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Picture 38
WW2 Advert

Every now and then duckrabbit invites people to post here who have more interesting things to say about life than we do. Today its the turn of Pete Masters, MSF Uk’s web guru, a charity that provides medical support in response to humanitarian situations.

Basically they patch people up and save lives (and do a lot more besides).

I became a big fan of MSF last year when they were the only humanitarian organization to speak out about the abuse displaced people in Kenya were suffering in the camps where I was working.

Pete has agreed to open up a debate about MSF’s new and dare I say it controversial cinema advert.

This is important because believe me there is a struggle going on in many charities right now.

Communication units have traditionally been set up to raise the profile of charities, with the main aim of raising cash and making the organization look good.

Essentially they are PR teams.  Good people who sometimes do a bad thing.

Distort the way that punters like me and you look at the developing world.

I know because when I first went to live in Ethiopia at first I was left wondering where Africa had gone. The truth was that the reality was so far removed from what I had been led to expect it was mind mashing.

Charlie Beckett, Director of Polis (a London think-tank), recently suggested a new model for how charity comms teams should communicate. One based on basic journalistic principles of truth, as opposed to the spin of PR. He’s onto something. Why do people trust the BBC more than any other news outlet?  Because the organization, whilst allowing massive freedom to its journalists and programme makers also have a tight and defining set of journalistic values. Values that are non-negotiable in its output (although maybe not in its PR department!).  If charities really want to make the world a better place they could do a lot worse then applying these basic journalistic principles to their communication teams.

If you want change to be real and long lasting it’s better not to manipulate people, but persuade them with truth and build a relationship of trust.

Afterall why should you trust a charity that promotes themselves over an understanding of the lives of the people they are trying to help? Why should you trust a charity that speaks for its beneficiaries rather then finding ways for their beneficiaries to communicate directly with you?  Why should you trust a charity that portrays the world in which they work as full of victims and that the only way of saving lives is to give money to them, them and no-one else?  Most of all, why aren’t they asking themselves these questions?

They are important questions that Pete at MSF seems to have been given the freedom to discuss. This is rare and it says a lot about what a mature organization MSF is.  Perhaps even rarer is that I get the sense that he is genuinely listening.  He’s right to because they need your money to help others.

Which leads us to MSF’s controversial new cinema advert.

This  is your rare chance to tell MSF what you think and to shape in some small way how they communicate with the world.  Don’t let duckrabbit down. This stuff is important. People in developing countries care desperately about the way they are portrayed, some I hope will have their say on this blog. Lets start a real conversation. Over to you Pete:

PETE MASTERS:

This week has been great. It started on Friday when MSF UK’s new cinema ad was launched nationwide. I work for MSF in the UK as the web editor and I was unsure about how the ad would go down. So, I just thought, I’d ask the people I chat to through twitter, facebook, blogs, email every day and see what their opinion is.

Turns out their opinions are massively different! And I ended up hearing from people I didn’t know as much as from people I did.

I had a particularly interesting conversation on the Osocio blog with a person who labeled themselves msfdesserter in their first post (I only mention the name because it was such a statement). They also said that the ad had prompted them to cancel their monthly gift to MSF. Now, this is not a ‘name and shame’ exercise because msfdesserter has every right to his opinion and to cancel his payment. If a charity I supported really disappointed me (especially if I thought they were wasting funds), my reaction would be the same.

But, msfdesserter took the time to state their opinion publicly, giving me the chance to respond and we had a real conversation. I was able to explain that both the ad and the showing didn’t cost MSF anything. Moreover, what was said gave me food for thought, gave me new perspective on the ad and has inspired me to think differently about MSF’s communications generally.

I make decisions every day about how to communicate with 1000s of people without asking any of them, so this sort of feedback is gold dust and it felt so refreshing being able to discuss it.

Even better, the discussion prompted my colleague Fiona to make her first ever comment on a blog. Fiona works in the office as a fundraiser while in the UK but is also an experienced field nurse (read her letter home from Congo here) and it was great to see the boundaries between MSF’s medical work and people who support it, melt away).

The advert in question isn’t perfect. It looks like it’s a bit of a Marmite situation – you either like it or hate it. But even if we find out it doesn’t ‘work’, the experience for MSF of directly engaging with people (and visa versa) and having a meaningful and open dialogue is priceless.

I wish people would comment on everything we do…

duckrabbit readers over to you …

RESPONSE (please note it’s easier to follow the comment threads on the actual post itself):

PHIL MAGUIRE

I disagree with Pete about Marmite. I love it and hate it.

I think the use of a locked-off video camera shot is incredibly powerful. Beautiful in fact. The child’s cries got my attention immediately and went right through me. The four sentences that appear on the screen deepened my attention – and pissed me off.

1. One of our doctors is treating a 5-year-old boy.
2. Militia have just raped his two sisters.
3. Then clubbed his parents to death.
4. We can’t operate without your help.

There is no doubt that there is something gripping and moving about this, but it also made me feel sad, powerless and angry. Angry with MSF.

Who is that boy? Are they real cries? If so – do you really think you should have used that audio Pete?

Where is this? What have I learned about the place and the situation? What can I do to help? How about showing me the actual positive results of the work of MSF instead of this manipulative piece. I think that’s it – it left me feeling manipulated.

Oh – and if I had seen this at the cinema – I would probably have ruined my night out. Ok, ok – I know my night out is insignificant compared to plight of the child you exploited to make this piece, but you are trying to get me on side right? Wrong on many levels.

I applaud your openness and the fact that you have engaged in a public conversation about this and I hope you take something positive away.

Thanks to duckrabbit for the chance to comment. And good luck to MSF with your (more appropriate) future media campaigns.

ANTONIO (worked in development comms in Ethiopia)

The first thing I would like to say is that not many NGOs take their time to speak open and directly to readers, contributors or public in general. I personally appreciate this gesture and I reckon it says a lot about MSF. Therefore, thanks for this opportunity, Pete.

Regarding the ad, I am afraid I can not say much good about it. MSF will certainly get people commenting on the different interpretations or angles the ad has, but this is not an advert about a fizzy drink where the most important thing is to put the name of the product in everyone’s head. Here we are showing a reality about a country, a boy, a family portrayed through the kid’s crying. We are again falling in the same clichéd type of communication I reckon we should stay away from.

The advert is clearly trying to shock people but it is not explaining what MSF really does. Why is so important the boy’s dramatic situation? If his family would be alright and alive, wouldn’t MSF doctors operate him (what I guess they are doing, although we don’t know why) anyways? So, why do we need the morbid elements? The only reason I can think about is the manipulation of the audience’s feelings.

I know reality in Africa is hard, but you are just showing the most terrible side of it and that is not the entire truth of the story. We have to be honest with those collaborating with MSF and I know first hand that MSF is very transparent with its work, that’s why I am quite disappointed with them.

The end doesn’t justify the means. This advert is blunt but unnecessary.

However I still think MSF rocks and that’s my biggest motivation to write these words here today. I feel privileged as I know someone from the organization is going to read this and, as I said before, it is not something we can often see. Thanks again.

DANIEL (South African Photographer)

My personal belief is that the current marketing approaches used by aid agencies isn’t working. I’ve already said my bit about portraying Africa and its people in a better light, so won’t go into that again but when you see Comic Relief using the tried and trusted approach of showing some poor black kid suffering, with the melodramatic music in the background and some C list celeb asking for your help, you start to wonder who you are helping.

There is an important role to be played by agencies in showing the public what has been achieved with their donations, now more than ever before as donations are made harder due to the numerous economic problems faced by many.

Don’t get me wrong, the work that aid agencies do is vital, i’ve seen the benefits of this first hand. What I think the public might be tired of is that tried and trusted approach used by agencies.

This ad isn’t that bad, i think it’s easy to be an armchair critic when you haven’t really been in situations like the one portrayed here. The ad makes you think there is a poor black kid behind that wall, but you can’t see anything so you rely on the audio, and that’s where the link is made. Unlike the Comic Relief approach, we don’t have some poor sod pushed in front of the camera, with the flies around his/her mouth and made to look sad.

From a personal point of view, I’d love MSF to maybe look at producing ads that show the happier side as a result of their vital work. Yes, Africa has issues and yes this is a common scene up north, but there are other scenes out there, so why not let the public know the other side.

As I mentioned before, a sad black child rams home the message more than anything else. We in the media are all guilty of abusing this and it has to stop.

