And boy did it work. The total rise in voting was an impressive 19%. Provoking emotion in the audience was a strong remedy for political apathy.
As a Danish agency, voting is very much in &Co’s cultural DNA; voter turnout in Denmark is close to 90%. “For us, it's a thing you have to do, it's your duty as a citizen in your country.” If the virality of the campaign was anything to go by, their enthusiasm for voting was infectious.
The results had some unexpected wins. “I know for a fact that there were pretty low expectations for Eastern Europe, but actually Eastern European countries saw some of the biggest turnout.”
The campaign was a pinnacle moment in the agency’s career. The last time Mikael saw the video played in public “it gave me goosebumps. I felt an incredible pride inside for being part of that project. It’s for the greater good in so many ways”
Trust in government is at an all time low. For creative agencies and people working in PR, building trust for the private sector is a key goal of communication strategy. The industry is well-placed to help government rebuild trust. “It hasn't been done that much in the past, at least not in that scale.
But if we take the craft and capabilities we have in our industry and use them to help institutions like the European Parliament, we could do some real good. We work with a lot of big corporations and brands to think creatively about how to get the most impact.”
Humour as a powerful storytelling tool
Emotive storytelling packs a punch. It provokes people to act. Although &Co. chose to use serious emotions for the Choose Your Future campaign, they are also strong advocates of humour as a key storytelling tool.
The agency use humour in many of the briefs they work on. If they can find a way to connect humour to all the target audiences they want to attract, they have found it to be extremely powerful. Why is it so powerful? “you get to make people smile, laugh, and feel good about stuff. It's not as self-oriented as many other emotional drivers. Instead it makes you relax and feel good.”
I ask Mikael if a story always needs to be emotional. “It depends. There are many types of emotions. We know for a fact that the human brain makes decisions with intuition. It’s the fast thinking part of the brain. And only 5% of decisions come from the rational, slow thinking part of the brain. So yes, if you want people to engage, interact, buy into your brand, or pay more for your service, you need to find an emotional frequency that corresponds with the message.”
Humour can be a tricky thing. It’s both intuitive and a learned skill. You don’t always know it’s going to land. I wonder if Mikael has ever had moments where he put something out there and thought “Oh god, I hope they get it.”
“You never know for sure, and if you're doing global campaigns humour is extremely tricky. The Chinese have one kind of humour, Italians another, Danes another still. And even if the humour is similar, like the Brits and Danes, there are still so many different angles. But it's only a dangerous technique if you don’t know exactly what you're doing. But if you do, and you can really hone in on a specific target audience, it's so effective.”
Preparation breeds success
Choose Your Future required a lot of research. 400 million people is not your average target audience. There are three things a campaign need to succeed, explains Mikael, and data is one of them.
“We love to have as much data as possible. It guides us and helps us discover different creative directions we may not have thought of. We are on safe ground with data, we know what we're talking about. This makes it way easier to be creative around it.”
The second, is you must have a healthy dialogue with your client. “It's damn difficult to find the exact right angle. In any campaign you will be having thorough discussions with the client about what is right and what is wrong. It's not always your own gut feeling that tells you whether a campaign is right or wrong. Ultimately, the client knows a lot about the issues they have to solve in a campaign. The European Parliament were a very professional crowd."
The final thing you need is intuition, “we use quite a lot of ‘gut feeling’. But that’s also something you experience after having done this for many, many years. If you combine your intuition, with knowledge from the client side, and good data, you can do thorough work. This gives you a substantial foundation to build on.”
It’s healthy for brands to take creative risks. But when you are well prepared, it doesn’t feel like a risk. “We were pretty sure that it would all turn out fine because part of the craft of creative communications is being prepared.”
The campaign’s problems and solutions
Like anything of this size, the campaign had obstacles. Deciding to do a piece of video of women giving birth in real time had logistical problems. “It's not staged or anything. It's actual women giving birth. Getting approval to get into a room where a woman is in labour- with a cameraman and a guy with a microphone- that was the trickiest part.
We knew we had a specific timeslot to shoot. And we knew we had to find 10-15 women in labour all around Europe. We wanted to represent the North, South, East and West. It quite a big task.
