Sometimes bad language is good. I'm not advocating using expletives for the sake of it - the use of crass language has increased in everyday speech so it has lost some of its ability to shock or make a point. Television shows routinely F bomb and it barely raises a collective eyebrow.
The choice to use choice words in advertising is still a risky strategy. In New Zealand the Japanese car maker Toyota introduced the use of 'bugger' in a commercial for their Hilux ute that caused a mild flurry of moral panic and protest that standards had been breached. Ultimately the consensus was that the term was in common parlance as a mild expletive - before you knew it everyone was doing it.
The Pillion Trust is a homeless charity in the UK. They don't have have the kind of budgets required to create fundraising campaigns on a large scale - something most small enterprises can understand. They have two problems: firstly: poverty and its consequences. It is a growth industry in the UK as it is in other parts of the developed world. Secondly: emotional immunity - people are so completely inundated with information that they protect themselves with willful (though not necessarily malicious) ignorance: "I don't want to know.". We hermetically seal ourselves inside a personal bubble, especially in public spaces. You can see it for yourself in the blank, million mile stares on the faces of pedestrians or, paradoxically, the use of mobile devices that both let the world in and shut it out.
Emotional immunity can also be granted by engaging in slacktivism - disapproving of whaling or global warming by sharing stories and images of impending doom to indicate some concern or connection in the belief that doing so makes a difference. Of course it makes no substantive difference at all - but it makes you feel good and shows your friends your concern for the big issues of the day.
To puncture the bubble of emotional immunity The Pillion Trust had a person wear a sandwich board in a public place bearing the confronting message - "Fuck the Poor.". Needless to say it got the attention of passers-by, who castigated the messenger. After all, how could he have the temerity to express overtly what we collectively think? Berating the bearer of the sign was a form of slacktivism. Am I being harsh? The control for the experiment was simple - the same person, the same sign, but with a variation of the message that is far more acceptable - 'Help the Poor' - was simply ignored.
Paradoxically it is easier to express righteous indignation - but without any corresponding behaviour that would have any positive effect. Of course Fuck the Poor is an unacceptable message and Help the Poor is a benign one. So, what is the takeout?
Your choice of language can make a significant difference to the results of your message.
Aside from the use of 'Fuck' to provoke a response the Pillion Trust stunt used a challenging, confrontational message. They understand that, even though most people are shocked by poverty in countries like the UK and New Zealand, they are emotionally immune to the facts. By passing the apparently antagonistic message in a public space was too disruptive for many people - who challenged the messenger - much in the same way that they might 'like' the message on Facebook (easy to do when the place is well trafficked and the barker isn't menacing or apparently representing a radical organisation or group).
Breaking from category conventions can improve the impact of your communications.
A charity for the poor is expected to behave like 'lambs of God' - pious and respectful. Disrupting the expectation (if only superficially) created a higher level of engagement - which, in this case translated to over 3 million views on YouTube).
Sometimes you have to wear camouflage to breach the defenses of your audience - showing affinity, rather than confronting or challenging. Sometimes a Trojan Horse might be the right strategy. Of course you are not in opposition to your customers - but capturing their attention and imagination when they are bombarded with messaging really is stage one if there is going to be a stage two.
If your intention is to change behaviour then you have to disrupt the equilibrium of your prospect.
Most of us are quite happy with the current state of affairs. I may be annoyed with my bank, but the payoff of changing (or even considering changing is too low to entertain the thought. My belief that 'all banks are the same' is not only a barrier to other banks' messaging but also strangely reinforced by cognitive dissonance to protect my sanity. It is important to realise that changes in attitude follow changes in behaviour. So challenging an idea that I have is far more challenging than asking me to behave with some small action that can be positively reinforced. For example asking your kids to enjoy broccoli cookies is probably a near impossible task. Baking a delicious cookie with broccoli in it and offering it for them to try (without any reference to the vegetable) might get favourable reaction. The positive feedback loop of senses and emotions beats all of the rhetoric of reason and logic. Without a change in behaviour - there will be no change in attitude. Asking a National/Labour Party Voter to change their attitudes based on some evidence or data will be mostly a waste of energy.
As a footnote the social experiment of the Pillion Trust may have had little effect in situ - raising money for the poor from passers-by. The obvious ploy was to harness the righteous indignation of people on the street to capture them on video to share (and here I am in Auckland, New Zealand - the other side of the planet - doing just that). But in capturing that sample and showing to other people - just like the decent, reasonable people on the street (the clip will be shown in cinemas in the UK) they are garnering social proof - 'if other people think this way, then I am not alone - together we can make a difference' - then it should increase the appeal. The trick is to have some collectors outside the theatre when patrons leave and get sucked into the world of expressing righteous indignation about gibbon habitat destruction in the Southern Ocean.
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.