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I Am The World’s (Second) Most Interesting Man…

…which explains why the World Food Programme changed their ad campaign to include color images.

In June 2008 I flayed the World Food Programme’s ad that depicted Drew Barrymore feeding hungry African kids. The photograph was in black and white save only a small red cup.

Here’s what I wrote then:
I can see it now. In the wake of a string of natural disasters and skyrocketing food prices in the Developing World, management at UN World Food Programme (WFP) decide to commence some serious marketing. So they start taking meetings with fancy ad agencies.

Here’s how the successful meeting went:

The senior manager at the agency turned on the charm and created a ‘reality distortion field’ before turning the time over to the creative director, who immediately started to weave a persuasive narrative. “We’ll put actresses like Rachel Weisz and Drew Barrymore in PSAs, in print ads and on Oprah. Imagine stark, beautifully-shot images of Drew feeding darling doe-eyed kids in Kenya in haunting black and white. The images will underscore that issue of hunger in the Developing World is black and white…”

At that point the UN World Food Programme managers should have kicked that agency to the curb.

Unless your cause is the Ansel Adams Black and White Photo Preservation Trust (I just made that up, by the way) your fundraising and cause-related marketing images better be in color. In every test of preferences (outside of the canyons of Manhattan), people say they want to see color images.
It could be that in creative meetings they determined that B&W images would deemphasizeDrew Barrymore in that ad. But of course, in so doing they deemphasized the children as well. It was a marketing conceit to use on the red cup in other words as the only color image in the campaign, just as the World's Most Interesting Man campaign from Dos Equis is a marketing conceit.

But if any organization needs authenticity it is the World Food Programme, the U.N.'s first responder in most disaster relief efforts.

I can only conclude that as the World’s (Second) Most Interesting Man my posting compelled the World Food Programme and its agency to change this element of their creative approach.

How do I know that I am the World’s (Second) Most Interesting Man?
  • Hairs trimmed from my beard have been woven into rope that spans the Colorado River at vital crossings in the Grand Canyon.
  • Tears from my eyes are frequently used as a topical analgesic for children with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).
  • Posters of my smile, displayed in the stalls of the last three Kentucky Derby winners, are hailed for bringing victory.
[BTW, look at Sean Penn’s forehead and neck in the ad above. Penn is about six months older than I am. But does the World’s (Second) Most Interesting Man have turkey neck? No, I do not.]


Faithful readers---This comment came from Jonathan Dumont at the World Food Programme. For some reason it never posted automatically, so I'm doing myself manually.---Paul

Dear Mr. Keene,

I am the head of television communications for the World Food Programme. I am unfamiliar with your website so, when a colleague forwarded me your article, I felt compelled to clarify a few things.

WFP does not hire ad agencies for our psa campaigns. We produce almost all of them in house. In this case, I conceived, wrote, contacted the talent, directed, edited and to a large extent distributed the ad in question myself. The actual shoot was done almost entirely pro-bono and we don't pay for ad space. As you may well know, WFP is not typical in the sense that despite the fact that we are the world's largest humanitarian aid org. and the UN's frontline relief agency, we don't have a fixed budget. We are voluntarily funded based upon emergency appeals and our overhead is 7%. As a result we are very mean and lean-especially when it comes to communications. How's that for bang for buck?

We value contribution from communications professionals like yourself so, next time you have a suggestion, I would be grateful if you could send them directly to me so I can put them to good use.

All the Best,

Jonathan Dumont

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