You’ve been living under a rock, smoking a spliff or just ignorant of the news this week if you haven’t heard about or seen NSW’s new ‘Stoner Sloths’ campaign.

If you haven’t, here’s a quick catch up:

Yes, there were many other anti-campaigns the public mulla could have been used for and, yes, they’re absolutely ridiculous ads to watch, but high five to ‘Stoner Sloths’. Not because I think it was 100% awesome, but it makes me reflect on what makes a good campaign.

1. It wasn’t batpoo boring

Public money is spent on a host of public awareness campaigns. Anything from domestic violence, anti-smoking, ice, drunk driving, seat belts, underage drinking, speeding, texting while driving, obesity. But the majority of these campaigns suck. How many can you recall?

From the top of mind:

  • the pinky finger speeding campaign
  • the fat man walking along the tape measure obesity campaign
  • ‘Plan B’ discouraging drunk driving
  • the young boy grabbing his dad a beer from the fridge on repeat,
  • and in uni, I did an analysis of the ‘Swap it, don’t stop it’ that caricatured obese Australians as balloon creatures.

I can recall these because I’m either the target audience or they’re memorable for being stupid. For these  few, there have been countless others. They’re boring – like half the advertising campaigns we’re subject to. It’s mediocre marketing at best.

But here’s the thing about ‘Stoner Sloths’: it managed to capture the hearts/Facebook feeds/TV screens/online news platforms of Australians. It’s a ‘noisy’ world out there, so much so I spend my days trying to work out how to ‘cut through’ and persuade you all to holiday in Queensland rather than [insert overseas tropical island here]. The concept, Stoner Sloths, did exactly that. It was so ridiculous and unusual that it captured the attention of an otherwise disinterested audience. We can all spot a public awareness campaign. They’re dull. They’re usually so straight down the line we end up looking at tar being poured into lungs or a tree wrapped around the pole. ‘Stoner Sloths’ has brought the recreational marijuana use to the fore.

2. Its reach stretched the public coin further than the Stoner Sloths’ pocket claw

Marketing 101: There are 3 kinds of media: paid, earned and owned (there’s actually now a fourth thanks to the blog world: partnered). Paid involves $$, earned is additional coverage usually led by public relations and owned is usually your website, social media channels etc.

Stoner Sloths earned a heck of a lot of earned media in what many draw on the old adage ‘all media is good media’. A dollar figure can be found (using AVE – advertising value equivalent, an outdated formula some media academics are still debating) and no doubt the media agency who’s behind the comms strategy will claim as ‘bonus’ media. Aside from commercial $$ figures, its reach (the amount of people who have seen it) and its recall (average punter/target audience’s ability to remember the ad unprompted (like my list of public awareness campaigns above) or prompted) will now be very high.

But the question everyone’s asking, does it resonate?

3. The campaign captured the truth about maryjane and sloths

Marketing 101: At the beginning of any campaign, a brief is written and received by the party responsible for coming up with the idea. (FYI – some of the biggest creative agencies are on the government’s panel) I imagine the brief was as simple as ‘Create campaign to discourage marijuana use in adolescents’ (although it’s government so it was probably 50 pages long).

The next step is to understand the target audience, why they need/don’t need the product/service/cause and develop an idea that will resonate. ‘Stoner Sloths’ did a great job in acting on the insight that an individual experiencing the psychoactive and physiological effects of consuming cannabis is very similar to that of a sober sloth. Or according to the campaign, you are so boring/useless on weed you become worse than a sloth and/or worse than you would be sober. And it seems, they applied it literally – to the offense of all the sloths out there!

Now I’m going to make a few assumptions, and this could be to the credit of the creative agency (hoping a journo applies for a freedom of information) or fuel dried grass for my ongoing agency-client fire. Here’s two more insights that add to the success or epic fail of ‘Stoner Sloths’:

  • Sloths are amazing. There is a lot of love for the humble sloth. Kristen Bell and YouTube is proof of that. It’s a loss they didn’t work in a baby sloth!
  • Sloths look remarkably like the Starwars character Chewbacca. The campaign was officially launched in the week of Starwars…

But I’m not naïve, so it’s probably coincidence. But, perhaps not?

4. The campaign actually thought about the target audience

A lot of the commentary that has come out this week critiqued the campaign ‘went viral’ before the ads even made it to TV! But, *again assumption* I doubt it was ever destined for television. TV is super expensive. You need a 6 or 7 figure budget to be able to afford effective TV ad placements. 30 seconds in a primetime metro TV show can cost anywhere from $10 – 60k depending on the program/audience. And that’s just one. You need to air hundreds to get anything close to the intended reach target. Not to mention it’s a series of videos…oh and kids these days aren’t watching TV…they’re illegally downloading or streaming or just watching YouTube videos.

‘Stoner Sloth’ is built on a web platform. It’s on tumblr where apparently the kids are hanging out. It’s built in a way the videos can be shared. There are gifs. There’s a Facebook page where ‘Stoner Sloth’ is now commenting back to the hundred commenting on the videos – videos with 200-300K views.

But ready for it, the video posts are from 3 weeks ago. The campaign actually launched in early December…when their target audience were finishing school and spend more of their days online. But we only heard about this week…because the NSW Government and St Vincent’s Drug and Alcohol Service released a media release more broadly.

Now I could critique their digital strategy and I can already find some huge holes in it, but I’m still early in my career and not about to start pointing the finger while I make my own (gastro) gaffs. But the point is, thinking about the audience is key.

Here are two brilliant awareness campaigns that thought about the audience:

5. It’s not perfect

One day I hope one of my campaigns will earn me and my team a Cannes Lion. I’m working for someone who managed it by 30. Even if you have little interest/understanding of marketing, hopefully the above demonstrates it’s far from easy to nail a brief, come up with an awesome idea, produce it and then place it in front of the people who you want to see it…and them actually doing what you want them to do in the numbers that you deem it successful. There’s no gold nugget. Even the best of ideas and campaigns have room to improve.

‘Stoner Sloths’ is exactly the same. Thanks to Gruen Transfer, we’re all marketing experts. And we all know the failing of ‘Stoner Sloth’ because it’s been picked to pieces this week.

One of my favourite/frustrating moments of marketing is the evaluation phase. I love to hate stats but it’s good to reflect what made something work well or completely flop. In our briefing process we have a ‘learnings’ section where we bring the recommendations from previous campaigns.

No doubt, there will be a lot from ‘Stoner Sloths’…let’s just hope they work out we love sloths. It’s all about the video series now (bonus marketing treat), so I’m all for a Speedy Sloth or perhaps an ad demonstrating what it’s like to text and drive. I know my texting ability while driving is probably equal to that of a poor sloth. Advertising is about stirring the pot, and no doubt we’ve seen a shake up this week.