Pete, how about you let me work with the MSF and produce work that shows the happy side to the work you all do?

SAM COLEY

There’s an old saying… “you can’t make an omelette – without cracking some eggs”. Well, this ad certainly cracks more than its share – and fair enough in my opinion. Coming from a background in advertising, I have no problem with controversial, challenging techniques to break through audience apathy. In fact, I’d go so far to say we need even harder hitting media.

Lets face it – we’re not selling shampoo here. White-bread westerners, snuggling down to watch the latest “Harry Potter” instalment deserve to choke on their M&M’s watching this. The issue’s too serious to be wrapped in cotton wool anymore.

I was interested in something Ben said… “Why should you trust a charity that speaks for its beneficiaries rather then finding ways for their beneficiaries to communicate directly with you?”. Following this theme, I’d love to see more of those affected filming/recording their own stories for these campaigns. They CAN do it – so give them a chance – rather than filtering the message through boardrooms and focus groups. African’s have been telling stories a lot longer than us lot – and they dont need a media degree to do it.

…And while we’re on the subject. Here’s one of my all time favourite development spots – the “safe water” one with Jennifer Connelly. It’s great ’cause the viewer can easily relate to it – without having to imagine an alien situation in a country they couldn’t even find on a map.

ADAM WESTBROOK (top future journalism blogger)

I think I agree with the sentiment of the other commenters on this one.
To the video first off, no doubt it is powerful (to whoever made it, your use of audio is fantastic). But like Phil Maguire said you haven’t told us what country this is (it looks like northern Iraq, but the captions suggest Central Africa). I guess what that does is reduce it to a cinematic emotional punch, which sadly western audiences are all too used too. It has a temporary punch, but I think it would be forgotten by the time the credits roll on the movie they’ve actually gone to see. I’m assuming this is faked as well, which undermines it slightly further.

This is great though because it gives us a chance to talk about how charities tell the world what they do. I think there’s real opportunity for journalists and NGOs to work together (just like Duckrabbit, Weyo, Media Storm and Story4 and many others are doing). It offers a real chance for indepth reporting which the msm don’t have time or money for – but just the type of reporting which is needed to end the negative image of Africa which Daniel quite rightly says still exists. Duckrabbit nailed it in the intro – charities must stop PRing us, and start telling us the real truth.

But Pete it’s great you’re taking responses on this. DuckRabbit – thanks for opening the debate up.

JOHN BENNETT (author)

Personally speaking, I don’t think MSF is particularly well-known in the UK, and as a consequence, I’d have been tempted to lead with a more positive message about the work they do, and the successes they’ve had. I’m not sure the ad really conveys who MSF are to a wider British audience who don’t know them. Having said that, shocking is always going to get more editorial media attention, so I guess it’s always a tempting tactic.

However, if I were MSF, now I’ve got people’s attention, I’d follow this up pretty quickly with a more explanatory and upbeat piece about the work MSF do and the value of contributions, etc.

CIARA LEEMING (journalist/photojournalist)

Like some of the other commentators, I have slightly mixed feelings about this.

Much as the whole concept of PR and marketing doesn’t sit comfortably with my professional instincts, I understand that charities need to fundraise and to get their message across. On occasions I have worked with NGOs to provide the materials to do this – but I’ve always worked completely as a journalist and been given the freedom to cover an issue as I see fit. I’m pleased you haven’t wasted huge sums making this and securing time at the cinemas, but I see the need to have impact….and this ad certainly does have impact for me, although quite what the lasting impression is I’m not yet sure.

Yet, as people have said, it lacks context and actually tells us nothing about MSF and what you really do. We probably know of this NGO because we work within the media and related disciplines. My parents, for example, have probably never heard of you and just wouldn’t get anything out of this.

I’m not personally convinced that everything needs to be hard-hitting if it is to have some kind of impact.

Also, I can’t help but feel it’s actually quite a patronising advert. Patronising to the viewer – who presumably doesn’t merit a fuller explanation of what you do, or the context for what we are seeing.

But more importantly, perhaps, I find it patronising towards the communities you are working with. Maybe I’m being unfair and putting in meanings that shouldn’t be there but it leaves me with the feeling that this situation would be a bleak pit of hopelessness without the heroic efforts of MSF…I dunno, it just leaves me with a slightly uneasy feeling – that I have quite a lot when thinking of the large-scale NGO “industry” – that it all smacks a little bit of modern-day cultural imperialism. But that’s probably more my own hang-up.

The real heroes to me are not MSF staff although I’m sure they are all very lovely, and kind and caring. For me they are the people from these communities who live their often difficult lives with great dignity and minimal fuss. They are, in my limited experience, far from the victims that they are all too often portrayed as.

Why not show us some of their faces and how MSF is making their lives better…and telling the stories of some of your local staff? Why not in fact just use real genuine journalism – through words, photography, video, audio or whatever means you want? The medium matters less than the ethics and balance that underpins it.

As a potential supporter I think I’d be more likely to give seeing that results – no matter how small scale – are being achieved, than if I would if I see a situation apparently without hope.

Les Neuhaus (Print Reporter and Photojournalist)

The advert is definitely powerful. Chills went up my spine in hearing the crying … the billowing smoke in the background and the gunfire rattling off also helped to catch my attention. The simplicity of the four statements/sentences is perfectly measured, in my opinion. This doesn’t need a voiceover of someone asking for my money. The words, laid against the whole scene, say enough.

The drawings on the wall were powerful, too … images of war. I have seen and photographed similar child renderings in Sudan, Chad and the Congo.

The ad pissed me off, too … in a way that I wanted to do something. But what? Even as a journalist sometimes I feel helpless and that I sometimes use the suffering of others to profit and “make a name for myself,” never really knowing what happens later to those I quote and photograph. That can be haunting.

However, I have seen up close and personal MSF’s good work … in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, for example,

in April 2006 following a coup attempt. MSF had an encampment set up in a city hospital where I was interviewing two young men — civilians, not rebels or government army soldiers — who were painfully trying to recover in the crushing heat after having their legs blown off while being caught up in the melee.

I support MSF and their work. If you have to jar some people’s nerves to wake them up out of their comfortable existence with an end purpose of raising cash to help the suffering masses, then so be it.

Some might definitely take offense to the advert. But they are precisely the ones who should be targeted to part with some of their money.

If this advert was running in the U.S., you’d probably start seeing a big influx of cash into MSF’s coffers quickly (providing le masse could get their head around it in 60 seconds). But I think those kind of ads work, despite being potenitally perceived as “insensitive.”

The world is an insensitive place. Some folks have more to give than others. They should be targeted with ads like these.

Hell, the ads may even inspire a new generation of more humanitarian-minded people to “get out there.”

In final, I would like to know how much of the video is real or fake … the billowing smoke, location, audio (of both the crying and gunfire). Even if it is staged, IT IS REAL. It happens all the time, just like that. Lay people should be pointed out about the difference, but at the same time, they should know the reality, too.

THE GREAT STAN B (photographer, blogger, raconteur, connoisseur of UFO’s)

Liked it a lot. Dramatic, yet subtle; sets the scenario, then allows you to deliver the images (which we’ve all already seen) and message to yourself rather than having them thrust in your face (yet, again).

Unlike still photo journalism (which can be said to suffer the same “malaise” a hundredfold), the video medium by its very nature allows greater flexibility as to presentation, experimentation and all around creativity. And it needs to continually incorporate, expand and renew this flexibility since any one approach, including this one, will grow tired fast.

PETE RESPONDS:

Wow,

First thing to say is that this is not MSF talking. This is Pete who works for MSF and I cannot speak on behalf of the organisation (nor for McCann Erickson who made the ad). My opinions are mine and mine alone.

The cries you hear are a patient that our teams treated in the field. The cries are real, but I don’t really understand how this is an issue. We have not identified the boy or where he is from and I think this is less exploitative (of the patient) than the type of ad Daniel talks about here, where the malnourished child stares into the camera. For me there is more truth here and more dignity. No classical music, no slow motion, no emotive voice over.

I understand the point that there is no country or context referenced and no real mention of what MSF’s role is (apart from treating the boy). But, this was a different approach and a very deliberately different one. I think it would be fair to say that MSF UK’s communications generally are honest and informative, in terms of context and outcomes (whether good or bad). However, this was a chance for MSF, thanks to McCann donating their time and the free ad space we were offered, to try something different.

