Thursday, September 26, 2013

Has anyone seen Tom Cruise on the roof of the UN yet?

At times, when you want to promote something, if you use the wrong tone, wording, music or images you might end up with people thinking the exact opposite of what you were trying to communicate. Here is a classic example.

This was the opening week of the UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly. Held every year in September - and a recurring nightmare for resident New Yorkers - the opening of the UN General Assembly becomes the stage for world leaders:

- to see and be seen;

- to say what's on their minds at that time;

- to meet each other formally or informally, and by informally I mean 'we just bumped into each other in the corridor' - yeah, right; or

- to make a point of not meeting someone. Are you still following me?

As we saw this time, there is a lot of media attention. It is an important foreign policy event because everyone is in town but no major decisions - certainly not binding- are taken - it's the General Assembly after all, not the Security Council.  A frenetic week, where most of the participants go - more like run - from one event to another across town whether it is a UN event or not. At the end of these hectic days, everyone returns home and the world - maybe I should say, the media - forgets about the General Assembly until the following year. Before you think I am as usual too cynical; I think this is an amazing occasion, I guess quite a unique one, where "the world" gets together to discuss various issues, and it is one of the few places - if not the only -  where some leaders can speak, be heard and meet. And in the grand scheme of things the fact that the speeches and the discussions lead to very little is neither very surprising nor the point.

Still, it is widely acknowledged that while UNGA week is an important arena, it has never changed, and probably never will, the course of history. Feel free to disagree, by the way.

Now, have a look at this video - found on the homepage of the UN website:


Never mind the technical mistake of the two quotes (you first hear  Ban-Ki moon and then Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spelling out a list of issues, but while the latter is talking about problems to eradicate, the former is referring to principles and values to uphold. Not great editing). The style, the music (some sort of Mission Impossible soundtrack) the graphics (i.e. the script) give you the impression that this week is 'make or break' week, that the world, after this week, will be something else altogether - of course, thanks to some Tom Cruise look-alike that will come and save us all, climbing the building and entering from the roof, as doors are not cool.

The natural reaction after watching such a video is to start thinking about what this week is NOT and that the world will not change an iota after it. Ultimately, these thoughts will bring you to the realisation that actually, despite the great hopes and the emotional rhetoric of the UN symbol, this clunky and rusty organisation has not delivered what it had promised at its inception, mostly because its member states did not want it to. So, you see? The exact opposite of what the makers of the video wanted to communicate. Not ideal. Promote the UN by all means, but make sure that what you are saying - and the way you say it - reflect accurately what this week is really about.  

Interesting - Eurocentric - side note: it was pointed out to me that the video does not show a single EU representative - please correct me if I am wrong - A clear message trying to imply a perceived or real decrease of relevance of the old continent when it comes to the United Nations and more broadly to foreign policy. I fear this was the actual message that the video wanted to communicate, not its opposite. Food for thought.

Friday, September 20, 2013

MyVote2014: facts, lies and videotape (minus...videotape!)

I am obviously not alone in worrying about next year's European elections. Here in Brussels we are witnessing a flurry of initiatives that are trying to tackle key concerns. You will say, how useful is it to do things in Brussels? You are right, but some - actually a lot - of these initiatives may have started here but are meant for the wider European audience that will vote - or not - in next year's elections.

One such initiative is MyVote2014, a website created by the VoteWatch Europe team - the one that tells you which European parliamentarian is voting what on which topic. MyVote2014 is a special tool that starts by asking your opinion on 15 key issues and then compares this with the views of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that have actually voted on those issues. The aim is:

- to give you a sense of what is happening in the European Parliament; 

- to show you that your vote counts; and 

- to tell you who - in terms of national or European party or single MEP - might be closest to your opinion, to help decide who to vote for.     

More broadly the site is trying to engage people. The main 'target' are young voters across the continent. So, I had to try it! OK, no longer in that age bracket, but anyone is invited to have a go - just like in next year's elections! 

