Thursday 26 April 2012

Advertising + homelessness = shitstorm

Ogilvy France has attracted a bit of flak for its project to help the homeless in Paris.

Ogilvy FR

Its YouTube video documents the agency's project to help homeless people seek help through working pro bono on communications and messaging.

Here's Ogilvy's side:

It all started a year ago, when a homeless man chose to settle down in front of our agency in Paris, Ogilvy & Mather. Week after week, nobody really noticed him, talked to him, or gave him anything. The sad realization made us think: what if we used our creativity and our network to help people in need?




... but the work has attracted comments such as:

Next big thing by Ogilvy: PIMP MY HOBO!?
"Because this is not about us, it's about them" -? Isn't it about Cannes?


It's hard to think as to what the best way for advertising to engage with homelessness actually is, without coming across as trite. Following the recent controversy of BBH's "Homeless Hotspots" work at SxSW, it isn't great timing for a sector that is currently highly focussed on making its clients genuine, authentic, and able to speak with a personal and personable voice.

As a large agency, Ogilvy's reputation for making quality work has inevitably led to the production of a slick video about the project. However, clearly to some, ad agencies aiming to engage directly with the homeless can be nothing except inauthentic, guided by the aims of the agency rather than those of those that these projects aim to help.

Perhaps Ogilvy's parent WPP should simply hand some of its £973m profits to a set of homeless charities around the world and focus on that - or does that just come across as "CSR box-ticking"?

It seems hard for the sector to intervene and offer genuine help without attracting a backlash, including from those elsewhere in the industry. What can be done to resolve this conundrum?


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