The journalistic future of
advertising: the power of truth.
Anemones are leafy perennials that grow naturally and widely on the Mediterranean coast. The white variation of these flowers symbolizes “sincerity” and “hope.” The color white has nothing to hide in its purest form, making it a symbol of “sincerity.” However, we rarely see the color in this form in nature. White objects fully reflect and scatter all the visible wavelengths of light that can be seen by the human eye. This means that when we often call something “pure white,” there isn't actually something physically making it white. Calling something “pure white” seems to mean that it is clean and pure itself. It's worth mentioning that anemone varieties are frequently improved, with more than ten varieties in Japan and several hundred overseas. It would be nice if “sincerity,” that is, “truth,” referred to only one thing, but with the times, it may be more appropriate to let everyone have their own definition of what it is.
Speaking of truth, it has been a while since we heard of that phrase that means the exact opposite, which we used to hear on a daily basis: “fake news.” As the phrase suggests, “fake news” is information that differs from the facts spread through the news and social media. Fake news does not refer to erroneous news reports or news stories that have misunderstood information, but rather fake news stories that are intentionally spread or news in which what is being said is conveniently edited to mislead others. In recent years, “deepfakes” that show synthetic videos using AI have also been circulating. In the past, anything reported on by the media itself made the information about it reliable. However, the spread and rise of social media have now made it possible for anyone to start spreading information, and it is extremely difficult to know exactly whether the information being spread is true or not. Even well-known news media are often misled by their sources of information and give erroneous reports. In many cases, the information that well-known news media spread is distorted in the first place and shared through social media. Recently, it is not uncommon to find out later that “the information was erroneous”, such as with the effects of the COVID-19 vaccines, the possibility of city lockdowns, or the notoriety of candidates in elections. People would often only know the truth behind something after some who were interested in the information talked about it a lot or after some event was caused, however, leaving many upset and quickly stopping what they were talking about. Of course, at that time, the information had been spread without malicious intent. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 72.0% of respondents said they “saw or heard” false or misleading information related to COVID-19, such as false rumors or fake news. The percentage of these people is higher in the younger age group.
This type of fake information can also be seen between individuals in the form of “romance scams,” which are often heard in the news since COVID-19 started. Through dating apps and social media, people are talking online and deepening their relationships with other people whom they have never met in the real world. Among them are people who are scammed out of large amounts of money. In FY2021, the number of people who went for consultation was 40 higher than it was before COVID-19. We can also see how much money is being taken overseas as well. According to the report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the amount of money taken from romance scams in the United States in 2021 was about 547 million US dollars (about 74 billion Japanese yen), which is 2.7 times higher than that in 2019. In Australia, the damage was reported to be about 56 million Australian dollars (5 billion yen), which is double the amount in 2019. Although it's usually the case that these crimes happen because people are deceived by what others tell them, nowadays it is usual to respond to other people assuming they are trustworthy in many cases, whether it's about paying for something a person wants to buy or people chatting among themselves on consumer sites, thinking that people are inherently good, and so I understand why these crimes can happen very often. However, if anything were to be fake news, I wished it would be negative incidents like these.
Recently, fake news has been spread not only to consumers but also to the media. For example, “Clean Close Campaign”, an international NGO working to improve working conditions in the clothing industry, collaborated with activist group “The Yes Men” to distribute a press release to the media, pretending that it was officially from Adidas. Some media outlets have published this fake information in the news. It included fake news, such as a Cambodian labor union leader being appointed co-CEO by Adidas and making rules to pay workers fair wages; and upcycling uniforms worn by Cambodian workers for about six months and selling them as a collection. It seems that people are quick to click the “like” button if they see that a company says that they did something good for the world without confirming whether it is true or not. After this happened, Adidas was forced to explain the measures it has taken for the past 25 years, including its own policies, in order to improve its working environment and its wage levels. They did say that the press release that was posted by mistake was deleted, but they caused immeasurable trouble that no company would ever want. Even if the company manages to meet new consumers, the negative image that it gained from this will not go away. In this case, Adidas was an absolute victim.
