Inspiration for social change – from comedy? It happened

Socially Smart - Jon Waldman
To Market – Jon Waldman

Photo by Jim Fischer

The sources of great advertising campaigns are vast. Inspiration can come from just about anywhere.
But for comedy to give birth to deeply impactful non-profit campaigns is something that’s completely out of left field.
Now the use of Hollywood to attempt impact in social circles is nothing new. Whether it’s Alex Trebek talking about helping to feed African nations, or Jennifer Aniston encouraging the U.S. in the cheeky “Don’t Vote” campaign, the impact that celebrities can make is one that can’t be undervalued in an awareness or donation drive.
But to draw inspiration from a comedic bit? That’s something entirely new. We never, for example, saw the creation of The Human Fund in honour of George Costanza, nor has there been a fun run for rabies after Michael Scott’s initial fundraiser.
In fact, the first crossover that I can recall ever seeing from anything to do with comedic television has come from, of all people, Jimmy Kimmel. Yes, the same comedian who helped people Win Ben Stein’s Money, and taught men across the world the proper chant before polishing off their half-drunk ale, has inspired multiple organizations with a simple sketch that has become a viral sensation.
Kimmel’s ABC nightly schtick-and-interview show has become one of the most popular of this generation – and no doubt played a part in The Tonight Show and The Late Show deciding it was high time to change hosts after years of unfunny moments.
Kimmel’s biting comedy and connection to the viral video world made him a sensation. He’s also become highly respected in recent years for his willingness to stand up for causes he believes in, particularly his stance on vaccination.
But the real gravy in Kimmel’s work are his long-running sketches. Like Johnny Carson before him, Kimmel has worked a number of ongoing sketches into his arsenal of late-night comedy. In the last couple years, this has included “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets,” a collage sketch of his guests reading hate messages directed at them on Twitter.
Generally the celebs take the messages in stride, such as Wiz Khalifa who giggled after reading one from user @Al_RamBro, who stated “Wiz Khalifa looks like a homeless woman.” These segments have been running for a while, and recently have spawned promos from various non-profit groups.
One of the first to take on the concept was the Canadian Safe School Network, who adopted Kimmel’s set for the segments nearly to a T, placing students onscreen in front of a brick wall, cell in hand.
Among those read off by the kids in the video: “Allan’s voice is soo annoying it makes me wish I was deaf.” As the tweets are read, the canned laugh track fades until the last tweet is read with no one laughing.
A second video popped up from Bullying.org, this time with teens in high school settings reading off anonymous but real tweets, such as “u don’t know how sick you make me. U make me f***** sick to my stomach. Everytime I think of u I puke.” Again. Effective.
A third commercial really struck though. Rather than directly mimicking Kimmel’s sketch, a campaign had homeless citizens read negative tweets about their population. In this case, we don’t see the tweets, only the reactions – and they are powerful. The campaign was created by Raising the Roof Canada, and I highly recommend checking it out on YouTube.
So the lesson for this month? Never let inspiration be set aside because of its origin – it may show up where you least expect it.
Jon Waldman is a marketing and communications expert in Winnipeg. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonwaldman or connect with him at jonwaldman@shaw.ca.

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