Cause and effect

Mike Exon looks at a new book by Saatchi & Saatchi, which features an assortment of, often provocative, charity- and cause-related images

If I were an advertising copywriter this review would be replaced with the “F” word in 40pt type. It gets your attention doesn’t it? The “eyeballs” I’d clock would be huge.

Shock and sensationalist tactics feature strongly in the assorted collection of Saatchi & Saatchi’s Social Work. It is a collection of the advertising group’s charity- and cause-related broadcast and print work over the past 30 years. And it may not surprise you, given that the subject matter ranges from guns, rape and torture, to death by an infinity of means, that there is plenty of room for “f***”-style practice with the copy. Not that I approve.

According to the introduction by Ed Jones, the subject matter warrants such a creative stance. He even points out that when dealing with real life atrocity, creatives often turn to self-censorship for fear of “overkill”. Causing heads to turn is not the objective of an advertising campaign after all.

Favourites include a poster ad fixed to a truck left outside the Houses of Parliament during the reading of the 1997 Firearms Bill. At that time, .22 calibre handguns had been excluded from the imminent legislative ban, but there was a strong lobby which believed it should be all-inclusive. The creatives working with the Hand Gun Control Network discovered it was a .22 handgun that killed Robert Kennedy, one of the most significant assassinations of modern times. “If a .22 hand gun is less deadly, why isn’t he less dead?” reads the ad’s strapline, etched into the side of a shell case. The bill was amended, the story complete. But we have to look to the book’s introduction for it and wonder how many similar stories probably got away.

Great pieces of work which stand out regardless of their story are a wall graffitied with “how to say don’t shoot me in 350 languages”, next to a washed out Red Cross. (We learn the symbol was invented on a battlefield in Solferino in 1859 to separate medics from soldiers, and it cannot be used by medical centres or vets.) Another is a white billboard with three lines of handwriting reading: “One in every eight people who walk past this poster was abused as a child”, alongside the NSPCC logotype. It is not just powerful copy, but the sort of campaign which also works perfectly here in print.

Nods of approval, too, for an uncomfortably large, billboard-sized curling dog turd captioned with “It’s even more disgusting on the pavement – if your dog shits on the pavement clean it up.” This ad was produced for the Czech Republic’s Anti-Dog Fouling Movement. I’m not sure which is more amusing, the ad or the group, but it certainly redefines the idea of a shit ad.

The content sits together rather awkwardly though, and many of the images are not flattered by the print format, despite Mark Thomson’s book design efforts. Many screenshots are pixelated or out of focus through enlargement, or shown in sequences which require turning the book around. That said, the quality of the printing is impressive.

The cynic in me says the book evolved from an idea for a very elaborate brochure. But if 50 per cent of the advertising has helped alleviate some suffering, why not promote that fact.

Social Work is published by -273 Publishers on 21 September, priced £24.95

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