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In my last blog I wrote about the use of images in charity advertising and how as an African they tend to not just elicit empathy in me but also anger and disgust.
It is obvious that the use of images negative or not, by charities is not a new strategy as they’ve been used for decades to communicate various development issues and motivate donors to support their cause(s).
Their use is hardly surprising as according to research conducted by Burt and Strongman (2004), “images of children that evoke negative emotions appear to produce more and greater potential donations than those that evoke positive emotions” and “the stronger the negative emotion evoked by an image of a child the greater was the level of stated potential donating.”
However, in my opinion, in aiming to achieve sponsor recruitment by evoking pity, the continued bombardment with images of hunger, poverty, destitution, disease, crime and corruption has served only to reinforce some of the wrong, stereotypical perspectives people in the Global North hold of people in the Global South.
Furthermore, the continued use of these images over such a prolonged period has given the impression that not much has changed - resulting, in my opinion, to more and more people changing channels when these adverts come on. I therefore think that the continued use of images that are negative may end up having the reverse or counter effect on charity fundraising, that is, reduced donations and sponsorship.
Although, charities are not primarily to blame for these inaccurate perceptions, they are however in a position to show the reality of things, something that is often lost in the media.
I believe people have thoroughly become desensitized regarding these issues - with the media religiously portraying in news the grimmest sides of Africa and other developing nations forgetting and not unexpectedly the progress, albeit slow, that’s being made in these places - and as such have overcome the initial shock and pity these adverts aim to evoke.
Source: PLAN UK
Source: SAVE THE CHILDREN
I wish more journalists will own up and admit the problem just as Nicolas Kristof did when he said “The problem is that we in journalism invariably focus on Africa’s wars, poverty and humanitarian disasters, and aid agencies and academics do the same.”
From reviewing websites and adverts from a range of UK based development charities; I’m hard pressed to say negative images are not being used; because they are.
Encouragingly, there seems to be a downward trend in its use compared to say a decade or more ago.
I say this as I have come across some genuinely inspiring adverts that show the problem, charities’ interventions and the effectiveness of these interventions without making me cringe in agony. It’s also worth noting that many charities don’t consistently use negative images, however, this only begs the question why do they resort to negative images at all?
Should the end result of fundraising, that is, raising enough funds and support for development projects today (in the short term), be the primary motivation behind images used in charity advertising? Or should the motivation be how to recruit and maintain long term support for development projects?
In an attempt to understand the motivation behind the use of images in charity advertising from a charity perspective, I have contacted 20 UK charities who are members of BOND (an umbrella body for UK NGOs working in International Development) with annual expenditure ranging from <£100,000 to >£40m.
In my next blog, I’ll share what I learn from these conversations.