I’ve seen a lot of advocacy videos – three years ago I helped start the WITNESS Hub and have been scouring the web for creative, innovative and effective advocacy videos ever since.  Throughout, there is one genre of advocacy videos that has always has been the most polarizing: comedy.

Over the past few days I’ve seen and circulated (@WITNESSchris + #video4change) a few advocacy videos that used comedy to engage and motivate the viewers – or at least that seemed to be the intention.  For both of the videos below, there has been some discussion around the efficacy of the video and particularly the appropriateness of the story and content to advance the cause.

Before I write and taint your viewing experience further, here are two videos I’d like you to watch.  Both incorporate comedy and come packaged with some super well known celebrities.  Whilst you watch, I would encourage you to keep these few questions in mind:

  • Who do you think this video is for?
  • What was the key message that came across?
  • Were you asked to do something – to take action?  If so, how were you instructed to act?
  • How did you feel while watching the video?
  • Did the video keep your attention throughout?

Video 1:  “David Arquette and Courteney Cox Get Freaky for OPCC

Description from Funny or Die: Okay that was wrong, but domestic abuse is a serious issue. In the US a woman is battered every 15 seconds and no one is talking. Please visit our Facebook page and lets start talking about it: http://bit.ly/cqO2pu

Organization: Ocean Park Community Center

Request for Action: Go to Facebook and donate.

Video 2:  “No Pressure

Warning: This film contains scenes that some viewers may find distressing.  Not suitable for children.

Description:  Please note that 10:10 took down the original video (and posted a statement about why) and the version above is a copy uploaded elsewhere on YouTube.  The Environment blog of the Guardian has a very good write-up about the video, its history and an interview with some key folks involved.

Common description on YouTube from users that copied the video:  “Whippersnapping climate campaign 10:10 teams up with legendary comic screenwriter Richard Curtis – you know, Blackadder, Four Weddings, Notting Hill, co-founded Comic Relief – and Age of Stupid director Franny Armstrong to proudly present their explosive new mini-movie “No Pressure”. The film stars X-Files’ Gillian Anderson, together with Spurs players past and present – including Peter Crouch, Ledley King and David Ginola – with music donated by Radiohead. Shot on 35mm by a 40-strong professional film crew led by director Dougal Wilson, “No Pressure” celebrates everybody who is actively tackling climate change… by blowing up those are aren’t.”

Organization: 10:10 Global UK

Request for Action: Go to 10:10’s website.

So, Do You Think They Were Effective?

Please add your thoughts below – I’m going to post mine response next week (I like the comments below and hope we’ll get a few more in the next few days!)

Update: 10.15.2010 – Thanks for all of the insightful comments.  Please read my foll0w-up post and keep the discussion going..

6 thoughts on “When an Advocacy Video Misses Its Mark

  1. UGH– I just stopped watching the 10:10 video when two kids blew up into chunks. Eek. Sorry, maybe that's me? Love the script/writing and acting, but was instantly turned off. Maybe kids might giggle and think its funny, and it seems to be modeling positive kid behaviors, all the ones who raise their hands and say "I'm doing this…" so it has that going for it.

    Video 1. Watched this earlier and really scratched my head. Thought the furries were hilarious — absolutely great, but wtf? A bizarre b/w transition to serious David Arquette talking to me in yes, a believable way, about Domestic Violence, but I had no idea why? The transition was so abrupt, and his connection to the cause was undefined. Not that there always needs to be a personal narrative, but it fell flat for me. Positives: 1. Recognizable man addressing the issue 2. The issue front and center on FunnyorDie.

    Otherwise, they both don't work. I highlight two PSAs from India that I are think are fantastic here:

    Thanks for the conversation!

  2. I don't know if its a question of demographics but as a woman in her mid-fifties, and interested in humanitarian and human rights issues, I found both videos widely off target in its attempt to use humour to convey their respective messages.

