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The Influencers

"Please Don’t Make Me Slap You in the Face"

INFLUENCER: CZAR Amsterdam's Marit Weerheijm explores the boundaries of confronting people with life and death through commercials

"Please Don’t Make Me Slap You in the Face"

How hard do I need to slap you in the face to get your attention? For the first time in my life I was confronted with this question. Let’s start with a fact: 1 in 8 women nowadays have the chance to develop breast cancer. The Pink Ribbon Foundation urges women to check their breasts and I was asked to make a film to raise awareness on this subject.

I really want your attention, but I’d rather not slap you in the face. Unfortunately, in today’s society we have gotten used to bold and dramatic exclamations. Short and simple statements that urge us to buy something, do something or like something. Even politicians like to use a limited amount of characters to share their opinion on world politics. Meanwhile, the images on the news become more horrific every day. We are familiar with seeing misery and violence, even dead bodies on our screen. Things that are meant to be shocking to us humans, are now a daily phenomenon. But if we’re benumbed to these exclamations and images, how do I get you to get your breasts checked?

I strongly remember a Dutch campaign from 2012. There were big posters with people’s faces on it spread around the country and there were a few different ads on television. Each face was an actual ALS-patient and the posters said: ‘I have died by now.’ 

These nine patients agreed to be photographed and filmed to get more attention for the ALS-disease. And their picture and ad would only be released after they had died. To be honest, this was a real slap in the face for me. Not only was this campaign smart, simple and emotional; it was true. These were real people who wanted nothing more than money for research to help other people with this disease, because they didn’t make it. And it made me incredibly uncomfortable. 

Then, a little while ago, I saw a Red Cross ad called Hope, another slap in the face. These were not real people because it’s fiction. But the situation is very real and I can imagine this happening all around the world.

In this ad we are confronted with the human reality of war zones. For almost two minutes you feel like you need to help this man and his injured daughter. You know that if they can get to the hospital in time, everything will be fine. Only to realise - at the end of these two minutes - that the hospital was bombed. Nothing will be fine. And when you’re watching this with your smartphone in one hand and a bowl of chips in the other, sitting on a comfortable couch in your two-bedroom apartment in the capital of a very safe country, you feel very much slapped in the face. And that is uncomfortable.

And then there are those ads that really want you to feel uncomfortable about our modern western society. They make sure that you are in the exact right position to get slapped in the face.

And it works. You recognise something you know. You laugh about these bridezillas because they are ridiculous and the stupidity of it makes you feel good. And just when you’re starting to really enjoy these brides who act like children, you are confronted with children who need to act like brides. And there is this uncomfortable feeling again.

But that uncomfortable feeling is exactly what they want. That uncomfortable feeling sticks. Hopefully this slap left a red palm print on your face and you do something with it. Maybe you don’t immediately decide to donate or start working as a volunteer for these organisations. But perhaps you share a video, tell your friends about it or maybe you do get your breasts checked once in a while. 

But where is the limit? How hard can you slap people in the face before it becomes unethical? I would say that line is where we always set the boundaries of our freedom of speech; you should never hurt or offend people with your ad. But you can go really far in making them uncomfortable. Three months after the launch of the ALS-campaign 1 out of 4 people in The Netherlands knew this slogan and their donations had gone up by 500%. So I guess, the end justifies the means. 

Getting slapped in the face now and then turns out to be a necessary matter. But we can promise to make it quick and relevant. If you, female reader, promise to get your breasts checked.

Marit Weerheijm is a director at CZAR Amsterdam

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