Development issues — 'sexy' or not?

    Save the Children’s ‘sexy model’ video

    When the cameras began rolling and the young models started taking their places under the bright glare of the artificial light, they were told that the photoshoot was to promote a “visceral, intimate, and sexy new brand.”

    The models were asked to read from placards that contain the words “lust,” “sexy” and “desires.” But in the middle of the shoot, the words changed. From sensual phrases, the topics started focusing on human rights, child mortality and humanitarian support. The “sexy brand” was not about a lingerie line or an apparel brand — it was about “serious” development issues.

    Save the Children’s latest marketing and branding campaign hopes to raise awareness about the world’s more pressing development challenges precisely by acknowledging that these topics may never be “sexy enough” to compel compassion and action in most people, as the models themselves commented in the clip.

    The idea initially sprouted from the success of another viral video produced by the organization’s U.K. branch, which led the lead creative team in New York to start thinking about putting together an NGO campaign that would look nothing like a typical NGO campaign — and thus appeal to people outside of the aid community.

    “We wanted to create a video that would be provocative and [would] elicit emotion,” Mike Amaditz, Save the Children’s creative director, told Devex. “When brainstorming about how to tell the story of mothers and children in crisis, we literally said, ‘How can we get people’s attention around this? It’s such an important issue, but it’s not sexy’.”

    The ad, tagged as the “The most important ‘sexy’ model video ever,” has already been viewed by over two million people a week after it was posted on YouTube.

    During the course of the shoot, Amaditz admitted that it was both a risk and a challenge to see how the models would react once the “serious” statements were flashed for them to read. But the reaction — both in its authenticity and boldness — is what makes the campaign successful despite being initially awkward, he explained, especially in a time where the increase in humanitarian advocacies in a highly-connected world through the Internet poses a threat in the kind of attention (or lack thereof) people will give to a particular issue.

    “Our main goal was to raise awareness, particularly among the millennial audience and savvy social media users, to help spread the word and spark conversation,” the creative director said.

    Is being ‘sexy’ necessary?

    Marketing and brand promotion has gained traction in the international development scene in the last few years, with development groups treading carefully about how they should promote their objectives and advocacies, not just to get donations but also to win the approval and trust of the general public.

    READ: Development NGO rebranding: How to get it right

    A presentation on how to market NGOs published in 2011 by the Institute of International Education, a U.S.-based nonprofit, points out that marketing campaigns for aid groups “should be conversations and not announcements” with a clear goal and target audience in mind.

    In the case of Save the Children, the goal was to give a new perspective in the discussions about children’s rights and situations, veering away from the old “guilty-marketing” approach that nonprofits usually resort to.

    “It’s more about changing the conversation, and the way people are being exposed to and thinking about these issues. Nonprofits have traditionally used ‘sadvertising’ to get attention to their cause,” Amaditz noted, adding that the latter strategy makes it more difficult “for messages to break through in our changing and oversaturated media landscape.”

    The organization’s creative director and brainchild of its latest video campaign further explained that one of the biggest challenges is how to make “people care about [the] issues [and] have them pay attention long enough to hear what you have to say.”

    Save the Children is precisely moving in that direction, even before the latest campaign of the organization’s U.K. branch that launched a similar viral clip about the vulnerabilities of Syrian children due to conflict, with the Australian branch planning to come up with the next innovative video message.

    “Certainly, we plan to challenge the traditional approach to fundraising,” Olivia Zinzan, a spokesperson for Save the Children Australia, told Devex. “Specifically we will be looking at reviewing our brand strategy; looking at our approach to creative campaigns — we should be bold, brave whilst also cost effective; increasingly using an integrated campaign approach across fundraising, brand and advocacy and further exploring the use of digital channels.”

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    About the author

    • Lean Alfred Santos

      Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.

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