You Can Only Read This Social-Distancing Ad When You’re 6 Feet Away

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Newspaper advertising might not be the first place you’d look for innovation, but a new ad from Finland shows the medium still has attention-grabbing life in it yet.

TBWAHelsinki brought together two of its clients, retailer HOK-Elanto and newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, for an eye-catching print ad tied to news that the government would be relaxing some Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

The black-and-white ad appears to be an illegible blur until viewed from six feet away, after which the message becomes clear: “Keeping it safe. From a distance.”

“Instead of just telling or teaching people how to act we wanted to let them experience it,” said Joni Furstenborg, creative director at TBWAHelsinki. “We believe that by doing this we will leave a stronger imprint and more people will remember our important message.”

The ad’s creators admits that Finns generally don’t need encouragement when it comes to social distance. Several campaigns in recent years have played off the fact that residents of the sparsely populated Nordic country are known for avoiding small talk and even standing about six feet apart when waiting at bus shelters (even if it’s raining or snowing).

Despite Finns’ default preference for social distance, the retailer and agency felt the message was still a worthy reminder as the government eases restrictions over the next month.

“Unusual times bring their own challenges to what and how brands should communicate,” said Tuomas Ahola, HOK-Elanto’s communications and marketing director. “As a responsible company, we saw this as an opportunity to communicate about a subject that is close to our business in an insightful way.”

While Helsingin Sanomat was the media placement in this ad, the newspaper is also known as a savvy, globally admired advertiser in its own right. TBWAHelsinki has worked with the newspaper on several high-profile efforts, including placing ads about freedom of the press along the routes used by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin en route to their Helsinki summit in 2018.

The newspaper and agency also created a Climate Pen in 2019, with ink made from carbon emissions, to be given to world leaders at the UN General Assembly meeting in Helsinki as a constant reminder of the ongoing climate crisis.

Most recently, TBWAHelsinki was in the news for creating a 3-D printed door handle from post-consumer recycled plastic. The handle, aimed at preventing the spread of viruses, can be added to existing doors to let visitors open them with an elbow or forearm rather than an exposed hand.

Advertising Agency: TBWAHelsinki
Chief Creative Officer: Jyrki Poutanen
Vice President, Retail/Commerce, Executive Account Director: Taneli Mattelmäki
Account Manager: Anette Michelsson
Creative Director: Joni Furstenborg
Creative Technologist: Juhana Hokkanen
Junior Art Director: Ville Rutanen
Copywriter: Roni Regnér
Junior Communication Specialist: Saana Sundberg
Data & Insights Trainee: Ellen Lindbom
Other: Erno Reinikainen, Tuomas Perälä
Client: HOK-Elanto
Director of communications and marketing: Tuomas Ahola

Media agency: Carat Finland
Media Innovations Director: Juha Halmesvaara
Strategic Planner: Anssi Soini

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