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The power of opinion and a worrying future of creative uniformity

The latest campaign for Hong Kong Tourism has been labelled ‘creepy’ which may or may not be true. The question is, do we all need to have an opinion?

As creatives, we’re challenged to create campaigns that pique people’s curiosity; interesting enough to cut through the clutter. Campaigns that are powerful and engaging enough to make people feel something. One of the first things I learned in advertising from my creative director Mike O’Sullivan was; make people laugh or make people cry, that’s all you need to do.

The challenge with making people feel something is that one of those emotions can sometimes be anger. We never intend to offend anyone but sometimes, when you cut through with an unexpected story or powerful message, you make people angry. And those angry people voice their opinion.

The rise and fall of social media platforms have given everyone a global voice. On social media, we feel free to share an honest opinion and rarely think about the consequences of our actions. Whether it’s a political opinion, an irritated response to the latest news story or a chance to encourage others to ‘like’ what we say, we speak freely. The question is, is it always the right thing to do?

Be it a brand or a person, when we criticize them, we silence them. Perhaps without even realising it, we’re sanitizing their message. Jean de la Bruyère, the French philosopher, once said, “The pleasure of criticizing takes away from us the pleasure of being moved by some very fine things.” So, next time, because of our judgement, that person or brand might be too scared to say something different or too scared to bravely tell their story in an interesting way.

I don’t know about you but I think a world where no-one says anything interesting sounds pretty bleak. I’d rather live in a world where we embrace those brands and people who speak up and speak out. Sure, there are cases where we need to police those who go too far but more often than not we can see what they are trying to achieve, even if it is easily misinterpreted.

Colenso BBDO’s most recent campaign for New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation encourages NZ women to get regular mammograms. But it’s a campaign that has also angered people. The campaign line ‘breast cancer is contagious,’ which referred to the way breast cancer affects the families and friends of sufferers, was labelled ‘completely out of line’ on social media platforms. As a result, the line was removed. While the campaign was never intended to offend people, it was designed to make people feel something; to make people take notice; to make people get a mammogram.

So perhaps before we offer an opinion we need to think about whether we really need to? Are we going to silence a very important message or prevent a brand having the courage to boldly go where no brand has gone before?

It’s not about having no opinions; it’s about considering the consequences of the opinions we do have.

Maria Devereux is creative director at Colenso BBDO.

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