A black mirror of our times

Award-winning digital campaigns reflect a more ambiguous attitude to the power of social media.

par Mark Tungate , Adforum

Advertising competitions play many different roles – they can help build creative careers, for example – but for industry observers they’re a useful indicator of current trends. To determine what’s hot in digital right now, we took a closer look at the some of the winning (and shortlisted) entries in the recent Epica Awards.

The sector’s current obsession with “doing good” rather than merely selling products was certainly to the fore. But a new element was an acknowledgement that social networks can be tools for manipulation, deceit and hate-mongering.

The most striking manifestation of this was the Gesicht Zeigen campaign (a bronze winner), which pointed out that Adolf Hitler would no doubt have made use of social media to spread his poisonous ideology. Among other things, the campaign turned the hashtag into a fascistic symbol.

More subtly, the ambiguities of social media were highlighted by the Like What You Hate campaign (bronze), from Vice. It urged users to break out of their influence bubble and consider the other side of the story – however uncomfortable that might make them feel – by doing exactly as the title suggests.

Donald Trump wields Twitter like a weapon, which seems to have inspired an interesting shortlisted project from the Raoul Wallenberg Academy, named after the Swedish businessman, diplomat and humanitarian. As a special envoy in Hungary during the Second World War, Wallenberg saved hundreds of Jews from deportation by issuing them with false Swedish identity papers. After being detained by the Russian counter-espionage organisation SMERSH at the end of the war, he subsequently disappeared – believed murdered.

The Raoul Wallenberg Algorithm monitors the compassion level of the world’s leaders, in real time, by analysing their tweets. The tool’s globe icon glows warm or cold depending on the ambient level of compassion generated by the tweets of 300 leaders.

It was perhaps inevitable that Black Mirror itself should crop up amidst all this. Or rather pop up, as it took the form of a temporary restaurant where entry – and the length of your time at the table – depended on how many followers and “likes” you had on social media. Those left outside could perform in a sort of media circus in a desperate attempt to increase their popularity and join those on the other side of the velvet rope. The campaign won an Epica gold in three categories: media, events and experiential.

Not all of the digital entries were quite so dark. An uplifting one from Australia allowed purchasers of tinned fruit to see exactly where the produce was grown – thanks to GPS coordinates on the tin and a related website – and even go along for a visit. The initiative from Goulburn Valley Fruit speaks to a growing desire among consumers to be informed about the provenance of the food they buy.

Among the quirkier entries was a shortlisted campaign from the tiny Faroe Islands that aimed to preserve their dying language – Faroese. When Google declined to include the language in its translation engine, the country created its own, with filmed translations from real Faroese nationals. The charming site created buzz and prompted Google to change its mind. Proving that digital tools can also be used as weapons of resistance against the dominance of the Silicon Valley giants.

Finally, a gold winner in the Best Use of Music category took advantage of a loophole within Facebook Live to create…well, a looped video. It’s a little difficult to explain in writing, but the video speaks for itself. The skill of BBDO New York – along with Downtown Records and the band The Academic – was to identify the fault before it was fixed and make highly creative use of it.

The result is entertaining and, appropriately, slightly haunting.