Go on – see for yourself.

Oxfam launched their ‘See for Yourself’ UK fundraising campaign this week. We’ve been working hard with them over the past few months to produce the TV adverts, online edits and photography for the campaign.

Duckrabbit’s Benjamin Chesterton, David White and videographer Felix Clay went to Zimbabwe this January to film in the Gutu region, at and around one of Oxfam’s large irrigation projects. With the team was Jodie Sandford, an Oxfam supporter who had applied for the chance to see for herself what her £3 a month donation was helping to fund.  None of the ads were scripted – they’re made up of Jodie’s genuine reactions to what she saw and heard in Zimbabwe.

Benjamin will want to say more when he gets back from a well-earned holiday but I know that everybody came away really inspired by the commitment of the Oxfam team working in Gutu to put in place real long-term, collaborative and sustainable solutions to the food and water supply challenges that people face there.  It’s fantastic work and well worth supporting.

So go on – see for yourself.  One of the best £3 a month you’ll ever spend.

  • I am surprised by these ads given duckrabbit’s reputation and position over the last few years. The voice of Esther is almost entirely absent. I find a big disconnect between what duckrabbit has spoken up for regarding visual media for humanitarian causes and what it has produced recently (including the work with MSF). We hear from white Westerns who are outsiders to the situations, and almost nothing from those who are experiencing the relevant problems. I realize that both the MSF and Oxfam videos are to raise funds in the UK but surely that does not mean principles of representation can be ignored?

    • MattyC

      Well, there are white Westerners and there are white Westerners, aren’t there?

      I think Josie was the perfect choice for this campaign. (Or was her name pulled from a hat? If so, what a stroke of luck!) Let’s be honest, if Josie were some bleeding-heart yummy mummy from North London, this wouldn’t work at all. But she’s not, she’s from Barnsley, and when she says “I’m just an everyday mum”, we believe her.

      Really, this is about motherhood as much as it is about poverty. There is no solidarity like the solidarity between mothers. Anyone who has even casually witnessed its power knows this to be true. So when Josie talks about Esther running out of milk, she is not doing so as an “outsider” or as an atrocity tourist but as someone who can empathise with what that means.

      I don’t think you need to defend this piece on any other grounds save its inherent merit. You took a risk, and it paid off. Great work.

  • Hi Rob,

    Thanks for your comment. I know that others here at duckrabbit will want to reply too but that won’t be until they get back to the UK next week.

    When Oxfam first spoke to us about their See for Yourself idea they were very clear that they wanted to produce a direct response TV fundraising advert that was both authentic and transparent. We were excited to be involved because it did seem to us to be a groundbreaking approach to that very particular format. Normally, direct response appeal adverts for TV are storyboarded and scripted, even when they make use of documentary footage. Usually they’re narrated by a voice-over artist and a lot of them include very little context about the people that they portray. We admired Oxfam’s willingness to take the risk of allowing a supporter to react naturally to an environment and speak without a script.

    The story that was the basis of the campaign was that of an Oxfam supporter reacting to what she saw and heard at and around an Oxfam project. Telling that story within the confines of a 90 second TV ad was of course a challenge. We worked hard to bring Esther’s voice into those 90 seconds but it proved incredibly difficult both to tell to do that and to tell Jodie’s story in a way that both made narrative sense and reflected the important contrast in her reactions. If we’d been working with a narrator and a script we’d have had a bit more flexibility in the timings but of course that approach would have destroyed the authenticity of voice that’s at the heart of the campaign. I agree that this isn’t an excuse to ignore principles of representation. But I do believe that, given the confines of the 90 second and 40 second formats that we were working within, we did represent Esther with dignity and with as much context as was possible.

    As you say, we have to keep in mind the objective of the ads – to recruit new UK donors. I think that there is still a received wisdom in fundraising about the need to have a demographically similar guide for potential donors to empathise with in appeal adverts/media. I’d like to see some data that either backs this up or contradicts it. But fundraising organisations can’t share that sort of information – they are in competition. Like most received wisdom, it will continue to be thought of as right until somebody proves it wrong.

    I think it’s difficult to directly compare our Oxfam and MSF work. The format and length of the pieces are so different. We did have a similar debate on the blog about our MSF work last year.


    I don’t want to rehash that conversation but I will say that my personal opinion is that the most affecting of the three photofilms that we produced for MSF is the one that most heavily features the voice of a beneficiary http://duckrabbit.info/2011/09/healing/.

    Thanks again for your comment.

