Ads are often seen as aggressive, flashy nuisances, invaders of our privacy and spare time. On the other hand, public awareness campaigns generate quite a bit of buzz, illuminating the path to the future of the marketing industry. They are rooted in common values and social causes, and appeal to emotions. A well-designed social issue ad remains in the memory, unlike sale pitches and tedious pop-ups. As a result, everyone seems to be figuring out how to forge hard-hitting ads that capture the attention.

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A day late and dollar short

First off, let us take a look at impactful advertising campaigns that were driven by environmental concerns. World Wildlife Fund’s “Before it’s too late”, for example, presents us with a striking landscape, where two patches of forest form the shape of human lungs. This is a strong message echoing notions that the wellbeing of the planet and people are interdependent. “If you don’t pick it up they will” follows a similar logic, only this time it reminds us of grave consequences our actions have, even if they seem immaterial. Namely, an ad shows a corpse of the bird, with discarded objects visible beneath the rotting flesh.

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These ads are sometimes shocking and gruesome, but such is the world we live in, even if we do not admit it. “Guess which one?” is a stunning proof of the hypocrisy of modern society. There are two kids in the photo—one of them is holding an automatic weapon and the other one a Kinder Chocolate Egg. The title says: One child is holding something that has been banned in America. Guess which one? The answer is so logic-defying that it leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. Moreover, with the proliferation of armed assaults in the US, the message has never been more relevant.

A mountain to climb

FeedSa did not put anything in the hands of the children in their innovative ads. Their photos were put on the bottom of the shopping carts in order to remind people that while we embark on shopping sprees, somewhere else, the children are starving. The black adolescents raise their hands, begging for food, and the moment you place something in the cart, you symbolically place it in their hands as well. The message is clear as a day: See how easy feeding the hungry can be? Considering the staggering amount of food that ends up in the landfill, this note rings true.

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The American Disability Association also takes advantage of guerilla tactics. Their ad features a picture of Mount Everest, which sits on the stairs of the metro. The analogy is simple, yet highly-effective: For people with disabilities, climbing as much as few stairs is like conquering the roof of the world. This really puts things into perspective, and makes you think as you walk the streets of concrete jungles that some individuals find hard, if not impossible to navigate.

Fortunately, social issue ads have found their ways in both our physical and digital environments, penetrating into our preoccupied minds. The good news is that the Internet has leveled the marketing field and opened many new opportunities. A small company from the US can reach out a social media agency in Sydney and assemble a solid strategy for harnessing the immense power of social issue ads. Any startup is able to acquire followers on social media without the need to break the bank or even pay a dime. Just bear in mind that the public interest must not be manipulated, but treated as a lodestar in the vast marketing constellation.

Add real value

Effective advertising campaigns often form around current issues, becoming a sort of social movement, transcending the traditional boundaries of the marketing arena. Distinctive, truthful voices are heard vide and far, as they get people to think about dire problems of our time. They raise public support and advocate meaningful changes in the way we live, think and act. Tying these principles to marketing efforts is the best way to show you care for people and the planet they inhabit, instead of just trying to sell to them.