The ad is shocking – the crying sends shivers down my spine and leaves me cold. But, it is real. And because of the horrible, chilling nature of it, I disagree with Adam when he says that it will be “forgotten by the time the credits roll”. My feelings are more along the lines of Phil’s “it would ruin my night”. I personally would prefer that the ad ruined your night than didn’t even register in it.

PETE BROOK (PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY)

Brave, uncompromising, powerful. Not cheap. Successful ad.

Part of this success is due to the fact that it doesn’t need to answer all those questions – that is what our debate here is for … and hopefully the debates across cinema car parks and front rooms in the UK.

This ad does not detail the precise scope of MSF activities, outline the history of MSF philosophy, present the aftermath for the fictional family, clarify whether the screams are real or not. But this is not its purpose. This ad is an introduction to the imperative work of MSF.

Why the ad works in introducing MSF’s work abroad, and why it feels like a punch in the stomach, is because it deals with truths without over-explaining them.

MSF works predominantly in fractured societies and war zones.
MSF works in less than ideal conditions.
MSF works with people whose lives have been torn apart.
MSF works to provide the essential first response medical care.
MSF works “to patch people up” despite the long-term psychological trauma conflict brings.
MSF does its part in shaping the existences of human lives – and this is the kicker, that work is fragile AND DEPENDENT on whether we do our part in donating money. This ad does not let us off the hook.

One other thing not mentioned yet. Surely, our discomfort stems from the matter-of-fact declarations of prerequisite action in each of the four sentences. To bring us so close narratively with the heinous actions of the militia is to explain how terrible terrible acts are common in areas of conflict.

We are one sentence from murder and two from rape.

MSF is asking us to donate money to the worst of situations. MSF doesn’t have all the answers, but it has its mandate.

MSF asks us to make a more engaged commitment than the usual altruist shot one gets from donating to a cause that “guarantees”, glosses or romanticises solutions to the problem.

One final thought. 99% of viewers are going to assume this is Africa. It could be the Middle East or parts of Asia given the landscape. We know that MSF works on every continent. Is this ad an unwelcome addition to misunderstanding about Africa? Is MSF at all responsible for the visual leaps & presumptions of the viewer?

MATTY C (Argentinean Journalist)

I’m guessing that the small but influential minority of people who read the foreign news in the broadsheets, will assume the setting is Darfur. Everyone else will think, ’some hellhole in Africa’. Fair enough. Vagueness is probably a virtue here, as the very name ‘Doctors Without Borders’ suggests an organisation that tries to stay above the geopolitical fray. Either that or a group of medics without access to a good bookstore. (It’s better in the French, isn’t it?)

Like any good horror sequence, this ad upped my pulse rate and made me feel claustrophobic, nauseous and dry-mouthed. It has a kind of palpitating intensity that is easily mistaken for effectiveness. But for all the reasons Phil Maguire spells out, it didn’t put me in the ‘giving vein’.

The ad seems to me flashy and shallow, provoking disgust rather than rage. It is fashionably nihilistic in the manner of a Chapman brothers installation – but without the wit.

Something else. A number of the pundits on this thread seem to agree that, whatever the advertisement’s flaws, if it succeeds in – I quote Les – “[jarring] some people’s nerves to wake them up out of their comfortable existence”, it will have achieved something valuable. This is another piece of hip groupthink that goes up in smoke upon contact with reality.

Can you cite any empirical evidence to support the claim that people are more likely to donate money to an NGO after “choking on their M&Ms” (Sam) than on other occasions? If you can, please post a link. If you can’t, please steer clear of clichés.

Kudos to Pete for having the balls to come on here and defend the ad. That’s the spirit.

2+2=5

I’m thoroughly jaded, inter-texted, media savvy, and sensitive to the politics of representation. My initial reaction came in the form of tears. My second reaction was to figure out what to write here. My third reaction will be to set up a monthly direct debit. My fourth reaction will be to give my daughter a big hug.

It worked on me.

FLORA AFRICAN JOURNALIST

I work a lot with visual storytelling(TV & photography). My dilemma with telling stories of children, with children has never gotten a solution. The MSF video does not of course promote their work. I do not get from it a sense of what they do… even though I’m aware of their work.

It is however a powerful piece that reminds me of the many times I’ve felt helpless in such a situation (telling a story of a community that needs help).

The child crying haunts just like all children crying do even when they are not suffering. I think that the boy is exploited. We don’t see his face but the lack of detail in the piece… the information that is general takes from the piece… Daniel (commented earlier) already has an idea what continent it is happening in… South America? Africa? Asia? I don’t know. I quite frankly don’t care… These issues are usually the same anyway.

There’s dignity for the boy in the advert, there’s enough emotion to make us care even for a little while. That boy’s story is told… but MSF’s work not really highlighted. Did he live? Is he getting emotional support to stop him from being the militia 10-15 years later? That’s what people want to support. If that could come through, I think it would be a much better piece. Otherwise everyone is left to feel hopeless.

But look on the brighter side… it got us talking about the issue.

The second Ad… now that would make one give. Because they’d know what they are giving for. That’s the MSF that we in Africa and everywhere else they work know about and appreciate.

duckrabbit update

Thankyou for all those who have commented and especially to Pete who was brave enough to but himself forward, perhaps not quite aware of what a passionate community of thinkers duckrabbit draws.  Lest there be any sense of ambiguity MSF are a charity that duckrabbit both greatly admires and supports. That said I think this is an important debate, perhaps in some ways less for MSF then many other international charities.

For those of you not aware of their work here’s a very different perspective. I’d be proud to wear the t-shirt (as long as me mam gives it a wash first)

  • Phil Maguire

    I disagree with Pete about Marmite. I love it and hate it.

    I think the use of a locked-off video camera shot is incredibly powerful. Beautiful in fact. The childs cries got my attention immediately and went right through me. The four sentences that appear on the screen deepened my attention – and pissed me off.

    1. One of our doctors is treating a 5-year-old boy.
    2. Militia have just raped his two sisters.
    3. Then clubbed his parents to death.
    4. We can’t operate without your help.

    There is no doubt that there is something gripping and moving about this, but it also made me feel sad, powerless and angry. Angry with MSF.

    Who is that boy? Are they real cries? If so – do you really think you should have used that audio Pete?

    Where is this? What have I learned about the place and the situation? What can I do to help? How about showing me the actual positive results of the work of MSF instead of this manipulative piece. I think that’s it – it left me feeling manipulated.

    Oh – and if I had seen this at the cinema – I would probably have ruined my night out. Ok, ok – I know my night out is insignificant compared to plight of the child you exploited to make this piece, but you are trying to get me on side right? Wrong on many levels.

    I applaud your openess and the fact that you have engaged in a public conversation about this and I hope you take something positive away.

    Thanks to duckrabbit for the chance to comment. And good luck to MSF with your (more appropriate) future media campaigns.

    • Wow,

      First thing to say is that this is not MSF talking. This is Pete who works for MSF and I cannot speak on behalf of the organisation (nor for McCann Erickson who made the ad). My opinions are mine and mine alone.

      The cries you hear are a patient that our teams treated in the field. The cries are real, but I don’t really understand how this is an issue. We have not identified the boy or where he is from and I think this is less exploitative (of the patient) than the type of ad Daniel talks about here, where the malnourished child stares into the camera. For me there is more truth here and more dignity. No classical music, no slow motion, no emotive voice over.

      I understand the point that there is no country or context referenced and no real mention of what MSF’s role is (apart from treating the boy). But, this was a different approach and a very deliberately different one. I think it would be fair to say that MSF UK’s communications generally are honest and informative, in terms of context and outcomes (whether good or bad). However, this was a chance for MSF, thanks to McCann donating their time and the free ad space we were offered, to try something different.

      The ad is shocking – the crying sends shivers down my spine and leaves me cold. But, it is real. And because of the horrible, chilling nature of it, I disagree with Adam when he says that it will be “forgotten by the time the credits roll”. My feelings are more along the lines of Phil’s “it would ruin my night”. I personally would prefer that the ad ruined your night than didn’t even register in it.

      • Pete,

        My daughter is five. If someone was to come along and record her voice whilst she was screaming out for her Mum and Dad in agony, after having just seen me and her mother killed and Sally her nine year old elder sister raped; if they were then to use my daughter’s audio to promote themselves in an advert, with no context, with only the intention to make people feel shocked into giving money, I would be thankful to them for saving my daughters life and want to kill them for abusing my her trust. That’s what you did and I’m profoundly shocked that you don’t get why someone like Phil would see that as an abuse of trust?

