EQC and Y&R hit controversy head-on with new campaign

During the trailers at the cinema, the lights are still on, people are hustling to their seats and the unapologetic crunch of popcorn can be heard from the front seats to the back.

Winning the attention of such a distracted group of movie goers eagerly awaiting the start of the feature film is no mean feat, but this is exactly what the Wellington branch of Y&R has managed to do with a trifecta of intense ads for the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

Creating the shock

Taking inspiration from the ‘Fix. Fasten. Forget’ campaign slogan from the well-loved Havoc and Newsboy campaign of the early 2000s, Y&R Wellington has now launched ‘Fix. Fasten. Don’t forget,’ a government-funded follow-on that aims to remind Kiwis of the importance of securely fastening items around the home.

But rather than using a humorous educational approach, Y&R aims to catch the audience off guard with three ads that compare everyday scenarios to typical examples of earthquake damage.

“In the TV commercials, the falling concrete block and the toppling wardrobe and the moving car and the chimney have about the same momentum. So, when they strike, the forces that they will produce, and therefore the damage that they do, will be pretty similar,” says seismologist Professor Euan Smith when talking during an explanatory video about the campaign. 


The creatives at Y&R Wellington took this premise, and then, with the production expertise of Finch, twisted the idea into a gritty campaign that confrontationally teaches viewers a lesson, which Professor Smith summarises as follows:

“You wouldn’t walk across a road without looking. Why would you run outside during an earthquake and risk something heavy falling on you? You wouldn’t sit under a suspended concrete block in your home, so why sit next to a heavy piece of furniture that might topple on you in an earthquake?”

After Y&R had written the scripts, they showed them to Christopher Riggert, a director at Finch, who immediately became interested in the project. From this point, the reins were handed over to the Finch team, who collaborated with the special effects gurus at Method Studios and Jane Bryne, an animator at Teaspoon, to bring the concept to life.

But Finch producer Michael Hilliard points out that there were several technical and logistic challenges when it came to reproducing the scripts in video format.

“We had babies, stunts and animals. Christopher’s vision was that you don’t notice any of the technical elements when you watch the films, but respond to them on a purely emotional level – and that makes you take action. It’s not often in TVCs that you feel that you are helping save lives; here we hope we helped make a difference,” he says.

Confronting inertia

On the EQC website, each of the three clips comes with the warning “this commercial contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing.” And this is done for good reason, because the videos contain shocking elements that at times seem better suited to a Final Destination death scene.

Despite the controversial nature of the content, Nick Farland, the principal advertising adviser at EQC, says that the goal wasn’t to “confront homeowners, per se.”

“We’re confronting inertia. Our research told us that while people were aware of ‘fixing and fastening’ and could even name some things they could do around the house, most had actually not done it. So we’re deploying an emotionally involving approach to get it high enough on a homeowner’s agenda to take action,” he says. 

“We deliberately use the well-proven ‘problem/solution’ technique. We get attention and engagement with a dramatic emotionally driven problem. Then we deliver an informative solution. We don’t just leave people hanging with the problem – we complete the loop with the solution.”

And this approach is extended to the website (implemented by Sparks Interactive), where visitors can access a ‘Quake Safe Guide’ that provides instructions on how to secure household items to ensure that they don’t topple in the event of an earthquake.

The website also features click-throughs to the Bunnings online store, so that interested visitors can purchase the supplies they need. Farland says that Bunnings’ support is “crucial” because it provides an easy means by which Kiwis can access the items they need.

Getting permission to air the content

According to Farland, TVCAB okayed the ads without qualification but made the “reasonable” decision to apply a combination of GXC and PGR ratings.

Although the campaign was designed to reach as many New Zealanders as possible, thus far the videos have been restricted to cinemas and the internet, with no television slots planned yet.

Farland says that the rationale behind this is largely because the issue is still very sensitive to those who survived the 2011 tragedy.

“We were aware that they may rekindle emotional responses from those that experienced the Canterbury earthquakes. So we worked through Red Cross and MBIE to contact bereaved families and those seriously injured,” he says.   

Given that the Canterbury earthquake wounds are still fresh in the minds of those who lived through the ordeal, the EQC has decided to proceed with caution by initiating a Canterbury-specific, multi-media campaign prepared by local agency Simpatico.

“The campaign will launch late January and features Tracey Harris, strong local identities Todd Blackadder and Student Army founder Sam Johnson, as well as Simon Robertson, who narrowly escaped a chimney falling into his house after the February 2011 quake,” says Farland.

EQC transparency

This tiptoe approach could be seen as a direct result of the Auditor-General’s scathing report, which recently criticised the EQC for its treatment of those who suffered losses during the earthquake.

Given that EQC has lost so much of the public’s trust, the organisation is attempting to employ a more transparent approach in this campaign by providing answers to the following tricky questions in the FAQ section:

Why is EQC putting resources into ‘Fix. Fasten. Don’t forget’ when the job in Christchurch hasn’t been finished? Is EQC just doing this to save money on paying out claims? Is the reason for the new ‘Fix. Fasten. Don’t forget’ campaign because EQC is expecting more damaging earthquakes to hit New Zealand? Are you telling the public everything you know about future earthquakes? And will the EQC levy increase to pay for this campaign?

It is still too early to tell whether this approach will help to ameliorate the organisation’s public image, but it will at least provide some answers to those who are still waiting for their homes to be repaired.  

Opening dialogue

Another important aspect of the campaign is giving Kiwis a platform where they can discuss their experiences with earthquakes. To encourage site visitors to open up via the ‘share your story’ link, the EQC has added several videos in which survivors tell of their personal experiences with earthquakes.

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