This reminds me of the popular mystery anime I watched recently, “In/Spectre,” in which the hero explains various incidents that occur in the world of mononoke (monsters) using rational deduction and convinces the monsters of what happened. One of the characters in the story said, “Once the rumor spreads, rational interpretations are difficult to accept even if they are true. If the rumor is more plausible, lies may be seen as the truth even if there is some contradiction in them.” I was impressed by what the character said, as it exactly describes the influence of fake news on social media. If a rumor is easier to spread and others are more satisfied to hear it than the truth, it may be difficult to correct people's behavior no matter how much you explain the value of the truth.
On the other hand, there have been movements to firmly deny the fake information. The Japan Fact-check Center (JFC), launched as a non-profit organization, specializes in fact-checking (the verification of facts). It conducts activities aiming to maintain and improve the integrity of what is being said in online spaces. JFC independently examines news that may mislead and confuse public opinion through the information it spreads online, like those that cause doubts about the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine and rumors regarding world-class celebrities, and shows whether it is accurate or inaccurate. If you are unsure about the information you've come across, checking this site about the truthfulness of the news you're interested in will help your mental well-being. You may just understand how unhappy spreading false information makes people if you visit this site too.
Turning to Cannes Lions, there are more cases that aim to stimulate interest in a positive way using this gimmick and eradicate such fake news. This campaign demonstrates the fact that “fake news” has become a part of society to a certain extent. I would like to introduce a few examples.
The first one is the case that Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), a magazine for professional journalists published by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in the US has worked on.
The Fake Newsstand
In 2016, Donald Trump won the US presidential election, which he may owe to the fake news spread about his rival Hillary Clinton. In 2018, two years after this chaotic election, “The Fake Newsstand” was developed before the midterm elections in which President Trump’s achievements were tested. At that time, there was an emphasis on the importance of correct information, and the public was called upon not to engage in an election campaign that was misled by rumors, as in the previous election.
A fake newsstand was made. It is a newsstand often seen in the US that sells newspapers and magazines, similar to a Japanese kiosk. Here, media with sensational but far-fetched headlines were placed, such as “President Trump insists that the United States should not have allowed Canada to become independent,” “Toddler Fightclub,” and “Pain Killers in Our Water Supply.” If you look closely, you can see that all the newspapers and magazines are somewhat similar to the originals but are still different and clearly “fakes,” but at first glance, the shocking headlines make you hardly believe your eyes. Contrary to the trust people usually put in news outlets that report the news, there is also doubt about the reported information, which confuses people. This shows that we should seriously reconsider the way we approach information.
Right now, we are the ones being exposed to fake news, which these days we get online. How far would you go to check whether something is true when you are alone? If the fake information is displayed physically and realistically like this, you can recognize it intuitively. This may be the reason why JCR brought this problem to a public place too. More than 20 different dummy newspapers and magazines were created, and they were distributed free of charge at the newsstand. These dummy newspapers and magazines actually contained instructions on how to distinguish fake news. It shows how easily people believe lies. According to the survey by CJR, only about 30 percent of US adults can distinguish fake news from true news. It also revealed that unverified but funny articles are 70% more likely to be distributed on social media than real news. The campaign also strongly showed the media that they have a responsibility to deliver information that is right, fair, and trustworthy. It is an example of how difficult it is to find and discern the “truth” nowadays.
This newsstand, by the way, was set up only in one place, but it was located at the most crowded place in Manhattan, at the intersection of 42nd Street and 6th Avenue. The newsstand was seen by hundreds of thousands of people, and it was reported by more than 300 media outlets in 100 countries, reaching 2 billion people. In this era of social media, information will reach people one way or another if the structure from which it comes is solid. It's fair to say that this is a good example of using fake news to create a topic to spread targeted information and letting it run on its own.
