'The Big Donor Show': Issues Marketing You'd Trade a Kidney For

Dutch Hoax Show, Now an Emmy Winner, Did Better Job on Issue Awareness Than Ads

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Mark Aink Mark Aink
Sometimes, just now and then, an idea strikes me with a deep flash of burning pain, the kind that only jealousy can cause.

F#%@!, I thought, I wish my guys had come up with this. Because I just know that the thing I'm watching right now will change the course of communications industry. While one self-proclaimed guru trips over another to declare the death of TV, right now I'm transfixed by this box, which most of the time tortures and numbs my brain cells one by one. Now my adrenaline level is increasing by the minute.

I'm not watching a commercial break. I'm watching a sick-making real-life show, which has provoked an avalanche of criticism -- and rightfully so. The idea that a matter of real life and death might be used to increase ratings is sickening, even in 2008.

I'm watching "The Big Donor Show," broadcast in 2007 by one of the smallest but bravest Dutch public broadcasters: BNN. The lead character (brain tumor, terminal) is interviewing a number of candidates. Why? She wants to identify the most eligible recipient for one of her kidneys when she dies. The viewing public is captivated and horrified in equal measure. How in the name of all that is holy could someone determine kidney eligibility? Surely this takes the idea of "playing God" to newer -- lower -- levels.

But it turns out to be a hoax -- the most exquisitely set up hoax I've ever witnessed. While the Dutch parliament scrambles to change the law in order to prevent the show being broadcast, a deeper purpose for it appears: The "patient" is an actress, the whole thing a set-up to raise awareness of the problem of finding enough people prepared to sign up as organ donors.

Where campaigns failed miserably over the years to raise the debate on this subject and get it top of mind, this one episode has mobilized the whole nation. This is the best piece of communication I've seen in years.

Last week, BNN's "Donor Show" won an International Emmy for unscripted entertainment. More justice couldn't be.

A Dutch-language clip from YouTube follows:

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