We are bombarded with ads everyday. You can’t escape them, you can’t avoid them. Try as we might, ads are everywhere and in everything. But, knowing this, are we desensitized to them? By them?
We see so much advertising in our lives that we don’t even know when we’re being influenced by them.
I think World Vision is a wonderful example of this. All my life, I’ve seen World Vision ads play on TV, posters plastered in bus stops and pamphlets in my church. And I believed what they were telling me. People in poor, wretched Africa were suffering and needed our help. I even bought into their 30 Hour Famine campaign (more of a church fellowship thing, but nevertheless, I seriously thought I was helping).
World Vision does this excellent job of generalizing an entire continent. Maybe less so now, but it was something of a forte of theirs. I remember seeing children with deadpan faces, close-ups of eyes screaming sadness and swelled tummies in rickety mud huts. I believed every second of those heart-wrenching moments. They played on my emotions, they played on my own sense of safety and comfort, and they played me. I thought that was ALL of Africa. The instant I heard Africa, I saw those pictures and those videos play in my head.
But if we really look into it, look at World Vision’s programs, money spending and general mission, we may find a few flaws. Things we don’t agree with. Things that could leave deep rooted scars. It’s built on this premise that the Western world is right, that we know the way of the world and we need to defend it. That we need to make sure everyone is afforded the “rights” that we are. But the truth could be a little different.
We may be happy, people may be happy until they’re told that they need something, until they’re told their lacking in some way.
Sure there are some things that we should be concerned about that World Vision strives to work on. Human trafficking, child slavery, world hunger and systemic poverty are some of the issues that they strive to conquer. But at what cost? Human dignity? Ingrained pity to an entire continent of people?
What is this ad telling you? What is it selling you? Because ultimately, World Vision is there to get you to open up your wallets. For a good cause, yes, but how are they getting you to do that? This ad plays on emotions. Anger, sadness, pity, twisted humour and a tinge of hope. It’s clear what they’re asking. “Let’s end child slavery, go to our website, get educated, donate”.
But who is this child? Where are they from? Why choose a person of colour, covered in dirt, in raggety clothes? What is this ad really saying? Where is the context and the information needed to educate? It may not be specific about where they’re referencing to, but that’s the point, people are free to make the assumption. It’s an ad not designed to inform, it’s an ad designed to play you.
And some people will argue that it’s just an ad. Don’t take it seriously. It’s just trying to get you to do something, as all ads do. But we’ve seen the effect of media on people. The hyper-sexualization of women? Escalated and glorification of violence?
If it happens long enough, it can take hold.
Africa is more than just a place of poverty and suffering. Africa is a bountiful continent. It’s geography and demographics change over its vast expanse. From Johannesburg to Egypt to Kenya, Africa is diverse and there is many more ways to capture an audience then a generalization of an entire continent.
Now, I’m not saying World Vision doesn’t do good work, and that sometimes, they’re helping to make the world a better place. But it’s not just the outcome, it’s how you approach it.
So yes, some things shouldn’t be for sale. But it’s not just an ad.
Just a bit of humour.
Is it okay for ads to exploit, even if they’re for a good cause? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.