On Message: A new kind of hunger ad

Meet Miriam to #FeedOurFuture. Via World Food Programme’s Youtube channel.

If you’re an avid movie-goer, you’re likely from one of two camps: can’t miss the previews or skip the previews. For the record, I skip previews because snacks are my number one priority. This fall, the World Food Programme hopes you’ll be in the latter camp, so you don’t miss a new advertisement that debuts in 34 countries over the next eight weeks. The 60-second trailer-style advertisement opens with a young woman, Miriam, who takes the podium to share a new medical discovery to a throng of journalists.

But Miriam tells the audience there is no discovery because she didn’t attend medical school or receive an education. In a chilling voice-over, adult Miriam’s voice transitions to 8-year-old Miriam’s voice and tells the audience that she died of hunger at the age of 8.

Is WFP’s ad a model for a new kind of advocacy ad?

First, an adult African woman is the main character as the spokesperson of her fate. Fictional Miriam Akede is played by Gladys Kyotungire, a real Ugandan woman, who, according to WFP, was selected because she is a strong, striking personality who the public could see as an authentic messenger.

Second, it uses images and multimedia responsibly. It’s an intentional and deliberate move away from the stereotypical hunger portrayals — small black and brown children with fat bellies and snot-filled faces. Sure, development communicators have mostly moved away from blatant “poverty porn” — also known as “development porn” or “famine porn”— but some organizations still fall into the trap. In 2018 alone, we had to endure this, and this.

But of course, many in our community have also taken strides to do better. So what’s the real indicator that organizations are making real efforts to change problematic narratives? To me, it’s about putting money where your mouth is. It’s about making investments in savvy and relevant messaging. The WFP team, led by Communications Director Corinne Woods, worked with advertising legend John Hegarty and The Garage Soho on the creative concept, and the ad was directed by Lynne Ramsay in collaboration with the production company Somesuch & Co.

The ad, which cost WFP $350,000, will reach 34 countries and expand to new markets for WFP. “If you think about ... what the advertising spend would have been in those markets, [you get a sense] of the return,” Woods said.

The ad will broadcast around the world through a collaboration between WFP and the Screen Advertising World Association, a global cinema trade association. In India alone, the ad will be shown on over 2,500 screens. It’s a win for an organization that needs to get pro-bono space but also needs to do it at scale and with weight, Woods said.

The ad, which ends with a call to download WFP’s Share the Meal app, is not a fundraising ad but is meant to bolster the WFP brand, Woods said. Traditionally, WFP has not been a people-facing brand, as it receives a bulk of its funding from governments and corporations, not individuals. Woods said the ad has tremendous potential to draw a new audience for Share the Meal, which is focused on a millennial-giving generation: "It takes a simple truth, an individual and a global truth, and boils it down in a powerful way."

About the author

  • Umuhumuza carine 1

    Carine Umuhumuza

    Carine Umuhumuza is a former associate director of communications at Devex, where she wrote about the latest trends, tips, and insights on media and communications for the global development community. Previously, Carine led digital initiatives at Devex for development agencies, major corporations, NGOs, and social enterprises.

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