The Imperial War Museum’s &£17m Holocaust exhibition, which opens this week, will be backed by a major press, poster and cinema campaign. But Delaney Lund Knox Warren – more used to extolling the virtues of Ambrosia rice and Triumph bras – has had to tread a fine line between causing offence and raising the exhibition’s profile.
Creative directors Gary Betts and Malcolm Green have been working on the project since last year, when the museum took the unprecedented step of hiring an advertising agency to promote the permanent National Lottery-funded exhibition.
And they have been acutely aware of the sensitive nature of the brief, seeking advice from Jewish groups on devising the ad strategy.
The exhibition’s curator Suzanne Bardgett says: “It is a very delicate area. Any notions of ‘marketing the Holocaust’ needed to be avoided.
“However, we felt it was important to appoint an ad agency because we wanted to bring the exhibition to a mass market, and we needed to draw on the agency’s expertise in that area.
“I think the Holocaust survivors understand the need to educate people.”
Betts and Green spent hours studying the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and also made two trips to the site of the death camp at Auschwiz, where the cinema commercial was filmed.
The creative work consciously avoids images of cruelty and torture, but it will not be to everyone’s liking.
The press and poster ads focus on one of the most chilling aspects of the Nazi killing machine – the sheer industrial scale of it.
One execution reads: “Come and see what man can achieve when he really puts his mind to it.”
Betts and Green believe this sinister, amoral tone will strike a chord with the modern audience, but some will accuse them of flippancy.
Betts, who is Jewish, believes such a bold, thought-provoking approach is needed to reach the mass audience. “We know that intellectuals and the middle-classes will go to the exhibition and that is one group that we have to reach.
“But we also want to reach the non-museum goer. If we can get people who read The Sun and other tabloid papers to come then we will really be giving people an education.”
He even concedes that the line they have taken could be interpreted by the Far Right as a celebration of Nazi achievement. “The important thing is to get people through the door who wouldn’t normally come to such an exhibition.
“If people with Far Right sympathies see it that way then fair enough. The exhibition will change their minds.”
The cinema execution continues the theme of the perversion of human endeavour. It begins with what appears to be an Egyptian pyramid, as a bright voice-over talks about men “inspiring others to do things they never dreamed of…”
But then we are hit with the sucker punch as the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the pyramid is in fact part of the entrance to the Auschwiz concentration camp.
The jaunty music becomes hollow before being replaced by the voice of Adolf Hitler and a title, which reads: “The Holocaust Exhibition. You need to know.”
In order to achieve an appropriately upbeat tone, the voice-over artist was not told what the ad was for. Green says: “It would be very easy to put the Holocaust in a box and pretend that it could never happen again.
“But part of the message of the exhibition is that it could happen again. We live in a world where race-hate is still very much alive. We needed to get that message across.”
When The History Channel used a still of the Auschwiz gas chambers and the line “So history is bunk is it?” in a billboard ad last year it was accused of upsetting Auschwiz survivors.
But the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the ad was acceptable because leading Jewish groups had given it their blessing.
Jon Sacker, a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which approved the History Channel ad before it was released, has given a cautious welcome to Delaney Lund’s work.
“I want people to go and see the exhibition. I think the ad agency needs to be sensitive to feedback and if it becomes apparent that it is causing offence I hope it will listen.
“But educating people about the Holocaust is very important to the Jewish community. Within ten or 20 years there will be no survivors left to tell their story.”
The Holocaust exhibition tells the story of Nazi genocide in two floors of photographs, artefacts and personal testimony, and will stand as a powerful testament to the 6 million people who died in the camps.
As the first permanent Holocaust museum to be opened in the UK, it is an important milestone for the country’s Jewish community.
If Delaney Lund’s campaign succeeds in boosting visitor numbers, any uneasiness about the treatment of its subject matter may well be forgotten.