“We’d all rather save lives than sell cars”

Jorge Martínez is the creator of the most successful campaign ever run by a Spanish non-profit

Jorge Martínez, creator of the 'Pastillas contra el dolor ajeno' campaign.
Jorge Martínez, creator of the 'Pastillas contra el dolor ajeno' campaign.

As a child he wanted to be a missionary and, considering his appearance, he could certainly pass for one now. Ultimately, however, he ended up managing to “change the world and save lives” (to use his own words) with the strength of his ideas.

Jorge Martínez, 38, does not define himself as a publicist or an advertising copywriter. Rather, he relates to the term inventor. Told that people consider him the guru of social communication, Martínez accepts it casually. He earned that title after coming up with the most successful advertising campaign ever run by a Spanish non-profit organization.

The idea at the center of Pastillas contra el dolor ajeno (or Pills for the pain of others) is a box of candy that is sold at pharmacies for one euro, 80 cents of which goes to finance Doctors Without Borders’ fight against HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases in the Third World. Just three months after they went on display, Spanish pharmacies have reported sales of three million boxes.

Question. Was Pastillas a turning point that gave your career a more social slant?

It’s not about the spot being cool, it’s about how much money it brings in”

Answer. Yes, and not just at the professional level. It reconciled me with myself from a human standpoint. I have always been a pretty compassionate person. We proved that a small company based in Murcia (Germinalcomunicación, which he co-founded) can come up with a great campaign. It would have been impossible for a big company to produce Pastillas, because none of them is willing to spend two years on a non-profit project.

Q. You didn’t obtain any financial profit from it?

A. It is profitable in many other ways: you get recognition, you’re on the map, doors start opening up for you. You get to talk to people and clients who used to be out of reach. I am aware that I’ve done something that very few people can boast about: I can say “I’m the one who did that.”

Q. You became the guru of social communication.

A. Yes. The good thing about Pastillas is that it’s not just a campaign. What’s interesting, innovative and extraordinary is to create a product, put it up for sale, and have it be a success. It demonstrated that the third sector does not need advertising campaigns, it needs innovative concepts.

Q. Did you stop working with brands?

A. Yes, my time, my capacity and my energy are limited and I have decided to devote them to social transformation.

Q. Are there any differences between the creative processes involved in working with a brand and working with an NGO?

A. They have nothing in common. The work you do for a company is very constrained. You have a brief and a client tells you what he wants. My great projects in the realm of social action have never followed a brief. They are ideas that I myself put to the non-profits.

Q. Do you measure a campaign’s success by the economic returns it generates?

A. To me, efficiency is fundamental. The third sector has traditionally worked with advertising agencies nearly for free. It was a chance to do something cool that might win an award. The NGO did not spend a penny, and the agency could earn prestige after spending one little week on the project. But that is not what non-profits need. What they need is R&D. And in order to innovate, you need time, you need the best people, you need resources.

Q. And they accept that?

A. I am very pragmatic. If they don’t have the money, I tell them I don’t work for free. In any case, I may contact them and do something free of charge because I have a personal interest in it. But the third sector has a challenge ahead of it: to get this country’s [advertising] talent, which is currently not working on these projects, to do so. And they would love to: we all would rather save lives than sell cars. The problem is that the car brand pays you very well, while the non-profit always comes at you with the “we don’t have any money” speech. So this results in small campaigns, and small campaigns are useless. A video that is viewed 1.5 million times contributes nothing. It’s not about the spot being cool, it’s about how much money it brings in. If it raises funds in addition to being watched a lot, it’s a success. But if all it gets is viewers, then it isn’t. I want to do something more than just cool stuff; viral videos do not save lives, cash does.

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