Griffin Bacal blows the whistle on cheaters

Marketer: Ad Council/Educational Testing Service (ETS)...
October 1, 1999

Marketer: Ad Council/Educational Testing Service (ETS)

Agency: Griffin Bacal, New York-Joe Bacal, creative director; Julius Weil, associate creative director/art director; Michael Dean, associate creative director/copy writer; Tim Speidel, agency producer

Spot Shop: hungry man, New York-David Levin, director; Lalou Dammond, producer

Post: Salamandra Images, New York-Harold Spingarn, editor

CGI: Quiet Man, New York-Dave Sullivan, CGI artist

Markets: U.S. national

The idea: To leverage a respect for fair play in sport in order to encourage kids ages 10 to 14 to avoid cheating in school.

The campaign: Two 30-second spots are being created pro bono by Griffin Bacal for the Ad Council, along with print ads, radio spots and in-school materials such as posters and book covers. Ref-Classroom and Ref-Vignettes were made available to U.S. broadcast and cable on September 9, along with the radio spots and print ads. Donated media exposure is expected to be worth millions of dollars.

The strategy:

According to the ETS, the national U.S. organization entrusted with administering tests such as the SAT and College Board exams, over 80% of U.S. kids readily admit to cheating in school. This year, the ETS decided to do something about it.

With the ultimate goal of preventing kids from getting in the habit of cheating in the first place, the ETS approached the Ad Council, a non-profit U.S. agency responsible for such PSA coups as Smokey Bear and the United Negro College Fund’s ‘A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste’ campaign. With over US$1 billion in donated media time and space at its disposal each year, if anyone could get the ETS message out, it was the Ad Council.

After some convincing, the Council took on the campaign, turning to Griffin Bacal for execution. The campaign was a tall order. How do you convince kids not to cheat when they usually get away with it?

Griffin Bacal president Paul Kurnit says his team quickly decided that the first step was to reach kids before they start. ‘What we found in research was that upper elementary school kids know cheating is wrong and they have a very moral attitude about it. As they get into junior and senior high school, the consequences of doing well in school increase, to the point where cheating becomes more expedient as a way to get a good result.’

Although it was tempting to produce hard-sell ads showing consequences such as expul-

sion or punishment, art director Julius Weil

says with cheating, that approach doesn’t work. ‘There is no consequence to cheating for these kids,’ he says. ‘At the very most, the teacher will rip up the test.’ Instead, he says, you have to appeal to a kid’s conscience and sense of fair play.

With this aim, the creative team decided to leverage what they determined to be moral high ground with kids when it came to cheating: Sports. The team decided to deliver the message via a CG referee who pops out of kids’ heads when they’re tempted. The idea is to embody a kid’s conscience with this non-judgmental icon and get him or her to reconsider when cheating opportunities arise.

Both spots use the icon, with Ref-Classroom showing the referee at work in more obvious situations, such as passed notes and glances at your neighbor’s paper, and the second spot helping kids to identify less recognizable cheating situations such as copying homework.

Next year, Kurnit’s team will follow up with spots aiming to convince parents and teachers that the best way to help kids combat cheating is through understanding and support.

Having such lofty goals in the social realm, along with the freedom pro bono work allows, is a welcome creative workout, Kurnit says. As copy writer Michael Dean concludes: ‘You’re dealing with real issues and real problems, beyond something like a new flavor of Gatorade-which is just not quite as big an issue as something that changes a kid’s life.’

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