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Campaigning lessons from ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’

18 April 2012

When the second series of ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ returned to our screens in February it was accompanied by a high profile advertising campaign, unfortunately that profile was raised for all the wrong reasons. The posters, showing images of members of the travelling community with the words ‘Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier’ over them, were quickly picked up on by the press and deemed offensive, across the media spectrum from The Guardian to The Daily Mail. As a sector who often has to communicate issues around minority or vulnerable groups, what can charities learn from Channel Four’s mistakes?

1. Being on the edge is good, but get too close and you fall off

The recent success of the British Heart Foundation’s ‘Hard and Fast’ campaign shows that pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable within your brand voice or to your audience can be a really effective way to cut through to the mass market. However this approach relies on understanding enough about your audience to know the difference between what will engage them and what will enrage them so you’ll need to do your homework.

2. Create the right project team and empower them

Working in independent silos is the quickest way for something to slip between the cracks as a project gets passed between disciplines. In this case it seems to me that the intention was probably to make a positive ad. The similarity between the strapline and the common association of bigger and better would suggest that copywriter was trying to do a Justin Timberlake and ‘bring sexy back’ i.e reclaim a word that’s become negative and turn it into a positive. However somewhere in the process the strapline got placed over the faces of children, drowning out the nuances of their message.

To prevent slips like these make sure you have a project team that incudes all the key stakeholders from your organisation and give those team members closest to the project sign off so they know where the buck stops when mistakes do happen.

3. Be ready and willing to react

Ross McCulloch Founder of Be Good Be Social was one of the first to challenge Channel Four about the appropriateness of the ads. Their reply goes a long way to proving that they hadn’t anticipated such a negative response and I think misses the point entirely “@ThirdSectorLab Everyone featured in the posters has seen them and is happy with them. Parental consent was given for the poster campaign.“

When communicating with large groups of people it’s not always possible to please everyone so we have to accept that sometimes mistakes will happen. That’s why it’s important that your team knows they have your support, as hiding or defensive rebukes of mistakes will only make them worse. Your team has to be able to own up to someone and when they do own up there should be contingencies in place. Unfortunately in the Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier case I don’t think they were.

Here at Forster we’ve had our fair share of mid campaign challenges too, from celebrities going off piste with messaging to OS upgrades suddenly making website functionality redundant but by following these three pieces of advice we’ve managed to deal with them and deliver successful campaigns. We hope they’re as effective for you.