Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
So far, in my last two blogs I have written about images used in charity advertising. I expressed the opinion that charities seem to use negative images as these elicit sympathy from their target audience.
In an attempt to understand the motivations behind the persistent use of these kinds of images, I contacted some charity workers to get their perspective. As was expected, not all those contacted responded. However, those who did were very sincere in their response and in admitting the challenges encountered when creating fundraising communications.
When asked if the use of negative images in communications is sustainable, the majority were of the opinion that it is not the best form of advertising because it’s exploitative. They felt that although it works in the short term it undermines people’s dignity and reinforces the notion that nothing has changed.
Some quotes from responses include;
“It’s wrong to use exploitative images.”
“Charities do it because it works as guilt can motivate people and people are strongly motivated by injustice.”
“We see ‘poverty porn’ all the time and we become immune to it, so some charities’ adverts are getting more shocking and hard-hitting in response.”
“The only reason why any charity will use ‘strong images’ is to demonstrate the very real need and because they create the genuine emotional connection needed to generate donations and support.”
Unicef UK: Nimatu Jollah lies on a bed in the hospital in Sierra Leone where she received treatment for malnutrition last year.
“Once big charities go down the poverty porn/devaluing charity route, it’s hard for others not to follow."
Some were of the view that although showing ‘need’ is important, it is more important to achieve a balance, by demonstrating ‘need’ without undermining dignity and showing the positive impact charity interventions are having. By this donors and potential donors are better motivated to not just give in the short term but be part of the solution long term:
“We work in partnership with the poor people we represent – not for them – and our communications must represent this equal power dynamic.”
“It’s important to me to show joy and suffering alongside each other- as this is what gives us hope and inspires people to give.” “If a charity cannot achieve this in its communications it makes me wonder if they are having any impact on ground.”
On whether their adverts represented a true picture of the people in them, some were quick to say yes while others admitted this is something they struggle with;
“We sometimes fall either side of overly positive and overly negative.” And “we must acknowledge the limitations of photography/filmic/textual representations in that they cannot reproduce some of the subtleties of real life.”
Following from this I asked what they and/ or their organisations are doing to minimise and/ or put a stop to this kind of advertising?
From responses received, there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive sector-wide effort to curb this kind of advertising, probably because as already mentioned it ‘works’. Some said they ensured that images used in their adverts and other communications are authentic representations of the people and communities they work with.
“We don’t hold other charities to account but, by being a responsible marketer, we hope to create an environment in which exploitation of the poor (and manipulation of people in the UK) is not accepted.”
Others said they adhered to Bond's code of conduct, while one said “I can’t really answer as I don’t really agree with the notion of ‘poverty porn’.” “I think it is a term created by people who use this as an excuse not to support an organisation.”
One cannot fail to note that images associated with extreme poverty, conflicts and diseases are not positive. However, the focus here is for charities to try and achieve a balance between demonstrating need and showing their effectiveness on ground.
In my opinion, the Concord's code of conduct on images and messages 2006 provides outstanding principles to guide charities in creating and executing their communications; and is worth having a look at.
As wrote in an earlier blog for the Global Poverty Project,
"The challenge for anti-poverty agencies is to effectively appeal to human sympathies in order to draw attention to the plight of the poor, while ensuring their subjects are conveyed as a dignified people determined to see an end to endemic poverty."
For this reason the Global Poverty project will continue to work tirelessly with the general public to educate and challenge concepts and actions that are adverse to the very inspiring and commendable efforts of charities working in development.