How do NGOs represent humanitarian issues trough images in advertising? Negative images of developing countries are a common means adopted by Non Governmental Organisations to raise financial support for those countries. However there has been much discussion as to weather such advertising for fundraising campaigns is really authentic and if the images used represent the issue as it is. More and more NGOs turn their backs on the use of negative images, for example of starving children, and adopting new advertising strategies.
When the organisations are trying to raise cash from potential donors there is often a dilemma between using shocking images to raise cash in the short term or whether to focus on the longer term gains with more positive images. This essay focuses on how NGOs are trying to achieve the latter without losing donations. Through a different approach applying the shock effect to a corporate style of advertisements. Will the audience know with these modern fundraising campaigns that for example Africa is not a continent full of sorrow and but will learn more about the wider social historical and geographical context?
Do these campaigns give the desired outcome in the end, which is raising money in a democratic way that empowers the subjects from injustice? (Ed Kashi and the Third Frame: NGOs and Photography Conference Report 2010) “Pictures are powerful” notes Lester and Ross authors of the book “ Images that Injure” (2010). They argue that the publishing of strong images makes economic sense. However economic priorities should not conflict ethics. The fact that images of the starving African child can be used in advertising does not make it ethical, although they are often aesthetically appealing.
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These images are very welcome for their shock effect and raise money in a relatively fast way. “But aesthetics is not ethics” (Lester & Ross 2010, p. 30 ). The authors point out the way media organisations are dealing with their role-related responsibilities. That should recognize their power in creating viewer perception and use that power judiciously by presenting images within a wider context, even in advertising (Lester & Ross 2010, p. 31 ). The negative response to the shock image in fundraising campaigns has been increasing.
According to blogwriter and campaign coordinator of Amnesty International Rob Goddon, we have gone from one disaster in to another and have used images from the stick thin African women and children in atrocity situations to smiling and happy women and children. “The positive images may be easier to stomach and go some way to counter what is perceived as ‘compassion fatigue’(or maybe more accurately ‘Lack of solution fatigue’) but they still fail” (Goddon et al. 2009).
The lack of solution manifests itself in positive images that aim to communicate with integrity land teach the public about historical and geographical context. Showing people in this “new”-dignified way is to avoid reinforcing racial or cultural stereotypes. A contemporary rule in the NGO worlds is avoid using images that look down on people as this can sometimes make the subject appear like a victim. Instead choose images that reflect empowerment. You can see the use of photography clearly in ‘Oxfam’ and ‘Save the children campaigns’ (Oxfam. 2006).
The problem with these positive images is that they are often misrecognized in the situation of distant suffering and the public might think that these people are fine because of the positive images and this wont trigger the need to give money anymore (Chouliaraki n. d. ). To refer back to Goddon’s point, these kinds of images still fail what NGOs are all hoping to achieve; “illustrate the complexity of the lived experience of those they intended to help” (Goddon et al. 2009). In a media landscape where the average consumer gets asked for his attention every minute of the day by the surrounding visual culture it is hard to get seen.
According to Windley (2005) the economics have shifted over the last decade and have changed how businesses operate as well as the expectations of customers. Businesses are adjusting to new ways of relating to their customers and brands are fundamentally important for the success and survival. (Windley 2005, p. 40) NGOs have to play this game just being as tough as the rest of them out there. Although the changing nature of technology has opened up many ways for NGOs to use photography, it hasn’t made it easier to answer the on going question of how to represent a certain issue.
NGOs have to represent themselves and think how they want to brand their message to raise awareness but also to fundraise. Advertising agencies therefore apply the shock-effect in different ways to get the attention of the viewer and instead of for example the hungry African child they use corporate style advertising to provoke emotions of guilt and indignation. One example of shock techniques to represent an issue within the corporate advertisement style, is an awareness campaign for the Campaign Against Landmines. Part of the campaign the agency designed a ketchup packet with a picture of a kids' legs or head.
When you open the packet, you tear off the w body part and ketchup bleeds out. Some people see this advert as a brilliant piece of advertising and others may feel this is too shocking. In New Zeeland this campaign got overwhelmed with some criticism. "Well it is graphic, it is shocking, but so too is the reality - 15-20,000 having that sort of thing happening to them as a result of landmines," says Minister of Disarmament Phil Goff (One news et al. 2006). Some find it hard to swallow to rip of a young boys leg and being confronted with what is going on in other countries.
According to Chouliaraki (2010) this new approach could be identified as “ post humanitarian communication”. “This shift, I argue, should be seen as a contemporary attempt to renew the legitimacy of humanitarian communication – one that abandons universal morality and draws on the resources of the media market in which humanitarian organizations operate today. ” (Chouliaraki 2010). She notes that NGOs are still relying on this style of advertisement to provoke emotions but not in a way to inspire immediate action.
The corporate advertisement style is used in a “ Take it or leave it way” (Goddon et al. 2009). A good example on the use of photography in corporate advertising is the campaign “Its not happening here but now” from Amnesty International in Switzerland. The campaign uses the tagline "It's not happening here but it's happening now" the campaign puts up posters in bus stops and train stations etc, with exact matches of the existing background. It aims to show people what is going on in the world, even if it's not happening in front of them at the bus stop.
The advertising uses shock images to enter in the publics’ everyday lives, entering in the public environment and showing them what is happening in other parts of the world. What Amnesty International does is using photography in a photo realistic way and forces a direct act on humanitarian issues.
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