Nonprofit Communications

Video campaigns – must they cater to short attention spans?

Care Canada’s ‘I Am Powerful’ video campaign is a bit unusual in length & pace … for North American audiences this spot might feel too long & too slow.  It could be argued that the same effect & message could be achieved at half or quarter the length.  But it depends on the target audience.  My first assumption was that the target audience would be potential donors to the international development organization CARE.   These donors are most likely in western/northern countries.   This particular spot is for CARE Canada, which means for the most part that their audience is accustomed to media for short attention spans.   At almost three minutes in length and almost slow-motion in pace, wouldn’t this video cause drop-off of their viewers (& potential donors) before the end?

But maybe the pace of the video matches the pace of life of the people in the video.   And if the goal of the spot is to raise awareness about the lives of people in less-wealthy parts of the world, providing a contrast to the hyper-speed media we’re accustomed to is a pretty interesting strategy.

Another longer campaign video about The Girl Effect demonstrates both that length can work, and that simple graphics and simple animation can amplify the power of a message.

The other thing I find interesting about the strategy behind The Girl Effect is that it approaches a weighty, overwhelmingly massive problem without the sad music, girls-murdered-for-wanting-to-learn, forced-marriage-in-childhood, enormity of the issue of gender inequity globally.   The inequities are awful, and unjust beyond measure… but people don’t act when they’re up against what they perceive as bleakness.  And if the goal is to motivate action, then sticking to heavy messaging – which does not result in public action – doesn’t work, and no one wins.    What’s interesting about this campaign is the positive tone, and the bouncy music on topics that are anything but bouncy.    It’s interesting to reflect on this strategy when looking for example at an issue like climate change communication.

As for The Girl Effect, who does the spot target, and what is the intended goal of the message?  Is there enough of a call to action?  They choose to keep the action steps pretty low-profile:  two images at the bottom of the page, with links for policy-makers and for media.

Community storytelling leads to civic participation. How can this inform communication strategies on the big global issues?

It’s curious how that seems to happen:  you hear of something for the first time, and then within a day or two you come across it several times.

Channel one…

I’ve been trying to cull ‘stuff’.  For an information-aholic, that is a painful struggle.  As part of the process, I’m glancing through some journals, hoping to get them out the door.  Last week, I came across a journal article from 2006 (free here) – a broad study looking at how storytelling increases civic participation [by Yong Chan Kim & Sandra Ball-Rokeach].

As a casual observer over the years, it has seemed to me that there are two communication strategies used by environmental groups: lecturing and guilt.  ‘Here’s some scary statistics showing why this is real’ with a call to action like ‘contact your MP’, and/or variations on ‘shouldn’t you be doing something to stop it’.  In my opinion there hasn’t been a sea change in public behaviour toward stopping climate change.  So it’s puzzled me that environmental groups so steadfastly seem to keep trying the same communication strategies.

This storytelling/civic participation study to me seems to offer some really intriguing brainstorming starting-points. Say the challenge is this:  how can organizations seeking public behaviour change on a global problem make a massive issue (one that would necessitate millions/billions of individuals making dramatic behaviour change in order to begin shifting the problem) relevant to the individual who isn’t convinced that their individual efforts will result in any change?  The individual thinks, ‘hey, I might be willing to undertake these big lifestyle inconveniences, this significant change, if I believed my individual effort would for sure lead to some tangible result’.  Saying ‘hey, if every one of us does and that’s billions of people, there’s the tangible result’ isn’t convincing.  It’s an anti-motivator.  We just don’t believe that billions of people are going to … so this big life inconvenience we have gone through will have been for naught. It doesn’t feel worth it.

Channel two…

If you didn’t catch any of Wade Davis’ CBC Radio Massey Lectures, you really must (2009, but rebroadcast last week].  He’s a wonderful writer, and the tales he reads to the audience are enthralling, captivating, engaging stories.  If you can only catch one, I recommend the one that I heard last week, Lecture 4. [CBC charges $ 10 if you want to hear them ($50 with a case), but the audio for Lecture 4 is free here.]

Some right-brain people like David Attenborough learn from facts and numbers.  In this video, he shows viewers the one bit of information that shifted him from being a climate change denier (which he was for a long while) to being a person who accepted what most scientists had been claiming, and who was concerned.   But there are lots and lots of more left-brained people like me who learn best from narrative.  Wade Davis draws us into a sort of spell like remarkable fiction does – his adventures in faraway civilizations allow us to witness current realities in other parts of the world, and he lets us draw our own conclusions.  He tells us of his concerns about climate change at the very end, once we have done some travelling with his glasses on, once we have come to empathize with the characters in his stories.  He draws listeners in with the astonishing skill of the master storyteller, guiding us to feeling wonder, guiding us through discoveries of remote cultures as though we too had climbed off the planes and put on our hiking boots, while suggesting ideas that push us – but gently push us – toward critical thinking here and there.

One of the challenges I think, between Channel one and Channel two above, is how to make the global local.   One other bit from the study I should add: one of the discoveries is that storytelling has a particularly strong link to civic participation among minority ethnic groups (which struck me as a happy coincidence and a useful bit of info for groups like RangiChangi Roots).  How I read the study is that ‘hyper-local geographic communities’ or ‘hyper-focussed ethnic communities’ are most effective for the kinds of storytelling that leads to actual civil society-building and citizen engagement.  These hyper-local / hyper-focussed communities are small enough that people feel that their identity and sense of belonging builds as the storytelling among those communities builds.  So what I’m pondering at the moment is how can we do a better job of using this information – which is fascinating in its potential applications for building community media, intercultural communication and civil society – to the macro, aerial view; to the huge, overwhelming global issues?

Channel three…

I was reminded again today of wanting to write this post, when I read via Twitter somewhere about an upcoming Vancouver event with Alexandra Cousteau July 20th. (cost is the $27 Aquarium admission fee). For context, a quick bit about her and her mission:

She is a globally recognized advocate on water quality, dedicated to advocating the importance of conservation and sustainable management of water resources in order to preserve a healthy planet. Her global initiatives seek to inspire and empower individuals to protect not only the ocean and its inhabitants, but also the human communities that rely on the purity of our freshwater resources.

Here’s the bit that jumped out at me:

Alexandra continues the work of her renowned grandfather Jaques-Yves and father Philippe Cousteau. At 34, she has already mastered the remarkable storytelling tradition handed down to her and has the unique ability to draw audiences into the weighty issues of policy, politics and action.

I’m not sure I’ll get to the Aquarium event, but I’m intrigued about her communication strategies – does she manage to stay away from lecturing/guilt?  How does she integrate storytelling, find a connection for individuals to relate to a huge global issue, and to what extent does she ‘lightbulb’ people so that when they leave, they think they are very likely to respond to her call to action?  All of this of course completely depends on who her audience is.  I’m assuming it’s the general public.  If it’s aimed mainly at kids, the takeaway for me personally might not have so much value.  Or if it’s an audience with a big number of people who’d likely identify themselves as environmentalists, her message will probably be quite different.  Whether or not I go, at some stage I’ll do a bit of a ‘dig’ to see if I can find anything about Cousteau communication strategies and the use of storytelling.