Besides those obstacles, we were pretty damn sure that the video would do the job. Because, if anyone has been in a situation where a child is born, and especially as a parent, you'll know that it's a defining moment in your life. And even for people who haven't seen it, they understand that it is a big big deal”
Mikael has talked a lot about devising a distribution strategy as part of the creative conceptualisation. “Usually when creative agencies get a brief it will include the message, a target group, background on the brand, notes about the tone of voice etc. Then you think ‘okay, what is the task we have to solve? What is the message?’ But in this case we had a LOT of people to consider, the massive target group of 400 million people.”
How do you reach such a massive target audience with a limited budget? “if you're going to buy media space and eyeballs, you usually go for broadcast TV, Facebook and so forth, but then the budget will be extremely high. And we only had a fragment of that budget. So we had to figure out how to do something to create enough attention.
We decided to use Facebook, Linkedin, and Youtube algorithms to get the message across. All the surveys, the articles, the tweets done around the concept; we took them all and used them to amplify the campaign. Suddenly we had more than just one piece of content, we had thousands of assets to use. We did the video in such a way that we could easily take stuff out and use it as smaller pieces of content on various channels.
We didn’t do a longer video because we needed to take out a lot of stuff. You can take a lot out of a one minute piece. But it was just a really good hero content video in its own right. The story took the time it had to take to be told. There were no restrictions on whether it should be two or four minutes. We simply wanted it to be enough.
It's not like when you're doing TV advertising. You're buying 30 seconds, or 20 seconds, or 45 seconds. Or a minute if you have a lot of money. But that gives you big restrictions on creativity because you are producing an asset for a channel. Here we were building an ecosystem around the campaign messaging and the creative concept. In that way we could take all of the assets out of that pool”
It was a successful strategy: after going viral Choose Your Future got a lot of coverage. “There was a lot of free coverage on TV because people thought, ‘wow, this is cool.’ So the campaign got a free TV edition”
People will give you coverage for free if the video is cool.
The need for optimism in comms
Mikael has spoken about the need for optimism, in both communications and life. It helped him to apply his professional prowess to help solve the issues of the day. Choose your Future tackled the challenge of waning democracy from a place of hope. “If you look at all the populism right now, the messaging is the same. It's all about looking back at the past, saying it was all better back in the day. Look at the slogans: Trump’s 'Make America Great Again’. Or Brexit’s ‘Take Back Control.’
All the populist parties messaging, whether in the Netherlands, the UK, in Denmark, or Eastern Europe, is about taking back our nationality, bringing our country back to where it was.
And with so much stuff going on- climate change, terrorism- it is so easy to scare people. To convince them we have to go back to the old days. But we cannot go back to the old days, the old days weren't actually that good. We've never had more people going to school, more people getting fed, more people with access to clean water as today.
We are way better off than we've ever been before. We've got massive challenges but we are in a better position to solve them than ever before. We need people to unite around solving these issues and not go to far corners of human history to find out if it was better. It wasn’t. It distracts from what we have in front of us.
I don’t think pessimism and populism are things that define human beings. There’s a counter reaction to anything. Choose Your Future was not at all political, it was just about getting people to vote. It’s about democracy, that's what we are fighting for. It doesn't matter who you're voting for, as long as you vote.”
Life after the campaign
Shortly after doing this interview, &Co won agency of the year fresh on the back of 'The Arrivals', a poignant campaign made for SAS airlines with all the hallmarks of emotive storytelling. Universal messages can be powerful, and yet simplifying complex issues is not a skill everyone possesses.
“You have to stand for something that is really clear and obvious. There are no long explanations. Powerful messaging is short, engaging, and inspiring. Period. That's why videos are really cool. Because they can capture a feeling. And a feeling can make complex stuff relatable and inspirational.”
&Co. are already applying these techniques to interesting campaigns in the meantime, “we are out there with our eyes and ears open”. But Chose Your Future remains important “this campaign has definitely been a milestone in the career of everyone at the agency who worked on it. We thought okay, am I dreaming? It was that cool.”
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