What if you were born to different parents?
What if you were born in a different country?
What if you were born at a different time?
A new ad campaign from Save the Children, designed by Swedish advertising agency, Lowe Brindfors, and launched in Sweden asks these very questions through an interactive campaign called Lottery of Life. I took a spin through the many different aspects of this cost-effective campaign.
The billboard images juxtapose life in Sweden and other certain countries (which?). The images are very powerful, with clear themes in each set: child soldiers, natural disasters, conflict and refugees. Each juxtaposed with idyllic Swedish lifestyles of fishing, swimming, jogging and camping. Although I think it is a very effective and visually appealing billboard campaign, it simplifies and decontextualises very complex situations. Reduced to ‘developing’ v. ‘developed’. The main message, as we will see in other aspects of the campaign, is chance. That it is through chance and randomness that you are where you are and who you are.
(images credit: My Modern Met)
The video for this ad campaign takes a new approach to advocacy and fundraising. Flashing images, words and figures of poverty, hunger, conflict and disasters, the narrator of the ad understands the root of my apathy and disinterest in others. I sense that the ad is trying to empathise with me and acknowledges the constant bombardment of brands and products that I am under every day. At its base, most advertising appeals to the self and how we can better ourselves through entertainment, lifestyle, food, fashion and the Cool. Advertisements that seek to do the opposite, activate a sense of kindness, compassion, just cannot compete with products that will heighten one’s sense of cool. Brand Compassion cannot win out against Brand Self. The ad pinpoints the psychological malaise of our lack of compassion and kindness, of our procrastination in helping others. Me. You. The narrator asks you to help the one person you care about the most: you.
The next step is to adopt the beliefs of many Buddhists and Hindus and reincarnate by taking a spin on the lottery of life at their interactive website. Those who have travelled to India, Nepal, Tibet and have a passing knowledge of Buddhism will recognise this wheel for what it is: the Bhavackra, the Wheel of Life. So, I spun the wheel of fortune, and picked a consonant. The next image was of a new born with a hospital ID tag on and the name of the newborn; ‘Brendan Rigby’. So, apparently having died, I was reincarnated as a baby boy in India. I was dissapointed to discover that I had not escaped the cycle of birth, death and rebirth and attained enlightenment.
As well as being shown a very real flash image of the reincarnated baby Brendan, I was also given a list of development statistics about India around literacy, child labour, child marriage, and poverty rates. Appealing to my sense of self-interest in my own new life (?), appeals were made to ‘Help Brendan’, from where I, and others, can make a real donation to Save the Children. Thinking about the paradox of this situation and the possible affects this could have on the space-time continuum (I could hear the Doc warning me), I wanted to find out where my money would go. According to the site,
“Your donation to Save the Children goes a long way. No more than 25% of of our funding may be used for administration and fundraising. Costs at Save the Children Sweden were only 12.9% in 2009. That means 87% could be devoted to long-term and effective change.”
It is a very innovative and appealing ad campaign, but one that bothers me for a number of reasons. First, the reincarnation and appeal to donate and help me/Brendan. Although I was given some stats about the human development of India, I was not given any detailed information about Save the Children’s programs and projects in this country. They provide a very detailed and general overview of Save the Children’s work, but not for the country that I was reincarnated in.
Second, the questions raised about the notion of randomness, birth and life (although not something to be thought about too much). Before spinning the wheel, I was told that the chance of being born in Sweden was 0.08%. A figure which I find very dubious and one which I think was calculated based on Sweden’s population in proportion to the world’s. Does randomness and chance come down to relative proportions? Mathematics was never my strongest subject. My parents were not Swedish, neither were my grandparents, so I think my chances of being born in Sweden were much closer to 0%. The underlying principle of this ad campaign, unfortunately, has got me thinking of randomness and chance.
I am unsure how random or how much chance there was in my birth (in Australia) at a particular time (1983). Truely random processes do not have a memory. Our genetic code has memory. Cards, lottery, dice (unless they are loaded) do not have a memory and therefore, no past that will affect future outcomes. My family and our genetic, physical and cultural history has a complex past and therefore, will affect future outcomes such as where I am born. The chances that I am that boy fishing are not any greater than the chances that I am the child soldier. It is not in my history. So, I find it very difficult to connect to the basic premise of these ads; that where you were born and who you were born to is subject to chance and randomness. That being said, I do like the notion of alternative histories as a way of helping people empathise; to become aware of their own fortunes and feel compassion and kindness for those who do not share their history.
Last, and perhaps most significant and distressing – is this what is has come to? People’s sense of empathy, compassion and generosity are predicted on their level of self-interest. And, this is what we must appeal to? Despite the Budhhist undertones of this campaign, this is not a very Budhhist outlook. I am not sure if this is a direction that advocacy, fundraising and awareness raising should be going in, where it becomes an even more public and more apparent exercise in self gratification. It does not seek to change people’s attitude, but rather reinforce old ones. The more I think on it, the more apparent it becomes that this is a significant shift in advertising and the representation of poverty. Gone is the ‘pornography of poverty’, the images of children, the direct appeal to your sense of compassion. Apparently, you don’t care. The person you care about most is yourself.
This campaign picks up on and gives life to the idea that generosity is an exercise to make us feel better about ourselves. I do not know whether it will be successful, but will be interested to find out.
Have you spun the wheel? What do you make of the campaign and its approach?