        If the MSF comms team can’t get their head round that then they have no understanding of the word humanitarian.

        I hope MSF are giving you the credit you deserve for honestly debating this issue. I take my hat off to you, you’ve earned a lot of respect but in this instance your team needs a rethink.

  • Antonio

    The first thing I would like to say is that not many NGOs take their time to speak open and directly to readers, contributors or public in general. I personally appreciate this gesture and I reckon it says a lot about MSF. Therefore, thanks for this opportunity, Pete.

    Regarding the ad, I am afraid I can not say much good about it. MSF will certainly get people commenting on the different interpretations or angles the ad has, but this is not an advert about a fizzy drink where the most important thing is to put the name of the product in everyone’s head. Here we are showing a reality about a country, a boy, a family portrayed through the kid’s crying. We are again falling in the same clichéd type of communication I reckon we should stay away from.

    The advert is clearly trying to shock people but it is not explaining what MSF really does. Why is so important the boy’s dramatic situation? If his family would be alright and alive, wouldn’t MSF doctors operate him (what I guess they are doing, although we don’t know why) anyways? So, why do we need the morbid elements? The only reason I can think about is the manipulation of the audience’s feelings.

    I know reality in Africa is hard, but you are just showing the most terrible side of it and that is not the entire truth of the story. We have to be honest with those collaborating with MSF and I know first hand that MSF is very transparent with its work, that’s why I am quite disappointed with them.

    The end doesn’t justify the means and this advert is blunt but unnecessary.

    However I still think MSF rocks and that’s my biggest motivation to write these words here today. I feel privileged as I know someone from the organization is going to read this and, as I said before, it is not something we can often see. Thanks again.

  • My personal belief is that the current marketing approaches used by aid agencies isn’t working. I’ve already said my bit about portraying Africa and its people in a better light, so won’t go into that again but when you see Comic Relief using the tried and trusted approach of showing some poor black kid suffering, with the melodramatic music in the background and some C list celeb asking for your help, you start to wonder who you are helping.

    There is an important role to be played by agencies in showing the public what has been achieved with their donations, now more than ever before as donations are made harder due to the numerous economic problems faced by many.

    Don’t get me wrong, the work that aid agencies do is vital, i’ve seen the benefits of this first hand. What I think the public might be tired of is that tried and trusted approach used by agencies.

    This ad isn’t that bad, i think it’s easy to be an armchair critic when you haven’t really been in situations like the one portrayed here. The ad makes you think there is a poor black kid behind that wall, but you can’t see anything so you rely on the audio, and that’s where the link is made. Unlike the Comic Relief approach, we don’t have some poor sod pushed in front of the camera, with the flies around his/her mouth and made to look sad.

    From a personal point of view, I’d love MSF to maybe look at producing ads that show the happier side as a result of their vital work. Yes, Africa has issues and yes this is a common scene up north, but there are other scenes out there, so why not let the public know the other side.

    As I mentioned before, a sad black child rams home the message than anything else. We in the media are all guilty of abusing this and it has to stop.

    Pete, how about you let me work with the MSF and produce work that shows the happy side to the work you all do?

    • Hi Daniel, the type of ad you write about at the beginning was almost the inspiration for ‘Boy’ – a move away from the “poor sod pushed in front of the camera”. And I think it has achieved that whether it ‘works’ or not.

      Maybe you could take a look at this older MSF advert – I’m not sure if it ever went out on UK TV, but it is almost the opposite concept to the ‘Boy’ ad. Would be interesting to see what you thought…

      • That ad is pretty good, in a way it shows what MSF are doing but rather than do it in a shocking light, it leaves the viewer feeling there is hope for this continent (well at least it does for me).

  • I think I agree with the sentiment of the other commenters on this one.
    To the video first off, no doubt it is powerful (to whoever made it, your use of audio is fantastic). But like Phil Maguire said you haven’t told us what country this is (it looks like northern Iraq, but the captions suggest Central Africa). I guess what that does is reduce it to a cinematic emotional punch, which sadly western audiences are all too used too. It has a temporary punch, but I think it would be forgotten by the time the credits roll on the movie they’ve actually gone to see. I’m assuming this is faked as well, which undermines it slightly further.

    This is great though because it gives us a chance to talk about how charities tell the world what they do. I think there’s real opportunity for journalists and NGOs to work together (just like Duckrabbit, Weyo, Media Storm and Story4 and many others are doing). It offers a real chance for indepth reporting which the msm don’t have time or money for – but just the type of reporting which is needed to end the negative image of Africa which Daniel quite rightly says still exists. Duckrabbit nailed it in the intro – charities must stop PRing us, and start telling us the real truth.

    But Pete it’s great you’re taking responses on this. DuckRabbit – thanks for opening the debate up.

  • Personally speaking, I don’t think MSF is particularly well-known in the UK, and as a consequence, I’d have been tempted to lead with a more positive message about the work they do, and the successes they’ve had. I’m not sure the ad really conveys who MSF are to a wider British audience who don’t know them. Having said that, shocking is always going to get more editorial media attention, so I guess it’s always a tempting tactic.

    However, if I were MSF, now I’ve got people’s attention, I’d follow this up pretty quickly with a more explanatory and upbeat piece about the work MSF do and the value of contributions, etc.

  • Sam C

    There’s an old saying… “you can’t make an omelette – without cracking some eggs”. Well, this ad certainly cracks more than its share – and fair enough in my opinion. Coming from a background in advertising, I have no problem with controversial, challenging techniques to break through audience apathy. In fact, I’d go so far to say we need even harder hitting media. Lets face it – we’re not selling shampoo here. White-bread westerners, snuggling down to watch the latest “Harry Potter” instalment deserve to choke on their M&M’s watching this. The issue’s too serious to be wrapped in cotton wool anymore.

    I was interested in something Ben said… “Why should you trust a charity that speaks for its beneficiaries rather then finding ways for their beneficiaries to communicate directly with you?”. Following this theme, I’d love to see more of those affected filming/recording their own stories for these campaigns. They CAN do it – so give them a chance – rather than filtering the message through boardrooms and focus groups. African’s have been telling stories a lot longer than us lot – and they dont need a media degree to do it.

    …And while we’re on the subject. Here’s one of my all time favourite development spots – the “safe water” one with Jennifer Connelly. It’s great ’cause the viewer can easily relate to it – without having to imagine an alien situation in a country they couldn’t even find on a map.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AqlLyLeJuQ

    In conclusion… Hats off to MSF. Keep cracking those eggs.

  • Like some of the other commentators, I have slightly mixed feelings about this.

    Much as the whole concept of PR and marketing doesn’t sit comfortably with my professional instincts,
    I understand that charities need to fundraise and to get their message across. On occasions I have worked with NGOs to provide the materials to do this – but I’ve always worked completely as a journalist and been given the freedom to cover an issue as I see fit. I’m pleased you haven’t wasted huge sums making this and securing time at the cinemas, but I see the need to have impact….and this ad certainly does have impact for me, although quite what the lasting impression is I’m not yet sure.

    Yet, as people have said, it lacks context and actually tells us nothing about MSF and what you really do. We probably know of this NGO because we work within the media and related disciplines. My parents, for example, have probably never heard of you and just wouldn’t get anything out of this.
    I’m not personally convinced that everything needs to be hard-hitting if it is to have some kind of impact.

    Also, I can’t help but feel it’s actually quite a patronising advert. Patronising to the viewer – who presumably doesn’t merit a fuller explanation of what you do, or the context for what we are seeing.
    But more importantly, perhaps, I find it patronising towards the communities you are working with. Maybe I’m being unfair and putting in meanings that shouldn’t be there – but it leaves me with the feeling that this situation would be a bleak pit of hopelessness without the heroic efforts of MSF…I dunno, it just leaves me with a slightly uneasy feeling – that I have quite a lot when thinking of the large-scale NGO “industry” – that it all smacks a little bit of modern-day cultural imperialism. But that’s probably more my own hang-up.

    The real heroes to me are not MSF staff – although I’m sure they are all very lovely, and kind and caring. For me they are the people from these communities who live their often difficult lives with great dignity and minimal fuss. They are, in my limited experience, far from the victims that they are all too often portrayed as.

