Case Studies of Advocacy Journalism

Campaigns of advocacy journalism are made in large numbers every year. Some intended for small-scale issues, others intended for much larger and more pressing issues. Thousands and thousands of different campaigns are initiated each year, though only few gain public traction and are subsequently noticed. This public awareness can be due to many number of factors: the justification of the idea in the campaign, the failure of elements in the campaign itself, or low publicity, and thus no outreach to a large audience. Some campaign failures are doomed to happen. Analysing a successful campaign started by a big corporation compared to one started by a member of the public, I feel, it’s unfair to contrast them against each other. Certainly some campaigns gain support purely by luck, for example an influential member of society with a large public backing may see a particular campaign, share it to his social media, and within days, the campaign has reached a considerable audience. There are aspects however, about different advocacy campaigns that help solidify the ideas presented within them. Without notable elements, however strong the message of the campaign is, the exemption of these important elements will limit its success. I will be looking at two contrasting cases of advocacy journalism, one that was successful, and one that wasn’t. By analysing the elements of these campaigns I will be able to have further clarity and understanding towards what works for a campaign and what doesn’t. This analysis will help enlighten me on any future advocacy campaigns I undertake and enable me to successfully involve an audience towards my work.

Garnier Men ‘Powerlight a village’

Background: Men’s skin care company Garnier Men initiated the ‘Powerlight a village’ campaign and its aim was to help light around 72,000 villages across India that subsist without electricity (Shorty awards, 2013). It started as an online Facebook campaign but quickly spawned into a national phenomenon in India. For Facebook users, every like, comment and share by users contributed an allocated amount of energy towards a village, which was then donated by the Garnier company towards assisting the village. Villages were provided with small solar lights, and solar charging equipment, which was also built by nearby patrons in job-challenged communities (Shorty awards, 2013). The campaign, because of the Garnier Men influence, was initially targeted at men aged 15-35 and many of the celebrities who supported this were primarily male. However due to the wide exposure of the campaign many women subsequently became involved as well.

Strengths: This campaign was so successful and effective for a number of reasons, some influenced by the Garnier Company itself, and others were indirectly influenced by the public. Firstly, for a company like Garnier Men with such power, influence and a large fan base, starting a reputable campaign wasn’t going to be a risky concern. They have over 2 million likes on Facebook and the concept of the campaign was relatively simple and required no effort from the users (Shorty awards, 2013). The campaign had a “feel good”, “I am helping humanity” appeal to it. Giving users the ability to support the campaign just by the ‘click of a mouse’ without any effort was a clever idea- the downfall of supporting many advocacy campaigns is that you have to fill out numerous details, which is a turnoff for some users.

Once the campaign had commenced, it gained the recognition from many celebrities, including high profile cricketers like Rahul Dravid, Ishant Sharma and Kumar Sangakarra. In a cricket-mad city like India, whose residents worship their cricketers, support from these superstars would’ve made the fans curious about this project to say the least. Garnier Men organised a Google+ Hangout with these cricketers, which gave them an opportunity to speak about the ‘Powerlight A Village’ campaign in greater detail (Lighthouse Insights, 2013).

The ‘Powerlight A Village’ campaign was a success and helped power over 800 households in Villages across India: 1,894,769 watts of power were generated online alone from the project. It is an excellent case of a very successful advocacy campaign.

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Invisible Children ‘Kony 2012’

Background: ‘Kony 2012’, was a 30 minute documentary campaign which was created by charity group Invisible Children. The video was aimed at giving recognition to the plight of children in Uganda who were being forced into war and slavery at the hands of the infamous warlord Joseph Kony. It became a social media phenomenon, circulating around the internet vigorously, and within the first week had over 100million views on YouTube. Its slick Hollywood-like production attracted a large audience, with the target market being anyone with a social media presence aged anywhere from 12-50.

Strengths: This film had a high level of professionalism in its production, and this was the main reason for its success. The film also focussed around the narrator’s young son, who was asked questions about scenarios relating to Kony and he responded with his own answers. The film appealed emotionally to the audience, both through its extreme portrayal of death and suffering, and through its description of the young, helpless children. Both these aspects create a huge sense of empathy and emotion from the viewer. It was shared, liked, watched, retweeted on many social media platforms and thus it could be readily globalised.