“Truth” exists, but sometimes it is difficult to see, and for this reason it is often overlooked. In order to confront this, there are movements to properly face and truly understand what truth is and “visualize” what should be discussed to once again show it to the world. “The Lost Class” is one of these movements.
The Lost Class
In the United States, gun violence is one of the major causes of death for children and teens, and support for gun control is gaining momentum. But as you know, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other organizations are spending much more than those that support gun control and take countermeasures to some of these efforts, so political progress has been slow. However, if you face a modern problem and face the “truth,” you will naturally be able to decide what actions you should take. Here, an effort was made to shed light on a certain truth that many turn a blind eye to— the fact that 3,044 high school students were killed by guns and could not graduate in 2021— by showing a haunting scene of thousands of empty white chairs. The students who could not graduate were called “The Lost Class,” and a graduation ceremony was held with no students to attend. The former president of the NRA and the author of the book “More Guns, Less Crime” were invited to the graduation ceremony to give speeches. They believed that they were attending a real graduation rehearsal and began their speeches to the students who would never attend. The bizarre and ironic footage was recorded and immediately distributed throughout the country. The footage was widely shared online and in the news, making more people check online sites that present more detailed information about the actual situation of “The Lost Class” and gun violence in the US. It finally led to the signing of a petition in support of gun control, which eventually obtained 40,000 signatures. Together, it achieved 1.4 billion hits, starting with numerous reports and including social media. The number of references to the organization “Change the Ref” recorded was more than 21 times in two weeks. Manuel Oliver, the representative of “Change the Ref”, also lost his 17-year-old son in a mass shooting incident.
The way the campaign visualized the truth was what made it excellent. There were 3044 empty white chairs orderly lined up on a green field under a blue sky, and they almost looked like tombstones. The shock of witnessing the fact that so many students lost their lives in gun-related incidents in one year must have been indescribable. The advocates for carrying guns made their joyful speeches in front of the empty venue. This contrast is like a real-life version of the real satirical drawings we see in the media, which further added to the irony. It may be difficult to imagine the scale of the fact just by numbers, and it is often easier to imagine it if we visualize it in this way. Now that the channels from which information is spread, such as social media, are here, “visualization” will become an increasingly powerful tool.
I would like to introduce another excellent example of “visualization”. “Liquid Billboard” launched by Adidas to increase the opportunities for women to freely enjoy swimming in public places in the Middle East and North Africa.
Around 32 percent of women in the world are reluctant to swim in public. In the Middle East, that figure jumps to 88%. In a society where swimming or wearing a swimsuit in public is not seen as “normal,” women are unable to enjoy swimming as a sport or as a hobby. Usually, “water” is used to express freedom. But in these regions, women often find things that stop or limit what they can do due to cultural norms or a lack of confidence in their own bodies.
In order to make inclusive swimwear that can be used regardless of body shape, ethnicity, ability, or religion popular, Adidas built a large billboard-shaped pool on the seashore that was 5 meters high and 3 meters deep, providing 11500 gallons of water that was opened to the public as a swimming pool so that women can swim freely. A special underwater camera was installed there, and every woman’s experience was converted into original Adidas posters, which were streamed live on the city’s largest digital display in the Dubai Mall. Until then, it was usually athletes and models who were the main subjects of films, swimming freely in swimsuits. However, now many people could see women similar to themselves who weren't afraid of showing their bodies. It must have been a truly great moment when the women could feel free from their inhibitions.
This remarkable achievement of showing how women enjoyed swimming in a huge pool set on the seashore on a digital screen in the Dubai Mall, one of the world's largest malls, can be used in various ways as a dynamic “visualization” idea. This showed the “truth” that each woman wanted to enjoy swimming, which is also an achievement worth mentioning. You may not be able to give your opinion if you are alone, but if you have some friends who share the same opinion, it will gather more attention and influence society. It can be said that this campaign provided an opportunity to create such an influence. It was not a one-sided message from the manufacturer but a stance toward realizing the message together with the target consumers. The campaign was firmly rooted in the idea of promotional activities, where the recipient of the information creates a narrative of how each consumer perceived and felt about it, which is truly amazing. The message reached 350 million people in over 60 countries and achieved an engagement rate of 17.7% on social media.