    Why not show us some of their faces and how MSF is making their lives better…and telling the stories of some of your local staff? Why not in fact just use real genuine journalism – through words, photography, video, audio or whatever means you want? The medium matters less than the ethics and balance that underpins it.

    As a potential supporter I think I’d be more likely to give seeing that results – no matter how small scale – are being achieved, than if I would if I see a situation apparently without hope.

  • Well,

    The advert is definitely powerful. Chills went up my spine in hearing the crying … the billowing smoke in the background and the gunfire rattling off also helped to catch my attention. The simplicity of the four statements/sentences is perfectly measured, in my opinion. This doesn’t need a voiceover of someone asking for my money. The words, laid against the whole scene, say enough.

    The drawings on the wall were powerful, too … images of war. I have seen and photographed similar child renderings in Sudan, Chad and the Congo.

    The ad pissed me off, too … in a way that I wanted to do something. But what? Even as a journalist sometimes I feel helpless and that I sometimes use the suffering of others to profit and “make a name for myself,” never really knowing what happens later to those I quote and photograph. That can be haunting.

    However, I have seen up close and personal MSF’s good work … in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena, for example, in April 2006 following a coup attempt. MSF had an encampment set up in a city hospital where I was interviewing two young men — civilians, not rebels or government army soldiers — who were painfully trying to recover in the crushing heat after having their legs blown off while being caught up in the melee.

    I support MSF and their work. If you have to jar some people’s nerves to wake them up out of their comfortable existence with an end purpose of raising cash to help the suffering masses, then so be it.

    Some might definitely take offense to the advert. But they are precisely the ones who should be targeted to part with some of their money.

    If this advert was running in the U.S., you’d probably start seeing a big influx of cash into MSF’s coffers quickly (providing le masse could get their head around it in 60 seconds). But I think those kind of ads work, despite being potenitally perceived as “insensitive.”

    The world is an insensitive place. Some folks have more to give than others. They should be targeted with ads like these.

    Hell, the ads may even inspire a new generation of more humanitarian-minded people to “get out there.”

    In final, I would like to know how much of the video is real or fake … the billowing smoke, location, audio (of both the crying and gunfire). Even if it is staged, IT IS REAL. It happens all the time, just like that. Lay people should be pointed out about the difference, but at the same time, they should know the reality, too.

    • I agree with your points Les, but (and it’s a big but) if you have not seen MSF’s work up close and personal and in fact have never heard of them, will this ad prompt you to support?

      I am not trying to play devil’s advocate, I honestly don’t know. John Bennett is right when he says we are not brilliantly well known in the UK. I’d say the majority of people that see the ad will never have heard of us before.

      I guess only time will tell really…

  • Liked it a lot. Dramatic, yet subtle; sets the scenario, then allows you to deliver the images (which we’ve all already seen) and message to yourself rather than having them thrust in your face (yet, again).

    Unlike still photo journalism (which can be said to suffer the same “malaise” a hundredfold), the video medium by its very nature allows greater flexibility as to presentation, experimentation and all around creativity. And it needs to continually incorporate, expand and renew this flexibility since any one approach, including this one, will grow tired fast.

  • Yes. I too would like to say that despite the cynicism in my earlier comment, I too really respect what MSF (and others like them) are trying to do.

    I am a big believer in this kind of work. I am just not a believer in PR and spin. Not in any industry – but CERTAINLY not in the development field.

    And I wrestle with some of the more abstract issues that surround the whole charity ‘industry’, and the ethics of westerners going to poor countries to ‘save’ them.

    I don’t mean that to detract from MSF, who are thoroughly good eggs. I hope people respond to your ad and dig deep.

    Again though, it just leads me to think – if you work is good (and it clearly is) then shouldn’t it speak for itself? No gimmicks needed.

    best of luck Pete and thanks for opening up the debate. Hope it has been helpful for you as well.

  • Brave, uncompromising, powerful. Not cheap. Successful ad.

    Part of this success is due to the fact that it doesn’t need to answer all those questions – that is what our debate here is for … and hopefully the debates across cinema car parks and front rooms in the UK.

    This ad does not detail the precise scope of MSF activities, outline the history of MSF philosophy, present the aftermath for the fictional family, clarify whether the screams are real or not. But this is not its purpose. This ad is an introduction to the imperative work of MSF.

    Why the ad works in introducing MSF’s work abroad, and why it feels like a punch in the stomach, is because it deals with truths without over-explaining them.

    MSF works predominantly in fractured societies and war zones.
    MSF works in less than ideal conditions.
    MSF works with people whose lives have been torn apart.
    MSF works to provide the essential first response medical care.
    MSF works “to patch people up” despite the long-term psychological trauma conflict brings.
    MSF does its part in shaping the existences of human lives – and this is the kicker, that work is fragile AND DEPENDENT on whether we do our part in donating money. This ad does not let us off the hook.

    One other thing not mentioned yet. Surely, our discomfort stems from the matter-of-fact declarations of prerequisite action in each of the four sentences. To bring us so close narratively with the heinous actions of the militia is to explain how terrible terrible acts are common in areas of conflict. We are one sentence from murder and two from rape.

    MSF is asking us to donate money to the worst of situations. MSF doesn’t have all the answers, but it has its mandate.

    MSF asks us to make a more engaged commitment than the usual altruist shot one gets from donating to a cause that “guarantees”, glosses or romanticises solutions to the problem.

    One final thought. 99% of viewers are going to assume this is Africa. It could be the Middle East or parts of Asia given the landscape. We know that MSF works on every continent. Is this ad an unwelcome addition to misunderstanding about Africa? Is MSF at all responsible for the visual leaps & presumptions of the viewer?

  • MattyC

    I’m guessing that the small but influential minority of people who read the foreign news in the broadsheets, will assume the setting is Darfur. Everyone else will think, ‘some hellhole in Africa’. Fair enough. Vagueness is probably a virtue here, as the very name ‘Doctors Without Borders’ suggests an organisation that tries to stay above the geopolitical fray. Either that or a group of medics without access to a good bookstore. (It’s better in the French, isn’t it?)

    Like any good horror sequence, this ad upped my pulse rate and made me feel claustrophobic, nauseous and dry-mouthed. It has a kind of palpitating intensity that is easily mistaken for effectiveness. But for all the reasons Phil Maguire spells out, it didn’t put me in the ‘giving vein’. The ad seems to me flashy and shallow, provoking disgust rather than rage. It is fashionably nihilistic in the manner of a Chapman brothers installation – but without the wit.

    Something else. A number of the pundits on this thread seem to agree that, whatever the advertisement’s flaws, if it succeeds in – I quote Les – “[jarring] some people’s nerves to wake them up out of their comfortable existence”, it will have achieved something valuable. This is another piece of hip groupthink that goes up in smoke upon contact with reality. Can you cite any empirical evidence to support the claim that people are more likely to donate money to an NGO after “choking on their M&Ms” (Sam) than on other occasions? If you can, please post a link. If you can’t, please steer clear of clichés.

    Kudos to Pete for having the balls to come on here and defend the ad. That’s the spirit.

    • Sam

      I’m glad my copy caught your attention (MattyC). You’re the cliche – with your need for “empirical evidence”. That’s the surest way to kill any innovative advertising. I made no claims about donations – the message is much simpler than that anyway. It’s more “Can you tolerate this? / Are you offended?. Then do something.” All development charities benefit in the end – not just MSF. Much like the recent “pOVERty” campaign by Christian Aid here in the UK; http://povertyover.christianaid.org.uk/

      The web address “hipgroupthink.com” is available – someone should register it. Sounds quite good.

      • MattyC

        Thanks for the response, Sam. I’ll make it a trinity of clichés: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If this advert works, i.e. if it provokes a spike in donations, then both MSF and the ad agency will be happy. That’s really all I meant by ’empirical evidence’: brass in pocket.

        Let me ask you something. You’re the director of Human Rights Watch. I’m some random Nathan Barley-type from a Soho ad agency. I pitch you a campaign that involves showing a re-enaction of a child being tortured – on screen. I’m also armed with a big wad of data that suggests such a campaign would triple HRW’s donation income in the forthcoming financial year.

        Would you even consider green lighting that project?

  • MattyC –

    I understand your point of view of using cliches, etc.

