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CREATIVE STRATEGY: Art meets protest meets fundraising for WaterAid

Exploiting a large public space is a tricky brief, but Water Aid's stunt in Trafalgar Square is impressive, writes Simon Kershaw.

Water Aid: impressive installation at Trafalgar Square

Water Aid: impressive installation at Trafalgar Square

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On my frequent visits to Soho... hmmm, perhaps I should rephrase that.

On my regular business trips to the old heartland of the advertising and commercials business, I often get the chance to see some free event in Trafalgar Square.

Unveiling of the latest statue on the fourth plinth, a  demo of some kind, some music or cultural festival.  

Since the part of the road that used to run in front of the National Gallery was pedestrianised, Nelson’s gaff has become one the capital’s favourite open-air venues – for our diverse citizenship, but also for commercial interests – and of course, the latter includes those advertisers with an eye on our charitable-giving budget.

Exploiting a large public space is a tricky brief. I have rarely seen it done well.  One of my all-time favourites was the ice-rink in Covent Garden in the shape of an Absolut bottle (back when the Swedish vodka was doing great ads as well as cool stunts).

More recently, I came across a stunt in Trafalgar Square by WaterAid. Those with elephantine memories will recall that I had cause to praise this organisation about a year ago – for producing a toilet-finding iPhone app, highlighting the plight of poverty-stricken people who don’t have access to proper sanitation.

I believe that the charity has changed agencies or expanded their roster in the past 12 months, but clearly it has lost none of its appetite for ingenious communications beyond mainstream media.  

As you approach Trafalgar Square from some distance, you see what appear to be the well-ordered ranks of a military graveyard. On closer inspection, the headstones are in fact spades, upright in specially laid turf.

Closer still and the handles are tagged with leaflets telling us to: "Dig toilets, not graves".

The tag invites the reader to petition Nick Clegg to discuss sanitation at the UN Millennium Goals Development Conference in New York and/or give a few pennies to the cause.

For me, this ticks all the boxes. As an installation, it may not win the Turner Prize, but it correctly nods to an environment where we, the general public, expect entertaining artifice – tick.  

Awareness, via press and TV coverage – tick.  Engagement with the organisation’s lobbying agenda – tick.  And the potential of bringing in cold, hard cash – tick.

Finally, I’ve been told that this stunt is part of a much bigger "Dig toilets, not graves" campaign. 

Now that client and agency have done the (ahem) spadework, let’s hope for equally impressive results.

Simon S Kershaw is a creative consultant and a former creative director at Craik Jones.

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