Finally, I would like to share with you two examples that I am interested in from a creative point of view that can show us how buried "truth" can be materialized. The first is “PORTUGUESE (RE)CONSTITUTION” of Penguin Random House, the world's largest publisher headquartered in New York. The publisher is a global company headquartered in the US, but in Portugal, this publisher focuses on influential Portuguese writers However, it was not recognized as a publisher rooted in the local community. When the publisher was looking for a project that could show its knowledge of and love for Portuguese culture, it came up with the idea to publish “PORTUGUESE (RE)CONSTITUTION.”
The Carnation Revolution, which broke out in 1974, was a bloodless revolution that overthrew Portugal's 48 years of dictatorship. The rejoicing citizens handed carnations to the soldiers of the revolutionary army, and the soldiers put them in the gun muzzle. This is why it is called the Carnation Revolution. The book celebrates the free world of today, remembering the Portuguese who lived for more than 40 years under the fascist dictatorship that tortured and killed thousands of people and the artists who have been subjected to severe censorship. The motif chosen was the “blue pencil” used to censor the artist, and it plays an important role as a symbol of oppression.
Designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, a book was made by eleven contemporary artists using blue pencils and the technique of blackout poetry (a piece of writing that is created through erasure) that consists of poems extracted and created from the historical document, the Fascist Constitution, and 58 illustrations created by covering the remaining unused words with “blue pencil.” The book that symbolized oppression was reborn as a manifesto for the art of enjoying freedom. The campaign name “Reconstruction” is a publishing terminology that means to “re-edit.” something. Each illustrator received a page, on which the remaining words selected by the poet are written, and used the remaining space to draw original illustrations with blue pencils. It took six months for the poets to select each word from the text and complete it as a new poem, and six months for the illustrator to leave those words and fill the other spaces with illustrations, for a total of one year. With 2,500 copies, the book is sold in large chain bookstores and quickly became a bestseller. It is now a part of the permanent collection of the Aljube Museum in the former political prison and is used in the schools of Portugal to tell the history of the revolution through art
The other example, “Blacked Out History,” seems similar to the previous one, but the way it is expressed is interestingly different. “Documents where almost all the faces are blacked out” appear, which are like the ones you may have seen in Japanese political news.
Blacked Out History
African Canadians have made important contributions to Canadian history for more than 400 years, but their stories are hardly included in the educational curriculum. Their existence is naturally concealed, and the existence of black people was treated as if they did not exist. This means that even the currently existing Afro-Canadians are denied. Despite this identity problem, educators in Ontario, Canada, were completely unaware of it. So, the Ontario Black History Society, a Toronto-based organization dedicated to preserving and promoting black history and heritage, sought ways to make Ontario education policymakers aware of the alarming lack of black history education.
According to the preliminary survey, it was found that only 13 of the 255 pages of history textbooks for the current eighth grade (first grade of junior high school in Japan) contain stories about black people. Its history and activities were the same as being “blacked out.” Therefore, as a way to visually show how distorted this history curriculum is, they “blacked out” the parts other than those related to black people in order to express this disparity. The blacked out part filled most of the pages of the textbook and the textbook became almost useless. With this visualization, the problem became undeniably obvious and shocking, so everyone quickly understood what it was trying to say. This fact, accompanied by the hashtag “#BlackedOutHistory”, has spread across the country, and the simple textbook problem has expanded to a big movement stepping into the problem of the social environment that has concealed the “truth” of history and the problem of the relevant parties who have neglected it.