    However, I’m American. Let me say that jarring some people’s nerves to wake them up out of their comfortable existence is needed a lot more in the U.S., so let’s keep my context American, for example. I hate hip, groupthink stuff, too, but I meant to come off genuine. And I’m not offended by your critique.

    Are you American? I absolutely do not ask that in a malicious way – I’m simply curious. Or are you English, other?

    My point is that either way, you might be able to agree with me that in a vast country like America, with 300 million people (large for the developed world), few of them have any clue what is going on outside of America’s borders. And most of them, frankly, just don’t give a sh**.

    At best, they have a clue of what might be going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is by default, of course, of having troops in those countries engaged in active war.

    Hardly any Americans know about what is going on in Sri Lanka, Burma, Georgia, Nepal, Congo, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Guinea, Sudan, Chad, C.A.R., Kenya, Ethiopia, etc. Many Americans wouldn’t even be able to enunciate the names of some of those countries properly. (Remember, only roughly 25% of Americans — on an annual basis — even have an undergraduate college degree. That stat dips even lower in some individual states. Many Americans – MANY – have never even been to New York City or Los Angeles. And many Americans hate the UN, for example, and view it with deep suspicion.)

    So, in that context, the advert plays a crucial role in “jarring” Americans out of their haze. Maybe the French, English or Dutch are more sophisticated and don’t need to be forced to cough up their M&Ms while watching the tele, but Americans need to be shaken, slapped around some and exposed to the madness in this world. Many people just don’t want to be bothered with those issues, as they are just trying to get by, make rent, make the car payment, etc.

    But at least they can be provoked into thinking … otherwise, I agree with Adam, somewhat, but in a different context – they (let’s just keep “they” in the context of Americans still) are likely to forget about the ad within seconds to minutes … why not go for the throat then? If the advert is one of those whiney pieces, with a white, Western man kneeling down next to some torn-shirted, black-African kid, all dirty and snot nosed, standing amongst the stench and squalor of “x” camp — “Please help little seven-year-old Zambezi [whatever]. He lost both of his parents and hasn’t started school yet. For .79 cents a day, less than a cup of coffee (if you get your Joe at Starbucks), you can help ………” — it isn’t going to work. That day of fundraising through tv is dead.

    NGOs need to start becoming more creative and need to start pushing the boundaries a bit more, making people uncomfortable. Like other pundits said on this thread, I agree in that I’d rather keep the viewer up all night, bummed out, rather than to have the viewer forget shortly after the commercial. Those ads have been running by CARE and other NGOS since the mid ’80s a la the Ethiopian famine under the Derg.

    After covering Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Chad, Kenya, Congo and more, I feel we need to rattle people more. Many people back here in the U.S. are always initially ooo’ed and ahhh’ed by my stories from these places and always ask me about it as a conversation starter after having not seen each other, generically speaking, in a while, but their eyes glaze over 2 minutes into telling them about any of it. I can see their attention span is limited, so I don’t go too, too deep.

    They can’t relate. They are trying to raise kids, pay the bills, get ahead. They’ve never been cornered into thinking about the myriad of issues raging outside of their expansive borders. How can they then start worrying about starving, war plagued peoples in the hinterlands of Africa? Why should they?

    So, I say they jar them, however much it comes off as a hip, groupthink cliche.

    • Liz Palmer

      Well said. I agree.

  • It was disturbing, and to get that response from an old cynic like me is an achievement.”Flys on eyes” photographs have given me cateracts and if something like this is needed to make me feel, well it’s a sad but nessasary evil. Trouble is, a decade down the line what will it take then to slap my face?

  • .

  • Flora (Journalist, Africa)

    I work a lot with visual storytelling(TV & photography). My dilemma with telling stories of children, with children has never gotten a solution. The MSF video does not of course promote their work. I do not get from it a sense of what they do… even though I’m aware of their work. It is however a powerful piece that reminds me of the many times I’ve felt helpless in such a situation (telling a story of a community that needs help). The child crying haunts just like all children crying do even when they are not suffering. I think that the boy is exploited. We don’t see his face but the lack of detail in the piece… the information that is general takes from the piece… Daniel (commented earlier) already has an idea what continent it is happening in… South America? Africa? Asia? I don’t know. I quite frankly don’t care… These issues are usually the same anyway.

    There’s dignity for the boy in the advert, there’s enough emotion to make us care even for a little while. That boy’s story is told… but MSF’s work not really highlighted. Did he live? Is he getting emotional support to stop him from being the militia 10-15 years later? That’s what people want to support. If that could come through, I think it would be a much better piece. Otherwise everyone is left to feel hopeless.

    But look on the brighter side… it got us talking about the issue.

  • Flora (Journalist, Africa)

    The second Ad… now that would make one give. Because they’d know what they are giving for. That’s the MSF that we in Africa and everywhere else they work know about and appreciate.

  • 2+2=5

    I’m thoroughly jaded, inter-texted, media savvy, and sensitive to the politics of representation. My initial reaction came in the form of tears. My second reaction was to figure out what to write here. My third reaction will be to set up a monthly direct debit. My fourth reaction will be to give my daughter a big hug.

    It worked on me.

  • I am (like others) really of two minds with this piece. Part of my earlier career was working in marketing for not-for-profits and I know first hand how hard it is to create compelling pieces that bring about action from an audience / clientbase / donors, etc.

    I am also aware of how inured we all are to images of suffering due to our media saturation. So I applaud this piece and the efforts of its creators.

    But my reaction to this piece was, first, to turn it off about half-way through (which I resisted), and to never watch it again (which I also resisted).

    I don’t think this piece needs a “feel good ending” necessarily, and certainly not simply to have its audience assuaged, but I do think to increase its effectiveness, it SHOULD show MSF’s efforts as successful.

    The starkness of the footage / sound-design, coupled with the text, only suggest the ongoing struggle of MSF…which is a valid angle….but I feel that without a ‘reveal’ that shows an audience how a donation given = positive results, I don’t feel this piece is as effective as it could be. In fact, if my reactions are any indication, it has the opposite effect by making me reach for the ‘close’ box rather than a chequebook.

    But again, I applaud any and all efforts to take the not-for-profit world toward new ideas, and the piece IS compelling even without the final element that I feel is missing.

  • Wow, what an amazing response. Thank you all…

    I think Ciara hit the nail on the head for me. I also hate spin and ‘PR’. I think that the work MSF does should speak for itself and as long as we present it well, the donations should roll in… Unfortunately that’s not always the case. To build on Mark Page’s comment, for how long can we keep upping the ante – what will it take to slap his face?

    For me personally, the most inspiring comms from NGOs are straight up testimonies from patients and from field workers. But not everyone’s the same and it is vital that we continue to try new things as long as we continue to respect the dignity and privacy of those people represented or depicted. If we remain stagnant and MSF suffers financially, then we help no-one.

    I understand that this ad has provoked a lot of criticism (along with a fair amount of praise), but I think it is extremely important we allow ourselves the opportunity to fail while trying new ways to get people to engage with what we do and the people we are trying to help (as long as we are not wasting donors money along the way).

    If MSF had not made this ad, but instead produced a more traditional story, would it have been more effective? We cannot know really. But, what we have learnt by trying a new approach, from you guys and the many others on other blogs, twitter, facebook, by email and by word of mouth is priceless.

    More than anything, I hope that whatever has inspired such full and frank debate online has also inspired “the debates across cinema car parks and front rooms” that Pete Brook talks about.

  • Liz Palmer

    The world is divided by those who love and hate marmite. Similarly, the world is divided by people who will respond to your ad, or just get pissed-off by it. There is a type of person out there who will be mad that you brought that 5-year old’s story to their screen, ruined their evening over their popcorn. There are others who will go home and up their monthly donation to MSF, and a few who might be inspired to make a one-off donation because you have punctured the bubble of their safe western life.

    The bottom line is that so many people out there just don’t give a damn. Apathy is rife and I commend you for experimenting with different approaches to communicate what you do and the need for help. The t-shirt ad will reach some people, and the crying-boy ad will reach some people. And then there are some people who you will never reach.

  • TOLE (AFRICAN JOURNALIST)

    It is a very powerful piece, i’m moved by how helpless they boy is. Reporting on children raises lots of ethical dilemmas but this piece according to my opinion is better than most that have children on them. I think it touches on the issues with a humane touch.

