Friday, January 1, 2010

No Sympathy: Gillette Children's Unflinching Campaign Against Pity

One of the most common reactions to someone else's bad news is not knowing what to say. The first instinct is to give comfort, to be positive, to offer advice. These reactions are grounded in basic human goodness; without thinking about whether or not we should, we take full responsibility for taking away someone's pain, someone we perceive as helpless. Using only two words, Gillette Children's brand campaign cuts through to overturn those unquestioned assumptions decisively: “Cure Pity.”

Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is a world-renowned, non-profit hospital in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The integrated campaign, which uses local broadcast, web, and out-of-home advertising to feature stories like Noah's, inspires a new way of thinking---going from great to greater; from achievement to lasting achievement---as an alternative to our habitual response, which is to go from what we think of as "bad" to slightly better. From disabled to merely able. As a message, Cure Pity is powerful enough to help people start looking at their fellow humans a little differently.

Advertising also has a practical agenda, especially for organizations that thrive on donations. The campaign is as smart and strategic as it is inspired.

A more "pity-focused" message doesn't always prompt an immediate response. You see pictures of children suffering from widespread, incurable diseases, or social conditions like poverty, and feel no hope that your one, meager contribution can make any difference. You won't cure leukemia; you can't stop AIDs; and to date, there's no immediate way to prevent or stop certain congenital conditions like cerebral palsy. Perhaps you make one donation, one time, to shake off the uncomfortable feeling of pity. Instead of pity, a more positive message invites compassion, which is an invitation to a deeper experience of shared humanity.

Cure Pity asserts a call to action based on admiration instead of despair. In for-profit marketing terms, the tagline competitively positions Gillette Children’s as an organization focused on overall improvement of quality of life. Other hospital systems seem more symptom- and condition-focused in comparison.

From a visual perspective, the campaign has one unrealized opportunity. It could do much more to back up the inspiring images, and inspired copywriting, with inspired design. Something to stimulate the eye as much as the spirit, and likewise, to promote immediate recognition. Copy works together with design; if either seems weaker than the other, it can appear as though an organization is not fully committed to delivering what it says.

(A long time ago Blue Cross Blue Shield's "Do" campaign introduced a design approach that was unusually sophisticated for an insurance company. It was hot. And it was immediately recognizable. It's getting tired now, probably because Crispin Porter + Bogusky has left the building. Many non- and semi-non-profit organizations end up here: taking over a creative services role that falls outside of their core strengths. Neither the organization nor its agency can afford to maintain the relationship.)

Rethinking the way design can frame the existing patient stories and messaging is one way to refresh Cure Pity’s media approach, which is actually a few years’ old now. The brand messaging is strong and there’s no need to reinvent it, but the organization could look again at how it is expressed.

The strength of Cure Pity is storytelling. As a creative achievement, it asserts a social message that also helps a mission-driven organization continue to do great work. Advertising becomes culturally relevant when it can do either one of those things; curing pity does both.

- Eric Hayward

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