  • Iamnotasuperstarphotographer

    It must be hard to impose a particular set of ethical beliefs within a brief set by a client and supremely arrogant to even try when it is Oxfam. They pay for a product that has its own objectives based as much as what is deemed effective as much as what is perceived as morally or ethically ‘correct’. There is a time and place for the voice of a local who is living in the situation but this is far from an ego led award hunting documentary pretending to care about foreigners. It is a piece of communication with the function of attracting funds from a particular demographic. If the typical “bleeding heart yummy mummy north Londoner” is actually more statistically likely to give some hard earned cash to Oxfam, then I say use one in the film as that has more of a social function to those who need Oxfams’ support than some lazy judgemental hate filled stereotyping of those mothers.

    Therefore criticism of the lack of a native voice is a bit harsh on this film but I see why people will find it opportune to point out certain hypocrisies given the sometimes very strong positions expressed on this blog. The debate however should always be more nuanced and less absolute from all sides but that is what the politics of representation does at times. It inflames, polarises yet rarely resolves. If one focuses on the function of the piece, it largely succeeds in bridging the gap between the UK target audience with an Oxfam project beneficiary with some of the logistics highlighted.

    I don’t know why it is brave of anybody to use unscripted footage in a short ad/film (a common technique), I do not doubt that the dignity of the subject has been preserved and there is definitely no reason to question the integrity of the filmakers intention. I just wish people from a photography heritage (if that is the case) with a moving image camera would actually move the camera itself instead of just holding it still most of the time just looking for the right composition/an interesting visual perspective. You can actually pan, walk with and point the camera whilst moving, maybe even focus pull if you want to keep the camera still, edit combining different movements with the desired pacing. That’s why it is called a “motion picture” in the cinema after all but that is a different discussion all together (although I suspect no less opinionated and just as unresolvable!).

    • Err … Matt C said ‘IF Josie were some bleeding-heart yummy mummy from North London, this wouldn’t work at all’.

      Which according to you equals ‘some lazy judgemental hate filled stereotyping of those mothers.’

      Oh dear.

      Love to see all these unscripted direct marketing TV adverts filmed overseas by charities like Oxfam that you seem to think are ten a penny ….

      • iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher

        Yes. I do not think “bleeding heart yummy mummy” was very nice at all – that is true. A bit a hating going on there in my opinon.

        I was trying to contextualise accusations of your personal hypocrisy away from being placed on the work that I said “succeeds”.

        It would be very unfair for that mud to tarnish the perceptions on the actual product – but you can see that it has. That is a shame for your company and the client in my opinion.

        So in a comment that supportingly states:-

        the accusation of hypocrisy “harsh”;
        “this is far from an ego led award hunting documentary pretending to care about foreigners.”;
        “it largely succeeds in bridging the gap between the UK target audience with an Oxfam project beneficiary with some of the logistics highlighted.”;
        “not doubt that the dignity of the subject has been preserved;”
        “there is definitely no reason to question the integrity of the filmakers intention”

        …you still end up debating a position you have made up in your own mind with a context and interpretation that has nothing to do with the reality that is evidenced by the words that are clearly there for all to see.

        The term “ten a penny” was never used, not implied nor used against Direct TV ads. I said it was “a common technique” in a “short ad/film”. Direct TV ads are a specific genre for a specific demographic on a specific platform and I am sure Oxfam would know the relative effectiveness of using this method more than most – defo more than me.

        I am an ethnic minority in this country yet my ethnicity is still quite a “common” sight in the UK, although they are not “ten a penny” – so relax.

        Your position is more reflective of the need to prop up that ethical glass house of yours than anything I have written. The charge of hypocrisy is one that I think you should openly debate instead of trying to turn the debate against me, because this “harsh” interpretation could risk others having a perception that your ethical stance and your position within the politics of representation can be bought – a true “oh dear” – although I do not personally believe this to be the case.

        That would incredibly unfair on Duckrabbit and the work DR have done to make sure Oxfam got something they can be proud of. It is you who has left that door open for others to walk through and not me as I clearly said: “there is definitely no reason to question the integrity of the filmakers”.

        • Fung Wah Man I’m sorry but I find your response incoherent (wasn’t that why you were banned from posting on David Campbell’s blog, hiding behind anonymity whilst at the same time throwing stones?).

          Robert is entitled to his opinion which (contrary to your comment) Pete (a duckrabbit director) ‘openly debated’ after which Robert came back with no further response.

          Perhaps you are not aware that ‘common’ and ‘ten a penny’ are synonymous with each other?

          ‘If something is ten a penny, it is very common.’


  • A few quick points. Firstly, thanks to Peter for the detailed and open response. It sounds like you have delivered what Oxfam wanted using an approach that they have not used before and you are proud of. I think many would agree ‘it works’ in the way it is intended. That in itself some would argue is enough. It is clear from what you say that the brief you were given in many ways restricted what you chose to produced. It is also clear that this is about raising money from a UK audience and so is pitched at that demographic (and so your point about the ‘similar guide’ – to which I don’t know the answer but is part of the debate).

