Freak Week: Scare Tactics

Shock PSAs are funny (though not). They aim to make you feel good in the long run by making you feel awful right now. (It’s like insurance-pay a little up front, avoid shelling out a lot more later on.) Yes, sometimes these ads are awards bait, but most make an honest attempt at solving real problems. We hadn’t seen many heavy-hitting PSAs this year, but last week they started flooding in. The two major shock-PSA categories — road safety and anti-smoking — got frightful new entries. Lowe Strateus’ drunk-driving spot for Securite Routiere in France proceeds backward in time, beginning in a hospital room where a driver clings to life (having already lost a leg) and ending, earlier in the night, in the home of his friend — except this time the visitor decides to stay over instead of risking his life, and others, on the road. The reverse chronology is a powerful device rooted in a fundamental truth: You can’t rewind life after you ruin it by drunk driving.

In a somewhat different vein, a new anti-smoking spot from DDB Toronto for the Canadian Cancer Society adopts a more eerie, horror-movie vibe in addressing the dangers of cigarettes. A young woman inhales a drag of smoke at her kitchen table, and as the camera pans in, she instantly ages into a ghostly, pale, wrinkled old woman. After a moment, the camera pull back, and she returns to her younger form. “Every cigarette you smoke can take years off your life,” says the onscreen copy. It’s expertly shot, and the actress’s wordless performance manages to convey realization, loneliness and regret — the literal embodiment of a life squandered.

The other two sobering PSAs we looked at last week, both from the U.K., used remarkably similar tactics to address different incarnations of abuse — human trafficking and teen domestic violence. Both campaigns show realistic scenes of brutality but with a stylized element that brings the message home: The bystanders who should be helping the victims either can’t see the abuse happening or are powerless to stop it. In Leagas Delaney’s ads for Stop the Traffik, friends and family members continue their everyday activities as young men and women are abducted right under their noses. Meanwhile, in the U.K. Home Office ads by RKCR/Y&R addressing teen relationship violence, a young man stands in horror, banging on an invisible barrier, as he watches himself abusing his girlfriend. “If you could see yourself, would you stop yourself?” says the onscreen copy. It’s utterly harrowing. But remember, as with all such efforts, it’s supposed to be good for you.

Best of BrandFreak: Steve Nash is in the wrong career

AdFreak’s sister blog, BrandFreak, is totally right: Steve Nash missed his true calling. Oh sure, he’s a two-time NBA MVP, one of the greatest point guards in the history of basketball, and a millionaire many times over. But he might be even better at commercial acting. That’s the only conclusion one can draw from Nash’s new Vitaminwater spot. Riffing on Dos Equis’ “Most interesting man in the world” campaign, the new ad presents Nash as the “Most ridiculous man in the world.” And he certainly is. He’s seen getting fitted for a Canadian tuxedo, which is made of denim. Then, as he wheels through a hotel corridor on a kid’s tricycle, a narrator explains that Nash can speak 22 languages “at a first-grade level.” Next, he cavorts in a 1980s aerobics outfit, an Elvis costume and a clown suit. “I don’t always drink water,” Nash says at the end, echoing the Dos Equis man’s line, “but when I do, I drink Vitaminwater triple-X.” (Vitaminwater even outdoes Dos Equis in the number of X’s.) Nash is that rarest of celebrity athlete endorsers: a guy who isn’t just famous but who can actually act as well. His second career is already lined up.