Advertising speaks with the language of utopias and never grim problems,” said Herbert Marcuse, a German Jewish philosopher in his book The One-Dimensional Man (1964). There is some semblance of truth in that, as the myriad commercials excel in telling stories to envelope people in an imaginary false world where everything seems perfect. But just when you think it can’t get any better, something as real and powerful as Sydney agency Grown-ups’ commercial for client Youth Projects comes along. This is the first commercial of Grown-ups, and the agency deserves credit for tapping into the creative juices of its team and creating something so compelling and endearing.
The ad is a classic example of how art can become a powerful conveyer of social message. It showcases a tour guide using her autobiographical primer to unfold uncomfortable facts to her group on their travels through Melbourne’s laneways.
Among an array of fatuous commercials making desperate attempts to entice the audience, with their well-crafted slogans: “a perfect night’s sleep,” ”lasting relief,” and “positive changes in life”, Grown-ups' commercial is a bit of a reality bite. Within 60 seconds and with just a tourist guide in the frame, narrating her experience, it lays bare the saga of lives born and brought up in squalid laneways.
The video is gripping and conveys the message with simplicity. It stays away from the stereotypical path of showing children living in squalor. Instead it features only a tour guide, her travel group members, and Melbourne’s decrepit and graffiti-filled laneway to unravel the grim realities.
It stands out, as a proof to the agencies, how each medium can be used as an individual storyteller. The tour guide becomes the storyteller and her hardships the story; the audience is left to picture the harrowing facts of child abuse, homelessness, youth unemployment, and the drug addiction.
What impresses about the ad is the frank, gutsy narration: “My father used to abuse me when I was a child, so I ran away from home and this is the only place I could find to sleep," “Behind those garbage bins I first had unprotected sex for money," and “I first shared a needle with a guy, who thought he was doing me a favor.”
The brutal honesty does cause some discomfort to the audience and apparently to the group members as they go around the mean streets of the real world. But the same brutality shakes us from our apathy towards the kids living rough in the laneways, while we are wrapped up in the comforts of our homes. The messaging served powerfully and with minimal adornment is clear: “No one grows up wanting to be homeless and drug addict, so help Youth Project help them get their lives together.”
As a commercial for a non-profit dedicated to provide life-changing opportunities for every young person, Grown-ups' ad for the Youth Projects does just the right job. With a great narrative and visual value, it shows that sometimes you have to reach into someone else’s world to discover how fortunate your life has been. It does not stop at telling the human story of misery but spells out how to do away with the misery, and for that it certainly deserves to be praised and applauded.
Anamika Pande Ved is a blogger, content curator, and content writer with Global Washington, a non-profit in Seattle, Washington. She is fascinated by commercials, more so if they are used for "social good." She is an avid traveler, reader, and a singer. Find her on Twitter here.