    I felt the mirthless vulgarity of the first video so discordant to the serious message at the end that it left me feeling distracted and in no mood to donate – which ended up being the main call to action.

    The initial message I got from the second video was that it was a spoof portraying climate change believers as intolerant dangerous zealots peddling their form of fundamentalism under the guise of enlightened environmental concerns. Honestly, I thought this video was produced by right-wing climate-change deniers!! So clearly for me, humour and irony got lost along the way, overpowered by the extreme narrative.

  3. I felt video number 1was actually quite entertaining. and made a good point. Of course it will probably be offensive to some people but as a former victim of domestic violence I feel it was very effective at reaching a younger audience.

    Video number 2 on the other hand, I found very disturbing. The if you don't agree with me you should die mentality is not really anything that I feel should be promoted, especially with humor. One video is plyful, a little adult obviously, and the other is simply disturbing. Very much turned me off to the global climate defenders, even though I am one. YUCK

  4. Hi Chris,

    You probably get a lot of what might be a similar email. I'm a new filmmaker but primarily an artist & have some videos that you may find interesting (I hope). I'm in the new year going to be publishing some private interviews of an activist who is one of the co-founders of the march for the Missing and Murdered Women of Vancouver's downtown east side. I have one called "Homeless" and another called "Crab Park" in the Womens' category. I don't know if you have set your blog up so that comments only appear after you have moderated them or if they just show up. So just in case they just show up I am not including my blog address in this msg. To find the ones that might be of interest you may have to go to the older posts in the womens' category. There is also some posts regarding poverty.

    Have a nice day.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


  5. I actually find Video 1 somewhat funny and I suspect it might be quite effective. Its aligned with the public personalities of the celebs promoting it (a little cooky), and there's a clear distinction between the first half and the second half that avoids the problems of Video 2. To the questions you pose….

    * Who do you think this video is for? A savvy audience of their fans (who will like it)?

    * What was the key message that came across? A little confused; I remember the first half but not the second half.

    * Were you asked to do something – to take action? If so, how were you instructed to act? Asked at the end to connect/donate.

    * How did you feel while watching the video? Bemused, then a little amused, then attentive.

    * Did the video keep your attention throughout? Yes, since there was some suspense

    Video 2 I don't find funny at all, partly because I transpose this video to a bunch of other causes in my head and wonder how what is essentially fascist response to people who disagree (even if played supposedly comedically) is going to be effective particularly for an audience of the un-persuaded

    * Who do you think this video is for? – Not all sure; if its for people who agree (and have a sick sense of humor) they'll maybe laugh, but people who don't agree will say 'Look at those climate people – they're extremists after all' and have been doing so on Twitter/blogs etc.

    * What was the key message that came across? 'People opposed to this should be killed/injured/ostracized' AND/OR less literally: 'This is very serious, more serious than everyone is taking it, serious enough that people are going to die because of climate change, so why not be a little harsher with people who deny it'. With all that I missed the more direct day-to-day message about what I could do differently.

    * Were you asked to do something – to take action? If so, how were you instructed to act? The easy day-to-day options are actually quite well-contained within the story – we're given concrete things we can do by example throughout; and then there's an end-ask; but this is overwhelmed by the stupid story around the message.

    * How did you feel while watching the video? Bemused, then bored, then frustrated.

    * Did the video keep your attention throughout? Part of the problem is its too long; the conceit gets annoying by half way through and only picks up with the ending with Gillian Anderson.

  6. Great post, excited to read your thoughts tomorrow…

    I think video 1 misses the mark entirely. I don't want anything to do with gender-based violence to be associated with being trivial, glamorous or sexy. It made me feel kind of sick when I realized I had been conned at the end, felt manipulated by the comedy vs drama thing.

    Video 2 made a more positive impression. If you believe climate change is an urgent issue, as I do, then the video is very effective in making one feel scared, and the comedy acts as a form of relief. I wasn't turned off by the gore and would actually think hard about how I could do my part.

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