Yes to No

Last night I (Claire) went to see No, a film directed by Pablo Larrain, about the advertising campaign used to prevent General Pinochet from remaining in power. It really made me think about the power of positive messaging.


Set in Chile in 1988, No stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene Saavedra, the ad exec persuaded to head up the ‘NO’ campaign. The film is brilliant, telling the story convincingly and sensitively, and seamlessly weaving in real footage from the time of the dictatorship. There’s a lot to say about it (here’s a review by Philip French) but I found it particularly interesting because it really brings home the potential of positivity.

Rather than focus solely on the pain, loss and suffering experienced by people of Chile under Pinochet, Rene chooses to focus in on the alternative: happiness.

At the heart of the campaign is one slogan ‘Happiness is coming’. It’s simple and confident. Crucially, it’s also something everyone can buy into. Happiness is something we can all relate to, have all experienced and would all like to experience more.

At first the concept is dismissed as frivolous and inappropriate. How can you bang on about happiness after all that has happened? But the campaign team plough on, even adding some humour into the mix. As soon as the opposition start attacking, imitating and parodying their work, you know they’re onto a winner.

With that one simple slogan – there’s even a jingle – the story also illustrates the importance of sticking to one clear message. With a series of 15 minute TV slots to fill, Rene and co have to find various ways to back up their message, but with a strong concept, and endless political fuel, that appears to come relatively easily.

Take a look at the trailer:

It’s interesting stuff because Oxfam use a lot of positive messaging to take on a very different kind of problem – poverty. While it’s crucial to talk about need, focusing on a better alternative can be very powerful too. Our Days Like These Christmas appeal, Let’s Make Africa Famous For… and the Enough Food For Everyone campaign are just a few examples. To quote Rene in the film: “We believe that the country is prepared for communication of this nature.” We’ve been getting some positive feedback. So maybe we’re onto something. Let’s hope we are.


Inhouse designers Luke and Kelvin went to see No too. Here’s what they thought:

Luke: Loved this film for its light take on a serious subject. Very refreshing in tone, to have often comic dialogue, set against a despairing political back drop. Brilliant use of old-school technology to seamlessly cut the film together with archival footage of the time.

Like Claire, I was also inspired by the optimism of selling a political campaign on the merits of its positive outcomes. It’s kind of like fundraising where you need to convey the need for funds, as well as the belief that things can really progress. I guess in this case the electorate in Chile were all too aware of the need for a change of political regime but they were maybe lacking in insight and hope in an alternative. Everybody believed the campaign was totally rigged towards Pinochet. So it may have been the case that ‘manufacturing’ positivity through campaign comms and TV spots had a strong effect – the film certainly portrays the advertising as a catalyst. Makes you interested to know the real history of the campaign and all the other various factors leading to the result.

Kelvin: I can’t remember a film that covered such a serious subject being so informative and funny. A really entertaining way to deal with political material. Gove should put it on the curriculum as a primer in democracy. Apparently they used vintage equipment to make the combination of new and period footage seamless, and I also liked the real endorsements for the campaign by Jane Fonda and Richard Dreyfus. A much better and less jingoistic film than Argo which also deals with recent political events.