No pressure

Posted Wednesday October 6, 2010 by John Gunders in |

All publicity is good, right?

Well maybe not if you’re the 10:10 organisation, presiding over a public relations disaster caused by a short film written by Richard Curtis. Designed to get attention for a campaign encouraging people to personally reduce their carbon emissions by 10%, the film used comedic shock to make its point. The organisation took the video down within hours of its release, but by then it had gone viral (wasn’t that the point?). You can see it here (warning: you might need a strong stomach).

The director of 10:10 UK, Eugenie Harvey, issued an apology, but by then the damage was done. Complaints flooded in, and inevitably the denialist community got to work with a logic that is actually difficult to refute, claiming that the video is advocating a totalitarian, fascist agenda of agree or be, well, blown up.

In spite of some evidence that shock ads don’t work, governments and non-profit organisations seem pretty sold on the idea, and with each campaign the shock value gets stronger, as advertisers try to break through the de-sensitisation. As the founder of 10:10, Franny Armstrong, joked in a Guardian interview:

Doing nothing about climate change is still a fairly common affliction, even in this day and age. What to do with those people, who are together threatening everybody’s existence on this planet? Clearly we don’t really think they should be blown up, that’s just a joke for the mini-movie, but maybe a little amputating would be a good place to start?

As friends of mine put it on Twitter: smug and arrogant.

For Curtis’s part however, I see this as coming from a long tradition of absurdist comedy. The short film doesn’t seem like quite so much of a stretch when seen in conjunction with this famous sketch from Monty Python in 1970: The “How not to be seen” Public Service Announcement. Watch it here.

I guess it follows that what makes good comedy doesn’t necessarily make good advertising, especially when the stakes are this high, and the whole thing is a massive failure in terms of convincing people that greenies are not a bunch of out-of-touch wankers.

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