I attended a debate this week, organised by IABC Belgium called ‘Communicating the EP Elections: the SeXy factor’ (The capital X is theirs, not mine). The panel consisted of a moderator and 4 people: one was Stephen Clark, the Director for relations with citizens at the European Parliament (again, his definition, not mine) who has been responsible for the video which launched the EP elections campaign last September: the one with the slogan ‘Act, React, Impact‘. The other three panellists were from the communications agency ‘Old-Continent’ which has produced an alternative video on the elections, called ‘We are not sexy and we know it‘.
I have written about both videos when they came out (here and here) so no need to dwell on them again. But I am writing about it now because, some months on, on the eve of a new phase in the election campaign (let’s say the proper campaigning phase), the official video has had more than 8 million views and drawn a wide variety of comments. Mr Clark was there to talk about it and defend it in front of a critical audience of communicators. And he was sitting next to the producers of a video that, with little money and no time, was created precisely as a… how shall I say it, better alternative to the official one. Maybe it’s just my love for controversy but I was hoping for some strong truths about EU communications. And I was very curious to hear what the minds behind the two videos had to say about…each other!
To be fair, Mr Clark did say he wished he could have produced a more fun video; “I would have never been allowed to use the word ‘sexy’, never mind the word ‘shitty'” – he said, pointing out all the constraints of working for a huge multinational institution (from bureaucratic procedures to endless rounds of comments and approvals). I can totally imagine how nightmarish it must be to make everyone happy. But my understanding ends here.
It ends because he continued to defend the video as a great new product while at the same time saying we should wait for the next one as it will be even better, shorter and snappier; because he mentioned as a major achievement the fact that Greek national television is broadcasting it often – could it be that they have no money to fill the airtime? – and that the comments outside the Brussels bubble were much more sympathetic – especially in the South – than the ones here in town. Really? My impression, admittedly gathered in an unscientific way, was that outside Brussels very few people understood what that video was about, while those who did found it depressing and vague. But then again, I might have spoken to different people.
Talking of different… what really surprised me was Mr Clark’s enthusiasm for the main slogan of the campaign, ‘This time it’s different‘ – which, by the way, I thought had been replaced by the Act, React, Impact alliteration, but I stand to be corrected. It’s a very personal thing but I find the sentence really bad. This time it’s different? Is it because we are in a crisis? Is it because we are going to have a EP full of populists? Yes, it’s different: it might be the last election, if we are not careful! Ok, probably not, but you get my drift. Plus, the slogan implies an involuntary admission of irrelevance, as if previous elections have been totally unimportant; as if it was understandable that before – before what actually? – nobody bothered to vote, but this time…it’s different. Sorry, but it just does not work for me. A simple Google search of the sentence would be enough to see how effective it has been so far…
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the debate a lot. Actually, it was more like a Q & A session with Mr Clark than a proper debate, as the Old-Continent group talked much less, but was also asked fewer questions. Still, I had a great time: it’s always fun to hear experts talking about two of my favourite subjects – the EU and communications – and to get an insiders’ view on all the shenanigans surrounding the production of communications material for the institutions.
Plus, there was one piece of good news: the Old-Continent team announced that it’s going to produce a new video, and is looking for inspiration and ideas from all of us for the first collaborative election campaign ad ever created. Hurray, but no American accent this time please!
And let’s see how this new video will compare with the new official ones.