The tool is very well done. Cool, clear, simple and based on solid data: each issue has an explanation, a short list of arguments for and against, and a section that tells you which MEP has voted in favour of that particular issue and which against. Once you have made your choice, the 'results' appear, i.e. a list of MEPs (which you can divide per country or political affiliation) sharing your ideas, broken down by percentage of agreement. You can also compare your choices with the choices of national political parties, if you are more familiar with them. It is true that - as pointed out at the launch - it does not have yet the list of new candidates which means that the votes you see are only those of sitting MEPs who might not run in next year's elections. But, they say, once these new candidates are known, they too will be asked to cast their vote, so you will have an idea of what they think as well.  

The tool is very well done. You have said it already, Virginia! Yes, I have. I am repeating it because I want to make a point.

So, as I was repeating, the tool is very well done. But you have TO GO to the site to see that it is very well done. Only 29% of young voters bothered to vote at the last EP elections. How are we going to reach the other 71%? Will they go to the MyVote2014 site? How will we convince them to do so? And even if they do go to the site, and let's say take the test, will they go and vote afterwards? I fear not. The sense of mistrust, anger even, towards national political parties has never been stronger; and, when it comes to European rather than national elections, one has to add distance, lack of knowledge and lack of interest; an truly explosive set of ingredients that would and will keep many away from the polling booths.

I will do my best to tell people about the site and will continue to hope for increased interest in these elections. Not just from those who want to express a protest vote but also from those, such as myself, who believe that a better Europe, a stronger Europe, a more influential Europe is one where citizens have a say and express their opinion freely. An opinion based on facts and data rather than emotional lies used for political expediency. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A digression? Well, actually....

Brief digressive question: how come there are so many beautiful and effective Thai commercials? I mean, why not Chinese, Indonesian or Indian just to remain in Asia?

Well, anyway, talking about the power of visual communications...not really digressing that much I guess....enjoy.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

28 countries, 24 languages and everyone is happy: the inevitability of mediocrity.

Here it is. The communication campaign for the 2014 European elections has started officially. One video, 28 countries, 24 languages. The whole campaign, as it is keenly pointed out, is costing 16 million Euros, exactly 0,031 euro per citizen. So, money well spent?

Have a look at the video:

I like the tagline. It works better in English than in other languages - as is often the case. But I like it. The three words are right and effective.

The music, the pictures and the script are less convincing though. No need to dwell on the music that is simply uninspiring. The pictures, some of which quite strong, have no logical connection with each other if it weren't for the script. They seemed to have been chosen a bit randomly, but this could not be the case, right? Perhaps the reason is that the script itself starts with a long list of opposite generic verbs (love-hate, begin-end etc.. couldn't they chose verbs related to issues the EU actually deals with?): in the attempt to make it quite obvious and easy to understand, the producers have decided to be slightly too broad and too literal and, when selecting the images,  made them simply fit with the words. In a powerful video, the images speak for themselves. It is not quite the case here.

But this brings me to the main issue: I can only imagine the amount of negotiations that must have taken place during the production as it had to make everyone happy in every language! So, I shouldn't be too critical. No, I won't be critical. I am just mad. Not mad with the Parliament, mind you.

Mad with the inevitability of mediocrity - gosh, I sound like Salieri in the film 'Amadeus'! By mediocrity I don't mean inferior, I mean ordinary, not outstanding.

Mad because national euro-sceptic parties will not have the constraint of trying to please everyone.

Mad because they will be allowed and will use provocative messages, possibly even outrageous ones, that will reflect their simple narrative, a black and white vision of the EU.

Mad because next year's elections will probably have a higher turnout, not thanks to this video, but thanks to those messages; messages, that will strike a chord with a substantial number of disaffected European citizens.

Mad because, as a result, we might end up with a European Parliament that will be representative only of a specific - to use a neutral term - section of the European demos.    

So, the question is not whether the money invested in this campaign is money well spent, but rather what kind of messages we - as pro-Europeans - will need to communicate to tackle effectively what will no doubt be the toughest European election campaign we have had so far.

I know that this is an information campaign: the Parliament cannot be openly pro-European. But for someone such as myself who deeply cares about the results of next year's elections, it is discouraging to come to the conclusion that a "love-hate, begin-end, win-lose" script is not quite the much needed knock-out blow to euro-phobia. But come on Virginia, it's early days....