  • Bev Stringer

    I have been working for MSF in many countries devastated by conflict- the content of the MSF advert does resonate with my own personal experience and that for me is important, if some people do not want to hear or see so explicitly how lives are affected by war and how MSF exists to try to relieve that suffering, then i am sure the response to the piece will be reactionary. The content is actual (it does not mean to be factual), recently i walked into a home similar to that shown to find a young woman crying because she had been attacked, i held a child that after 1-week of lying beside his grandfather hospital bed, was left bereft because his grandfather did not make it and the rest of his family were alerady dead. Bev S

  • Prevention is always better then cure. In this instance my motivation would be to fund organisations who can stop the conflict and prevent human rights abuses, otherwise all MSF are doing is bailing out water from the bottom of the boat, rather than fixing the hole in the boat.

  • I had the opportunity to work Swiss MSF back when I was working in Romania. I believe that work that they continue to do is BRAVE and HONORABLE. Being an freelance photographer I am all too familiar with the difficulties of raising money for Social Justice and Humanitarian especially these days. I found the ad to be different and I can imagine what it would be like to see it in a darken atmosphere of cinema on the BIG screen. It will shock, I am sure many of the viewers but then again we (in the west) are living in the age of interruption constantly so I can see the reasoning for showing the ad in this melodramatic way. I feel its meant to shock and get you motivated to do something. There are thousands around the world experiencing these painful episodes in their lives, so maybe its OK for us to feel uncomfortable.

  • MSF do amazing work. I cannot stress enough how important they and other organisations of their ilk are, however the advertising of NGO’s and charities has always been a contentious issue. As far as this particular piece goes – I don’t know. Personally it breaks my heart. However, a lot of people really don’t give a shit. Oh my god how awful, they say, then take a mouthful of popcorn and stare goggle eyed as a piece of celluloid entertainment rolls out in front of them. More and more I think it is important to show the positive aspects of a NGO or charity’s work. If I were working in an ad agency I would probably have some bullshit PR philosophy to back this up but in today’s world I think more people would open their wallets if they could see the positive results of their potential donation. I think we all know the horrors we humans can do to each other and although it is important to still show those horrors and get us to address them, we need to see solutions too. It is possible that there is an attitude that says that if we show the good work we are doing, then people will think the situation is not desperate, that we are doing alright thank you very much. The same is true though if too much misery and pain is portrayed – people will think that this stuff goes on regardless, what difference could I possibly make. Many arguments I have with people over the ills of the world get to a point where solutions have to be discussed. I think as a global society we are at that point. We know what is wrong. How the fuck do we fix it. That is the debate we need to be having now. Break my heart and I might hand over the contents of my wallet. Show me how that money will be used as well and I may give you my bank details instead. Do both and I’ll sell my car for you and volunteer my services. In fact, reading this back, I realise I cannot possibly assume what would be the most effective strategy and all I truly know is that people are suffering and if this motivates just one person to donate their time money and/or resources to MSF’s work who did not do so before then it is worthwhile. And that is the ultimate bottom line.

  • It’s brilliant.
    It is irrelevant where it is.
    Yesterday it happened 5 minutes from where I sleep at night.
    To an 83 year old lady.
    who has lived in a humble wood and iron house for … 83 years.
    She survived the brutality, the throttling
    and a heavy china fruit bowl against her skull.

    …and to her attacker:
    “I do not hate him
    I am not filled with anger.He did not know what he was doing.
    No one taught him right from wrong.”

    The day before it was a father
    who tried to help his son against intruders

    and the day before
    a child
    raped
    at home.

    This is part of one week in a smart part
    of the city
    where the 2010 Soccer world cup will happen.

    Art and fiction always tell the truth
    better than the truth.
    So Please tell it like it is.
    We need to feel
    so we are moved to act.

  • Fascinating discussion looking at the use of visual media by social activists. This is the focus on my research at the moment and so thank you all (especially Pete Masters) for giving me so much material to chew on.

    A couple of points of my own based on the reaction to the MSF ad and other related issues;

    1 – Happy vs. Sad – which do we show? The answers has to be both and all the bits in between. Extremes never tell the whole complex story. However, it is difficult for one comms product to transmit much info so we should judge such things as part of MSF’s (or other’s) broad comms mix. What is required is an approach that ensures a diverse range of visual communication tools that appeals to what the audience knows, but also helps educate them in more depth. NGOs (and the media) are not very good at this at the moment.

    2 – Emotional manipulation – interesting that ‘the truth’ and the positive side of MSF’s work is not characterised as emotional manipulation, but the sharp end of the violation is? If we understand that we are being manipulated then the manipulation is on its way to failing (although we may feel bad), and this so-called manipulation focusses on guilt / pity (which is surely a last resort motivator?). This is an on-going debate since the ‘famine’ discussions of the 90’s – seems that the answer is ads should be smart not shocking. But lets not get into a discussion about the ‘truth’!

    3 – ‘Truth vs. PR’ – OK, I lied. But it is worth touching on. Interesting that many photo-journalists who commented talk about a solution via their medium and ethics, yet history tells us that they have been just as guilty of stereotyping Africa, issues of poverty etc. and working in a way at times that is shameful. We should not confuse ‘focus’ with ‘truth’ – it is legitimate to highlight one specific issue (even if it is not representative) – however, ‘focus’ should not be an excuse for stereotyping or manipulating the facts. Horses for courses – a fund raising ad is one type of comms and a photo-documentary multi-media piece is another. Underlying rule – don’t mislead, and use the right visual tool for what you want to say.

    4 – NGOs not open to communicating – fascinating to hear Pete say he makes decisions on communicating with 1000s of people everyday but doesn’t talk to them. This is a problem for NGOs, photo-journalists and academics working on or with visual media in social activism. There is too much presumption about their audience, and not enough involvement with the subjects / rights claimants. NGOs could learn a lot from advertising agencies on knowing their audience (i.e. focus groups, testing products before going live, finding out what they know already). However, on another level I disagree that NGOs don’t communicate – many are democratic organisations with a large membership base who inform their work, plus they have public events where materials are distributed and so can stimulate feedback. I don’t think I am alone (I work for a major human rights organisation) in trying to engage with people on these issues.

    5 – Beneficiaries telling stories – yes, definitely more of this. And it will happen. I have just come from a community video training event in India, where young men and women from marginalised communities are running their own video production units. Mixing this, and other participatory approaches (so not just interviewing someone)with professional products will probably work best.

    6 – What is being sold? NGOs or what they do? NGOs are professional organisations – they don’t collect money by rattling tins any more – any whether we like it or not it is a competitive sector where they need to fight for scarce funds. As such it pays to invest in advertising – it is not (in theory) wasting money. If you are really bothered about NGO finances or how they work go through their annual report accounts. NGO advertising is being highly influenced by advertising agencies because the agencies are doing pro-bono work for them. They look slick and it is easy to be sucked in by this – I worked on a global campaign where I had to manage the risk of 50 offices world wide producing ads that could (again, in theory) damage our campaign. Despite a well developed communication strategy some offices produced totally inappropriate material. In the majority of cases an ad agency was involved. But it is the NGO’s responsibility to manage them. Agencies are used to selling products so beware. However, I believe that the agencies influence and expertise is on the whole valuable.

    And lastly, more of this kind of debate – it is invaluable.

    Rob

  • Frank Lee

    EVERYONE talking or consulting as part MSF’s laudable/admirable/big-hearted/&c effort at understanding audience impact, are exactly the cross section of people who will watch and respond to the ad. As in chi-ching!

    The fact that the ad offers a weblink, and Pete ‘the IT web guru’/MSF is seeding a blog-blizzard is all marketing. It’s very clever.

    Myself included, we’re a focus group giving our views gratis in a different medium (sans flipchart, or visible FGD survey tools). Nice one Pete.

    The impact indicators are really interesting:

    # of blog responses
    # of blogs picking it up
    The time in hours it takes for a certain level of interest/response to manifest.
    The rate of response.
    Cross-tabbing the blogosphere with fund-raising.
    Etc.

    I had no idea MSF was so techologically savvy – but I suppose it’s always been very corporate. Like Oxfam, perhaps more anal in the field though (viz. position email addresses, the whole field power supply protocol, the assembly line of volunteers – MSF is an industry leader).

    People – you’re part of Pete/MSF’s laboratory.

    Again, nice one Pete!

    Frankly.

