A Mad Men-tality
Jeff & Lindsay Sage / 31 July 2020

The days of Mad Men.

A big pitch. 

High pressure. On the spot. Pass or fail.  

Job one: wow the client. Maybe even a little more than the audience the campaign was intended for.

If only it were still that simple. (Less the high human costs of philandering, chronic day drinking and first hand smoke.)

Anyone who’s ever tried to figure out a position for a challenging social issue, from poverty to mental illness, or STBBI testing to supervised consumption, will tell you it’s less about being clever and more about doing your homework.

Not sure what to say?

Ask.

We’ve been leaning on qualitative research to inform our work since before Don Draper’s first divorce. 

But it’s not easy. Especially if you’re not part of the target audience or dealing with stuff that most people don’t want to discuss with anyone, let alone a group of strangers.

We’ve learned a lot over the years, by practice and sometimes, (who are we kidding) many times, by almost stepping in it. And these days, more than ever, it’s important for marketers to check our assumptions and our privilege, and to help amplify historically marginalized voices. 

In that spirit, here are a few things we continue to remind ourselves, every- single-time we take on a new social action campaign:

  1. It’s not all rosy. So don’t say it is. Someone who has experienced stigma for their entire lives doesn’t want to hear, “Don’t worry. It’s simple. Just <take this action we’re measuring>.” Earn trust by being real.
  2. See humans. Folks and folx, no matter their current challenges or circumstances, are real human people. Resist sensationalization. Shock gets attention in the short term, sure, but then it shuts people down emotionally and burns brand trust. 
  3. Don’t assume anything. You know nothing, Jon Snow. Think you’ve got it figured out? Be sure. If you can, sanity check with paid lived experience consultants.
  4. Ignore the established approaches and vernacular. Entirely. If they were working, the issue wouldn’t be an issue. Not all good looking, award-winning campaigns are effective. 
  5. The right image probably isn’t what you think it is. People’s ability to understand a visual message isn’t based on them seeing it a lot. It’s based on them seeing themselves.

We’re proud as hell to have supported a number of leaders and organizations over the years - like the courageous crew at Regional HIV/Aids Connection - who work with selflessness and unwavering commitment to help fellow humans through the toughest of stigmatized challenges. 

Changing a mind starts with empathy and understanding. 

And it usually starts with your own. 


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