In what was probably one of the toughest “asks” ever made by a client to its agency, David Fleming, president-CEO, Donate Life America, recounted the one he made to The Martin Agency to create “The World’s Biggest Asshole” PSA campaign.
“That was, ‘We want you to help us get Millennial males to think about dying. We want you to inspire generosity with them. We want you to get them to take an action they don’t really have any interest in doing, because they’re not going to die anytime soon. And, by the way, I don’t have any money to give you to do it,” Fleming said Saturday morning during Cannes Lions panel, explaining how the campaign came together.
Fleming said conventional campaigns featuring upbeat, rosy images of organ donors saving lives just didn’t connect with the target audience of young Millennial males, who are vital to the organ donor registry program.
“They tend to be healthier. And they tend to do some things that are risky. So they tend to be organ donors more frequently than their peers. Not a big surprise, with all the assholes out there,” he said.
The solution conceived by The Martin Agency was the now-famous, award-winning PSA featuring Coleman F. Sweeney, the fictional star of “The World’s Biggest Asshole” campaign, who is a dirtbag throughout his life, but proves to be a hero in his death, because he registered as an organ donor.
“When I first saw the script from the team, it scared the shit out of me, because it was really risky,” recalled Joe Alexander, the Chief Creative Officer of The Martin Agency. But he knew the concept would connect with the target audience of young Millennial males, whom he said actually describe themselves as “assholes.”
Even so, Fleming said the project took 24-months to develop and sell-through to his board of directors, especially the women on the board, who had a hard time embracing the use of the word “asshole” in the campaign.
“They were just very concerned that we would offend donor families and recipients,” he said, adding some board members suggested alternative words be used.
“Douchebag was at the top of the list,” he said, adding: “I hadn’t heard of some of them. ‘ass hat’ and ‘ass clown’ were a couple that were thrown out. Jabroni was another one.”
Fleming and The Martin Agency team stuck to their guns and executed a “campaign for the campaign” to his board. They explained that the worst-case downside scenario was some people wouldn’t like it, and the campaign would go largely unnoticed.
The campaign proved to be the best-case scenario. Fleming said it went viral, generating 50 million views in its first week and more than 100 million to date.
More importantly, he said it changed the behavior of potential organ donors.
“The number of people registering online to the Donate Life national registry before we launched averaged 149 people a day. The first week that spiked up to an average of 1,080 a day,” he recalled, adding there were days when their elusive target of Millennial males 18-34 increased their organ donation registering by “1,200%” over normal.