Weaknesses: However successful the film actually was, it was heavily criticised for many aspects within the video. Its misreported facts and over-simplified the issues surrounding Joesph Kony in Central Africa. Many experts of African affairs condemned it at the time. Another issue with this campaign is that the difficulty of impacting the situation. Although the audience were made aware about Joseph Kony and his army, the video’s main aim was for action to be taken post-release of the film. It would be inadvisable for western countries like Australia and the United States to put time, money and resources into trying to catch such a criminal. Joseph Kony had no significant relation to either country. He has successfully evaded the authorities in his own country for 20 years.

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Rapid success of the film led to increased pressure and heightened media scrutiny on the filmmakers of Invisible Children. A video emerged around 10 days after the release of Kony 2012 showing filmmaker Jason Russell having a psychotic episode on a San Diego street, running naked and muttering nonsensically. This was due to the contrast in success and criticism from the publc in relation to the documentary. This detracted from the success of Kony 2012, itself becoming a viral video.

This was one of the most successful and watched video campaigns of all time, however it is most notorious for being a crazed social media viedo. The videos following were inflated due to support from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, who used the hashtag #Kony2012: the video spread not long after from 66,000 views to over 9 million, an increase of over 13,500% (Kanczula, 2012). The problem with this campaign was it failed to constantly post content after the success of the original film. It did not keep people thinking about the issue, and within a month people had already forgotten about the problem. This was evident when a sequel ‘Kony 2012: Part 2’, was released and only elapsed 2 million views on Youtube, 2% of its predecessor.

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How aspects in these campaigns help inform my own advocacy aspirations?

Through analysing these campaigns I have noticed many aspects that will be suitable for me to use in my future campaigns. For my campaign, ‘Reducing the purchase of corporate dairy products’, I will use a Facebook page to post constant and relevant information. We’ve seen, through the success of the ‘Powerlight a Village’ campaign, just how much of an asset a Facebook page is. It is a great way of easily promoting your campaign, and once people like and follow the campaign page, they are able to interact with any information you share. My aim through Facebook is to set up a system where people can interact in polls created by myself depending on how many independent dairy products they bought that particular week.

Many campaigns stall, due to a reluctance to regularly post relevant and engaging content. A prime example is the Kony 2012 project above. If they continued posting more videos, photos or even news articles relating to events in Central Africa, people would continue to be discussing the issues. The campaign I’m designing will hopefully try to post two or three relevant pieces of information each week, whether it’s a news article, a photo or possibly a poll. I intend to keep consistently updating the page with new information all the time, because it is an issue that needs to keep being circulated. We witnessed three months ago, the big social media presence of the dairy farmer’s crisis, and now it’s been forgotten by most of the public. I hope to change this.

After analysing the channels that these campaigns use, I am confident I know what direction I am taking with my campaign. I know what is effective, and what is ineffective. Through my campaign’s Facebook page, I aim to constantly test people’s thinking about their dairy purchases, and involve the audience into a bigger discussion about an issue that needs addressing.

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References:

  1. Curtis, P. and McCarthy, T. (2012). Kony 2012: what’s the real story?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2012/mar/08/kony-2012-what-s-the-story [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016].
  1. Kanczula, A. (2012). Kony 2012 in numbers. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/apr/20/kony-2012-facts-numbers [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016].
  1. (2016). Kony 2012. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kony_2012#Cover_the_Night [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016].
  1. Duerson, M. (2016). Kony 2012 filmmaker on naked meltdown: ‘It really wasn’t me’. [online] NY Daily News. Available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/kony-2012-filmmaker-naked-meltdown-wasn-article-1.1177514 [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016].
  1. Tharoor, I. (2016). Why You Should Feel Awkward About the ‘Kony2012’ Video | TIME.com. [online] TIME.com. Available at: http://world.time.com/2012/03/08/why-you-should-feel-awkward-about-the-kony2012-video/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016].
  1. com. (2016). Garnier Men PowerLight A Village – The Shorty Awards. [online] Available at: http://shortyawards.com/6th/garnier-men-powerlight-a-village [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016].
  1. (2016). Garnier Men PowerLight A Village. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WROsL8_jy44&list=PLSE6psEzCd92-Ou-RwegqMCKpda59w2Ox [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016].
  2. Lighthouse Insights. (2013). Garnier Men Lights Up Homes With ‘PowerLight A Village’. [online] Available at: http://lighthouseinsights.in/garnier-men-powerlight-a-village-social-media-campaign.html/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2016].
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