If I had to choose just one charity to support it would unquestionably be Médecins Sans Frontière. The most humane of organizations operating in the most inhumane places, they stand for sanity in the midst of utter madness. In an age when words like courage are regularly used to describe a supermodel dealing with a nasty coke habit or a contestant on reality TV, their stories remind us just how far removed from reality our shitty, insulated little corner of the world is.
This commercial for MSF has been generating some discussion around the blogs, the debate centring on whether or not it’s exploitative. The real question of course is whether or not it’s effective. Noble though the underlying motives may be, cause marketing will almost by definition exploit its particular area of misery to get us to fork over our dosh. Sadly, I don’t think this spot will be effective. Even though there’s no doubt that it effectively evokes the horrors that MSF deal with.
But these are the horrors we turn away from every day. They are the articles in the New York Times, the Guardian or The Globe and Mail we know we should read but somehow never do, the books by Romeo Dallaire or James Orbinski or Stephanie Nolen lying unread on the nightstand. We’ll wait for the movie; movies are fiction, even when they’re based in fact. Fictional horror we can deal with.
On the other hand this spot for the land mines campaign, notwithstanding some executional cavils, is hometown horror. It recognizes our inability to truly empathise with tragedy that doesn’t occur on our own doorstep, in our own trim and tidy backyards.
Good advertising creates new context, it re-frames its subject matter to be more relevant than it was before and makes it more difficult to simply turn away. It’s a truism in philanthropic marketing that the majority of donors will have some personal experience with the issue. So while there’s a deep pool of people who have been affected in one way or another by heart disease or stroke, mercifully few are touched by genocide or government sanctioned campaigns of mass rape. Creating relevance for the unimaginable takes considerable imagination.
It’s perfectly understandable that those who’ve worked amidst the havoc and human wreckage of war and disease and famine should think that a literal representation on television will shake us out of our habitual torpor and into action.
Their ad agencies however, should know better.