Advertising Can (Maybe) Save the World, Just Not the Way You Think

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We can agree the world is going to hell, yes? But what if our deepest divisions were actually bridgeable after all? What if there were something we could all agree on? Something upon which we could collectively focus our energy, and find common ground in channeling our darkest impulses?

Perhaps there is. Perhaps it’s advertising!

Check out the video below, which posits that a certain type of advertising has the power to bring people together like almost nothing else.

Yeah, sorry, it’s all a gag. But it’s a pretty funny one from john st., the Toronto agency that specializes in this kind of industry-skewering parody. The video, like many others john st. has made over the years, was created for Strategy magazine’s Agency of Year event—this year’s version of which took place Thursday night.

If the setup of “Make Humanity Great Again” looks familiar, that’s because it seems based pretty heavily on Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” video from last April—a piece that was almost universally celebrated, but mocked by some for being overly simplistic. (It’s already been parodied before.)

“No matter who you are, or what party you vote for, whether you love guns or hate guns, love dogs or hate dogs—everyone hates the ads where they talk about these weird side effects for 50 seconds,” says john st. executive creative director and partner Angus Tucker. “We think even Donald Trump and Angela Merkel would look at each other and go, ‘I hate these stupid ads.’ So once they can agree on that, then maybe, who knows, they could agree on climate change or something.”

AdFreak spoke more with Tucker, and other john st. execs, about “Make Humanity Great Again.”

AdFreak: It must be hard coming up with a fresh idea for this video each year. Where did this one come from?
Angus Tucker: This idea literally came off of the wall of our agency. We have a big sign that says “People Hate Advertising” on our wall to remind ourselves, and our clients, that our first job as marketers is to do work that people actually like and appreciate and find useful. So when we paired that thought with all this hate in the world, we thought, “Hey, maybe if we all hate the same thing, maybe we can create a little love.”

Lia MacLeod, Art Director: We really enjoyed having the opportunity to make fun of bad advertising while simultaneously making a serious point about the times we’ve living in. There’s some truth to the idea that maybe the best way to start a conversation is to find common ground. Even if that common ground is a bad tampon ad.

Casting is everything here. Can you tell us about some of the actors, and where you found them?
Angus Tucker: Most of the cast are john st.’ers. We have always cast as many of our own people in these things as we can. It’s fun for them. It’s big honor if you make the cut. They can send it to their parents and go, “See! I actually have a job!” But we did do some casting, though, through Jigsaw Casting, for a few characters like the nun and the drag queen.

Stephie Coplan, Copywriter: The drag queen is a real-life drag queen in Toronto who goes by Champagna Enemea. We auditioned about nine, I think, and had to pick our favorite. We felt like we were on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Lia MacLeod: The pets actually belong to the people holding them. And the cat lady is named, you guessed it, “Kat.” Her husband is the guy in the MAGA cap, who does not own one in real life.

Any fun stories from the set?
Angus Tucker: The cat that almost ripped the poor dog’s face off was a nice surprise. The nun and the drag queen went out for a coffee after they did their thing. They got along famously. Oh, and the mime and the clown thing we just kind of made up, but when we dug around a bit, apparently there’s a bit of actual tension there. So hopefully, we’ve built some bridges for those two communities.

Stephie Coplan: As the resident Trekkie in the agency, I had to teach Kadeem Roper, a Miami Ad School student who’s currently on placement at john st., how to do a Vulcan salute correctly. He kept tucking his thumb in. Amateur. There are lots of fun easter eggs in the video! Check out the full list of side effects in the Erectisol ad. And make sure to follow @PowerFlowGo on Twitter.

See more of john st.’s earlier parody videos below.

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.