  • pete – on another blog you posted a link to the t-shirt ad. i much prefer that one to this one, for a reason others have already brought up (but that i want to echo): as someone who has spent some time in Tanzania and Malawi, I come back to the US to answer questions from friends about what it’s really like in Africa and if it’s as bad as everyone says it is, or *gulp* worse. i think that viewers might perceive the advert to be about a place in Africa and that it would continue to distort their view of a place that isn’t always tragic (though i understand it is very much so in places where MSF works). i just think the advert furthers this whole “dark continent” nonsense.

  • Michael

    “First thing to say is that this is not MSF talking. This is Pete who works for MSF and I cannot speak on behalf of the organisation (nor for McCann Erickson who made the ad). My opinions are mine and mine alone.”

    Absolute stuff and nonsense, Pete. You were asked to comment because you are “MSF Uk’s web guru”, not because you are just somebody from the street that happened to walk by. You know that you represent MSF UK here, as is amply demonstrated in e.g. your remark that “… We have not identified the boy…”. That’s “we” as in Pete Master, Pete Masters, and Pete Masters, I guess? More likely “we” as in “MSF UK, the organisation I work for”. Don’t try to be disingenuous about this.

    As an active MSF field volunteer, I am aware of the fact that what I say and do in the field reflects on the organisation, and that I cannot deflect that by saying that I did that these are “my opinions and not the organisation’s”. Perhaps you should reread MSF’s Code of Conduct.

    • So do you think Pete was getting all his comments checked by his line manager?

      Its clear that he’s speaking here partly from a personal point a view but when people attack the organisation that he works for he’s obviously going to slip into a bit of MSF speak. Don’t let that detract from the fact that he opened up a debate that I suspect some at MSF would have preferred not to exist.

      • Michael

        I have no clue whether or not his comments are checked, and neither do I think it is relevant. If I blab my mouth off to journalist in the field while wearing an MSF t-shirt or otherwise being identifiable as an MSF volunteer, my words will be ascribed to MSF, whether I say that I am talking on personal title or not. MSF recognises that and has strict rules and regulations around its volunteers speaking out, especially in places like blogs (basically: you are not allowed to do it without prior clearance from a supervisor of at least country manager level). This holds true for office staff like Pete too. So either he talks here on behalf of and with prior clearance from the organisation, or he is guilty of a clear breach of procedure and regulations.

        Apart from all this formal stuff: I think it is clear from the comments here and on Osocio that people do look at him as representing MSF, whatever he says to the contrary. That alone is already enough to raise serious ethical issues about his insistence that he isn’t.This is reinforced by Pete introducing himself as representing MSF in his first post on Osocio: “My name is Pete and I am the web editor here at MSF UK. … Do you mind if I just say that we are really keen to get feedback,…”.

        Whether Pete got clearance or not is irrelevant to what I say (although it might be relevant to a possible internal Code of Conduct procedure): Pete does represent MSF here. Whether that is with approval from the organisation (tacit or otherwise) makes only a difference insofar it means that either Pete himself or MSF UK here is playing unethical games.

        • Michael,

          I’m sure you’re not but you come across as a patronizing, petty and in your last post a nasty piece of work wanting to get someone disciplined for having the balls to engage in a debate.

          Shame on you Michael.

          I would have thought your experience in development would have helped you to see the bigger picture.

          • Michael

            @Duckrabbit: Shall we stick to the arguments instead of the person? My argument again: somebody plays fast and loose with ethics by playing a game of “plausible deniability”. Whether or not I am a nasty piece of work is not relevant to that.

            I engage in debate here as well (balls or not). Let debate, nit call names.

          • Michael

            That should read: “… not call names”, of course. Apologies for the typo.

        • val

          how is this relevant to the debate about the clip?

        • But your comments have nothing to do with the advert … they are totally irrelevant to the debate here.

          • Michael

            @val @duckrabbit: I am trying to ignite a debate about the debate, which by definition is relevant to it. In that sense it is very similar to e.g. Frank Lee’s comment above, who just like me comments on the impact of what is going in the comments here rather than the clip itself. Similar for e.g. the third paragraph of MattyC’s original response.

            Furthermore, it is relevant to the clip in an indirect way: the clip (I would assume) is supposed to support MSF’s work in one way or another. If the way the debate around the clip is conducted is damaging that work unnecessarily, don’t you think that is relevant? And if you don’t: why bother with the clip in the first place? (Unless you have the view that it doesn’t matter whether or not MSF’s field work is damaged and you only want to discuss the clip on its narrow technical merits; but I hope and expect that is not the case — I don’t think you are that cynical.)

  • As an aidworker with a conscience, I do deplore the poor taste which surrounded this video, its publication and MSF’s publicity/public relations around this media.
    Include the comments made by their webeditor, on this blog and on other blogs.

    It smells fake and of hypocrisy. MSF has higher standards than that. They have often been proud ‘to be different’ than other ‘sensationalists’ in the aid business. This time they were not.

    Let’s hope this is the last time.

  • Val

    I fail to see why people describe the piece as manipulative. yes it makes the viewer feel uncomfortable, yes it brings up emotions that you would rather not deal with when you have come out to see a film.
    That, I feel is where MSF made a mistake, to show the clip in cinemas as opposed to TV.
    It is a powerful piece that focuses on a particular slice of reality, just like the tee-shirt clip focuses on other slices of reality. the main difference is that it focuses on the audio rather than images. A child crying makes us want to react, instinctively. I remember when my sons used to cry at night and we were trying to break the habit, we used the “controlled crying” techinique where by you have to wait as long as you can before going to the child to comfort them, then leave them again and wait the same length of time as the first time + two minutes and so on. Lying there, counting the seconds was one of the most awful experience of my life even as I knew there was nothing really wrong with my child. A child’s pain cannot leave us indifferent and can also stir up a lot of anger, as shown in some of the comments.
    I think this is a good clip, simple and to the point. some terrible things happen, some people are trying to help, they need money to operate. one thing you can do is go to the MSF website and donate. Have you?

  • As someone who has worked in sales and marketing for a major NGO, I have a couple of comments.

    These sales techniques work, no matter what you are selling. Cars, toothpaste, environmental destruction. You create a lack, a need, a void in your consumer, and then you come in to present a solution fill that void.

    Firstly, there is nothing wrong with shocking people, making them feel bad about something. That’s a necessary part of the sales pitch. But after you suckerpunch someone with the inevitable suffering, you spend at least half of your time lifting them up, providing them with the SOLUTION to the problem you’ve created. It’s important to present a concrete and specific solution when they sign up (a field hospital in country X, a campaign on issue Y), rather than a generalised (save the world) solution, otherwise the buyer might feel a little ripped off when they realise the world hasn’t been saved 2 years later. Amnesty International, with their focus on individual cases and individual successes, is very good at this.

    I don’t think this ad does that, not properly enough. At the end, we still feel a little too powerless. Those who already understand what MSF does will not feel powerless, but I don’t think it will resonate quite the same with those who don’t. It is much better than most ads, and it’s almost there.

  • Just a further addition to my comment – it’s important to show the person on the receiving end of the sales pitch how they are part of the solution, to make them feel that they are taking actions that are resolving that problem you’ve created for them. In MSF’s case, they often show how your X dollars buys Y surgical equipment, in the same way as dollar a day sponsorship organisations. If the ad had shown MSF people coming in at the end, and said ‘your contribution helps buy X,Y,Z’ it might have got there.

    I think with increased skepticism about the long term effects of their giving (despite the successes), it needs to be demonstrated how your giving makes a particular solution possible.

  • I also completely fail to see in any way how this is exploitative. I’m lost on that. The pain is real. The solutions are real. And this presents both in an honest way.

  • Paul C

    There’s a little thing that MSF may have heard of (although they don’t subscribe to it) called the Red Cross Code of Conduct. Point 10 of the code states: “In our information, publicity and advertising activities, we shall recognise disaster victims as dignified humans, not hopeless objects.” This advert very clearly depicts hopeless objects rather than dignified humans, It also reinforces the stereotype historically peddled by British charities that They (the poor, the dark, the Other, however you want to view it) are helpless, and We are the only ones who can provide help.

    MSF does good work in the field, there’s no doubt about that, but by allowing this advert to be shown, you have shown that you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Why not try to engage and educate the British public, rather than patronise them with this throwback to the worst 20th century fundraising tropes? These people are not just victims waiting for MSF to save them, and to pretend that they are is to sacrifice the reality of their lives for the sake of your media profile.

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

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