    I think it would be fair to say then that the representational outcome of the piece mainly resides with Oxfam staff. Having worked in and around INGOs I am reluctant to consider their approval a gold standard by any means. They signed off on a piece that has none of the rights holders or local change agents saying anything or doing anything that demonstrates their capacity to help themselves. I believe this is problematic. The issue of representation has been debated long and hard enough for me (hopefully) not to have to rehash it in detail here (academics like David Campbell and Lilie Chouliaraki do it much better than I). Needless to say, not everyone has to speak all of the time. However, given the imbalance in how the lives of those living in poverty are depicted (dis-empowered, dependent, silent, passive etc.) those of us working in this field, I believe, have a responsibility to contribute towards a re-balancing.

    The time frame of the ad is obviously very restrictive. However, I do think that omitting Esther’s voice was a mistake. Not least because it is unclear why she is being filmed in the first place? One could be harsh and say she is a ‘generic poor person.’ Maybe I am missing something, but I have watched the long version of the film and there is no indication that I can see of Ester’s relationship with Oxfam. How come she gets to have her family’s poverty broadcast to 60 million people in the UK and online? Why is she not benefiting from the irrigation project? We don’t know. However, beyond that, we do not hear from her what it is like to live under such difficult circumstances (just Josie’s amazement ‘that people live like this’) – and I think this opens the ad to accusations of perpetuating negative images of those living in poverty, particularly in some African countries. Ester’s dignity may be preserved, but her agency and voice are not.

    As I said in my original comment, given duckrabbit’s criticism of pieces with similar lack of voice from rights holders I think it is fair to open this up to debate. I am not questioning anyone’s integrity, far from it. Just that we should be very aware of the issues surrounding power relations in the development industry and media, even if it is just for a short TV ad.

    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for the reply. Just a couple of thoughts in response. Firstly it is right to say that our brief was first to tell the story of Jodie’s trip with Oxfam. But certainly there was nothing in that brief about omitting Esther’s voice – so the representational outcome of the ad is something that we at duckrabbit also take responsibility for. It just couldn’t work in the time frame. If we had had a script for her to read then possibly that could have been made to work but, again, we strongly believe that would have wrecked the authenticity of the piece – something that had to be at the heart of the campaign.

      On the issue of using a demographically similar figure to appeal to the target audience – this is a pretty solidly held psychological theory. Human beings do seem to instinctively trust people who look and sound similar to themselves – and it seems very likely that that does matter in the context of fundraising. I’d still like to see data on this but I don’t think there’s any organisation who has a representative and statistically significant body of figures outside of their own fundraising efforts.

      Finally – I do agree that it’s fair to open up and have the debate. Always worth doing.


    • Hi Rob,

      thanks for your important comments which cannot be read as an attack on anyone’s integrity. You raise important issues and we should all be grateful to you for that.

      Thoughtful criticism should help to make things better and as Pete says we have always linked to the critics of our work, which is why I re-tweeted your post on the excellent Rights Exposure, which I also shared with the lovely people from Oxfam we are training this week (they loved your blog)!

      I agree with much of what you write but disagree that Esther’s voice should have been included. I did try a version with her voice in and it felt like complete and utter tokenism to include just a few sentences from her that would tell us almost nothing about her life, just as the few sentences Jodie has tell us almost nothing about her life, so I think in some ways your expectations of what a short TV fundraising advert like this can and cannot do are unrealistic. Certainly I don’t have the talent to include all the things you would want in this advert and tell the story of Jodie’s journey which was what we were contracted to do.

      On the other hand there is the possibility for a campaign to tell a range of stories in different ways, including other voices in more sustained pieces for the web (the kind of work we do at duckrabbit when we have more editorial control). Infact we just finished a film shot in Bangladesh by a Bangladeshi, featuring only Bangladeshi voices. In this instance Oxfam wanted to launch the See For Yourself brand by featuring Jodie. A concept that we liked. I hope now they have proved the concept they will consider broadening out the idea. This is something that we have suggested.

  • In my opinion, fwiw, I think there is a fundamental difference between:

    …..making a carefully considered editorial decision to ‘allow’ a particular voice to be heard over another because it will accurately communicate with the target audience…


    …omitting a particular voice because in your ignorance you failed to hear it.

    The really important ground which these issues inhabit is that murky grey area neatly pinioned between the extremes of black and white which benefit nobody. Sometimes pragmatism, whilst precarious, is a better and more productive option.

More articles from Peter