Playing with public service announcements with M&C Saatchi and Shareability

Published:  October 22, 2015

The public service announcement, one of the most familiar formats in advertising, is undergoing a bit of a renaissance with innovative digital distribution strategies and interactive stunts capturing audiences the globe over.

desktop caught up with the minds behind two recent campaigns that use a combination of humour and an awareness of audience behaviour to cut through the noise.



Ant Melder
Creative director, M&C Saatchi, Australia

Tim Staples
CEO and founding partner, Shareability


From Sydney, M&C Saatchi’s Game of Balls injects its public health message into an adult movie, while Shareability, creator of content ‘for the YouTube generation’, mocks the PSA format with a lightly-branded word of warning against a pop culture artefact for Pizza Hut. 

What came first in each of your campaigns – the humour, the format, the intended platforms?

Ant Melder: The M&C Saatchi ethos is ‘Brutal Simplicity of Thought’ and the creative team, Josh Bryer and David Jackson, had a brutally simple idea: to have an adult movie star break the fourth wall in the middle of an adult film and deliver a testicular cancer PSA directly to the viewer, during World Testicular Cancer Month (April 2015). It was an idea that terrified me as much as it excited me… which is how I knew it was great.

Once we’d fleshed out the thinking and the executional tone we wanted, we worked closely with adult movie production company Digital Playground to bring the idea to life. They were working on an adult parody of the show Game of Thrones, to tie in with the launch of season five. We pooled thinking and timelines with Digital Playground to bring the campaign together. Given the adult movie medium, schoolboy humour was unavoidable – in the months working on the project we exchanged more puns and double entendres than the (un)holy trinity of innuendo, Sid James, John Inman and Finbarr Saunders.

Tim Staples: For Pizza Hut, we looked at a number of different options, including how we could create the biggest pizza delivery ever, but we wanted to focus on a concept that was pop culture relevant, which eventually led us to selfie sticks. We had seen selfie sticks as a huge part of pop culture in the year prior and now the trend was for who could outdo each other and have the longest selfie stick. We were promoting a two-foot long pizza, so we loved the idea that bigger pizzas meant bigger selfie sticks, and the madness went from there.

Pizza Hut wants to create content that shows that it ‘gets it’ and delivers its audience value in terms of information or entertainment. It focuses on the audience and works back from there. It subscribes to the most important rule, which is ‘less brand is more’ in these types of videos, [which are] meant to start conversations, not sell.

How did you each develop the campaign?

AM: We had in-depth discussions about the ethics of working with the adult entertainment industry to deliver our message. And we were careful to keep the tone of the piece fun, irreverent and informative. But while we were sensitive to the fact that adult movies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, the urgency of the situation outweighed those concerns. Testicular cancer is the number one cancer in young men yet it’s 97 percent curable if detected early. There are hundreds of thousands of young men dying simply because they’re not aware they should be checking themselves regularly. Or because they don’t know how to perform the self-test. And the statistics across various studies vary, but one fact is not in doubt: a huge percentage of young men watch porn regularly.

We needed to speak to those men and we always said that if the initiative saves one life, it will have been a success. To date, Game of Balls has been viewed over six million times, making it one of the most watched films on the porn web. And it’s been very fulfilling to see the vast amounts of feedback from blokes who’ve seen the message and have committed to checking themselves regularly.

The key driver behind the decision to eschew PR at the start of the campaign was maintaining the element of surprise that would give our message cut-through. We knew that Game of Balls would be one of the most popular adult movie releases of the year and we wanted the millions of men who’d be watching it to stumble across our message without prior knowledge. Catching them unawares at the very moment that they’d be in the position to perform the self-test gave the message maximum potency. (Sorry, I’m trying my best not to overdo the innuendos!)

Once the initial launch had played out over two weeks, we kicked off our mainstream media strategy – with an exclusive with and then we further rolled out online, press, radio and television everywhere from The Daily Mail and Triple M to The New York Post and Huffington Post, which drove another huge wave of interest and awareness.

TS: We believe in data-driven ideas, so we have analytical tools to help us home into key topics that have cultural significance and key timing. Selfie sticks had been in pop culture for a while and we felt it was time to do a send-up of them. Some people love them and some people hate them and some people think they are ridiculous, but everyone likes to talk about them. So it was the perfect topic and we wanted to take a really serious, mock tone to talk about a somewhat absurd cultural trend.

The Dangers of Selfie Sticks PSA by Shareability

The Dangers of Selfie Sticks PSA by Shareability

The Dangers of Selfie Sticks PSA by Shareability

The Dangers of Selfie Sticks PSA by Shareability

Now that so many agencies are producing innovative, viral PSAs, what does it take to stand out and create a memorable campaign, or indeed a successful fake one?

AM: The same things that it’s always taken to stand out: an original idea and outstanding craft. Do something amazing and your message can travel around the world in hours, or even minutes, via social networks. On the flipside there’s an inherent challenge: whatever you do needs to be more interesting that Zach Galifianakis interviewing Obama, more entertaining than a Jimmy Fallon lip-synch battle and more shareable than a tiny hamster eating tiny burritos.

TS: No matter what the format, it takes the same elements for videos to be successful. We’ve had 25 videos ascend to the front page of YouTube and there are common elements in all of them, such as the ability to provoke a shareable emotion, typically by being comedic, inspiring, informational or timely. The selfie stick PSA was funny and timely, and was built so that people could share it with their friends no matter which side of the selfie stick debate they fell on.

Traditionally, PSAs have appealed to emotion – Game of Balls is fairly devoid of emotion, and the Pizza Hut selfie stick campaign obviously plays on this emotional messaging. Other recent, viral campaigns like ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ suggest we’re seeing a move away from morbidity, drama or scare tactics towards an appeal to humour and play. Can you comment on the recent use or success of this tactic?

TS: PSAs are a great format because they’re a simple way to communicate a message a bare bones, straightforward approach and that’s why PSAs have stood the test of time. And therefore they provide a great structure for parody.

Game of Balls by M&C Saatchi

Game of Balls by M&C Saatchi

AM: I wouldn’t say Game of Balls is ‘devoid’ of emotion – in fact I’d say it’s full of emotion, just not the standard ones for a PSA. It’s a unique mix of the shocking and the serious, drama and humour. In line with the adult movie genre, it delivers its message with a straight bat, an ever so slightly raised eyebrow and a healthy dose of flirtatious charm.

There is an argument to say that the more expected tonality of PSAs – shock, fear, morbidity and so on – has a wear-out factor. And using less expected tonality like humour and playfulness gives you a better chance of cut-through and engagement. Smoking is a good example – is there any smoker on earth who doesn’t now know that smoking is bad for them? The challenge with anti-smoking messages is less about driving awareness of negative health effects and more about persuading smokers to quit.

This article originally appeared in the October/November issue of desktop. Subscribe here. 

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