Usually, advertisers pull advertising campaigns from television because the commercials didn't work. But one advertiser, the Times of Israel reports today – the country's water authority – pulled an advertising campaign because it succeeded.
Water, water nowhere
Israel may be the land of milk and honey, but it's not exactly the land of flowing water. "We’re on the edge of the desert in an area where water has always been short," said water authority director Alexander Kushnir.
"The quantity of natural water per capita in Israel is the lowest for the whole region," he added, noting the need "to supply water for agriculture, and water for industry, and then water for hi-tech, and water to sustain an appropriate quality of life."
On top of that, Israel's bound by formal international agreements to supply 30 million cubic meters of water every year to the Palestinian Authority and another 70 million to Jordan.
Between those demands, dry winters, and attempted Syrian headwater diversion projects, Israel's main source of fresh drinking water – the 64-square-mile Lake Kineret (AKA the Sea of Galilee) was hitting record low water levels.
Despite recycling 80 percent of purified sewage into agricultural use and switching to less water-dependent crops, Kushnir said,
By 2000 our balance was really strained. We would have had to cut back drastically in agriculture or industry or home use and we weren’t prepared to do that. We didn’t want to switch off the water to a population in Israel which has enough problems to deal with.
But then, they developed two alternatives – a chain of five desalination plants at a cost of $2 billion and a public service television campaign.
$400 million ROI
It's hard to do a series of PSAs for a subject like this without becoming tiresomely preachy, but the water authority's campaign did just that – by making their message visual as well as verbal.
In it, a series of Israeli personalities – singer Nanet Tayeb, model Bar Refaeli, actor Moshe Ivgy and others – talk straight to the camera. No big deal so far; lots of celebrity PSAs do that.
But as they're talking, computer-generated visual effects backed up by sound effects show their skin starting to crack and peel, as the country would, from dryness.
This technique worked for three reasons. First, it took what could easily have been a dry (pun intended) intellectual subject and made it emotional – and therefore more compelling. Second, by virtue of having supporting visuals, it made the message more believable. And third, by using an unexpected visual technique, it made the spots visually interesting enough to capture viewers' attention.
The commercials were so effective, they reduced water use by 10 percent or more. "“In 2000, it was 100 cubic meters per person per year. Nowadays it’s 90," Kushnir explained.
That saving helped raise Lake Kineret's water level by six feet seven inches – to a five-year high – as of a year ago.
It also saved Israel the cost of building a sixth desalination plant. If five plants cost $2 billion, then the average cost of one would be $400 million. Talk about return on investment.
The "Israel is drying out" campaign has good lessons for US advertisers.
Keep your message single-minded. Use not just words, but imaginative, compelling visuals to make your message compellingly emotional, increase credibility and make it stand out among the flood of commercials that consumers are drowning in.
You'll get the results you're thirsting for. And maybe you'll have to pull your campaign because it works too well too fast.