This article is in reference to the 2009 documentary, The Yes Men Fix the World. But they didn’t. This is a lesson in doing something that will make people do something too.
Who are the Yes Men?
The Yes Men are two men who aimed to expose corrupt corporations. They posed as representatives from various organizations to take responsibility for their wrong doings. The Yes Men conducted these stunts during news interviews, conferences, public events, and other forms of televised media. A few of their targets included Dow, Exxon, and HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development). The Yes Men even made an appearance on BBC during a live interview, posing as a representative of Dow Chemical Company. There they took responsibility for the 18,000 deaths from a chemical explosion in Bhopal, India which the corporation had not cleaned up 20 years later. As a result, the members of the community were suffering severe health issues, deformities, and very early menopause for women. The community didn’t even have access to clean water 20 years after the explosion due to residual chemical leakage and radiation. Instead of cleaning up the chemical plant and giving a humane amount of money to the community members, they spent money on a multi-million dollar ad campaign to restore their public image.
I encourage you to watch the documentary here for a full account of the stunts the Yes Men pulled. It won’t disappoint.
Why the Yes Men Didn’t Fix the World
Even after all the Yes Men did, they realized throughout different points in the documentary that they didn’t actually change anything. While they continued to try different things and up their game each time, this is a lesson in strategic planning. It’s important to have a clear goal. And as we know in advertising, it’s important to identify a proper, clearly defined target otherwise you hit nothing. What did they hope to achieve? What were their performance metrics? We don’t know and I’m not sure they did either.
There’s a difference between something that gets attention and, “makes a splash” versus something that actually incites change. The Yes Men felt that they, “made a splash.” But was that enough? I say no.
The corporations didn’t change and the public was not called upon to take action. There was a splash, but in a pool. And just like in a pool, the water calmed as though nothing ever happened. A splash is exciting for the moment, but gone just as fast.
Raising awareness is not enough. Doing something big is not enough. In many briefs we see the prompt, “start a conversation.” But to incite change it’s not enough to just start a conversation. The better prompt would be to start a conversation that lasts months and years, not just days and weeks. Impact shouldn’t be a trend or a race to capitalize on what’s bigger and better, next. True impact should be implemented with longevity in mind. That’s how you change the world.
“If a few people at the top can make the bad news happen, then why can’t all of us at the bottom get together and make the good news happen?”
– A Yes Man