Matthews/Mark’s Anti-Crusade

Far more difficult than getting consumers to spend their money is persuading them to volunteer their precious time—a task that remains one of the most daunting faced by any advertiser.

So, when asked to encourage people in San Diego and the surrounding communities to help others learn to read, local agency Matthews/Mark created a print campaign that leans heavily on sarcasm, guilt and, mostly, tongue-in-cheek humor.

The effort, created on a pro bono basis, was led by agency president and creative director Michael Mark and associate creative director Mark Albertazzi.

“Traditionally you would approach this type of campaign in a specific way,” explained Mark. “You would simply tell people that volunteering is a nice thing to do. We decided to take a different approach.”

One ad, for example, features a large Uncle Sam-type pointing finger against a red, white and blue backdrop. The message reads: “Keep America stupid!” The text of the ad goes on to declare, “This country has enough smart people,” and urges readers not to call the toll free-numbers used to recruit volunteers.

Another ad extols the virtues of book burning. A third execution simply demands that people “Fight literacy.”

“It is clearly reverse psychology,” said Mark. “We wanted to make a political statement with these ads. We are trying to raise an army of volunteers, and to do that we wanted to rouse people up.

“It is always easier to ask people for their money than ask them for their time,” he added. “We have been really encouraged by the initial results.”

According to Mark, within the first few days of the ads’ appearance in the market, nearly 60 people contacted the San Diego Council on Literacy to express interest in volunteering. He added that the campaign is being expanded based on its initial effectiveness.

“We would really love to see this campaign adopted nationally,” said Mark.