It is also worth noting that the Ontario Black History Society thoroughly analyzed who to target and what to do to change the existing system in order to achieve the desired results and developed a strategy. Prior to taking action, the society directly interviewed government officials to confirm what steps the diet will take to change existing rules and what motivates policymakers to do so. As a result, they conducted three actions as follows: (1) identify a circle of influencers, such as the media, voters, political opponents, and activist groups, in order to get policymakers to take action. (2) clearly state relationships with issues (e.g., equality) that Canadians are already passionate about, and (3) deliver an easy-to-share message to ensure that all groups can take up the issue quickly and effectively. These are the basic strategies. They then sent the “blacked out” textbooks along with individual letters to top media outlets, educators, activist groups, opposition Diet members, and influential politicians, including the ultimate target, the Minister of Education, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. After that, the hashtag “#BlackedOutHistory” was spread, and the shocking visuals resonated with consumers who were exposed to the issue through the campaign support video. It was also featured in various news media, receiving 5.6 million online impressions and a positive sentiment score of 90%. Educators and teachers’ unions in Ontario have voluntarily acquired Blacked Out textbooks and used them to teach students about prejudice, and textbook publishers have begun to review their policies and textbook writing processes. Most importantly, policymakers focused on the issue and published the photo on social media, where the MPP (members of the Provincial Parliament) posed with the blacked-out textbook. Jill Andrews of the MPP delivered a speech on the subject. Currently, the opposition parties have begun lobbying for a change in the educational curriculum.
What I want to learn from in terms of communication is the setting of the outcome. Even if we temporarily topicalize the issue and change the minds of consumers and society a little more positively, it will end up as a momentary movement. This is the age we live in, where there is just so much eye-catching information. The fake news I introduced at the beginning of this article is also part of the mass amounts of information we see. If you find a starting point that can give a clue, you must clarify how to lead it to the final result at the beginning of action as a KPI or KGI design of the communication. It is critical to ensure that the action does not become topicalized. There are many cases where we become satisfied with topicalization and do not connect the action to the next move. There will no longer be interest from society if the timing is off, even if we carry out the same action later. It's also important to have the latest information. On the other hand, trying to change existing rules and systems may seem like a big deal and a tremendous attempt. It may seem ridiculous to set the goal such as “change the system, change the rules”. However, if a petition with tens of thousands of signatures can be obtained, it can be taken up in Congress, and it will be a good opportunity for a solid debate on the pros and cons of the petition. In addition, if there are a large number of such people, politicians who do not consider the issue as the people’s opinion will be at risk. In this example, such strategic steps were firmly built and implemented. This indicates the public affairs activity (that is how it is called in terms of promotional activities) is incorporated into the foundation.
There is only one “truth.” It can be seen from what we talked about that the truth is not always presented and is not always a clear indicator of people's actions. Furthermore, the “truth” changes its form depending on the position of each person, and it also appears and fades depending on the flow of time. However, if we need some kind of signpost to live our daily lives, our attitude of pursuing the truth will never be wasted. Each of us can think and discuss, and if even the slightest thing in common is found between us, we can use that as a starting point to increase the things we have in common. What we must avoid is to give up, evade, and neglect. There is no doubt that the will and the action to search for the “truth” and present it are the driving forces behind the new encounters, and this force should be strong.
So far, I have selected and introduced good examples of communication. However, I feel that there are also cases where the pursuit of “truth” leads to unnecessary argument. The pursuit of truth is important, but I question making a fuss out of nothing, like with what we see from gossip about celebrities. Depending on our point of view, it could be said that this is the attitude of journalism. It is a good thing for a company to focus on the area of social issues and take actions in order to set forth the company’s purpose and lead society in a good direction. However, it is not good to provoke arguments in society in order to topicalize the issue. When a company is strongly demanded brand activism by the society and is trying to start some initiatives, it is not good to criticize its immaturity and past failures immediately after the start. These reactions can be seen nowadays, but they would hinder the start of good action. Our North Star is to lead the whole world in a better direction, but not to be too hasty, not to be radical, and not to be single-minded by only focusing on the purpose, and it is desirable to consider not leaving the relevant people behind.
Treasure your own memories
and past experiences.