Blogs & Comment

Selling 'good' instead of goods

Can an ad campaign really sell nothing but good vibes?

(Photo: People for Good)

“Want to hear an uplifting story?” read big block letters on an orange background. “A guy lets everyone get on the train before him. The end.”

That’s the copy gracing an ad I saw recently while waiting on a Toronto subway platform.

“Uplifting?” I thought. “Maybe. Now what are you selling?

Ask the creators of the campaign—dubbed People for Good—and they’ll tell you it isn’t selling anything but good will, countering cynics like me who figure someone must be getting something out of it.

“The point of the campaign is to get people to think twice about basic courtesy and being nice to each other,” says Zak Mroueh, president of Toronto-based creative agency Zulu Alpha Kilo. Co-developed with Mark Sherman, executive chair of Media Experts, the campaign has enlisted donated time and resources from media partners.

Outdoor, interactive and print ads around Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montréal and Halifax now encourage people to smile, hug a stranger, and give up their grudges, among other good-karma exercises. They also direct to for more feel-good ideas.

Minimalist in design, the campaign lacks any recognizable branding, which is what makes one wonder if there’s ulterior promotion going on.

Mroueh insists any recognition he and Sherman get is not the main intent and points out that they didn’t send out a press release until after people started talking about the campaign.

But now that it’s out there, it’s not a stretch to think their agencies just might benefit from the publicity.

The campaign’s good-natured sentiment is one any number of big brands may wish to attach themselves to, says Rob Wilson, marketing professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management.

“It projects the image of doing a little bit extra—a little bit more without even being asked—for their clients or their customers,” he says.

Still, Mroueh says he plans to keep the campaign brand-free, as he and Sherman develop it further.

While its Facebook page has about 400 ‘likes,’ Mroueh is able to rhyme off anecdotes about people who have run with the campaign’s message.

Taking the campaign at face value then, will it be successful in changing people’s behaviour?

Not likely, according to Wilson.

“If somebody’s going to do something nice, as simple as holding open a door for somebody, my suspicion is that kind of person does it anyways,” he says. “But you know what? It’s a nice idea.”