written by Junior Nyemb, director of brand strategy
As kids growing up in Africa, my friends and I used to joke about “being the starving kids of Africa.” While it was funny at the time, we were too young to understand the role those images play in shaping the world’s perception of Africa. Most devastatingly, we couldn’t measure the impact those images, and the messages they sent, would have on us and kids around the world, as they seeped deep into our psyche.
In a desperate attempt to pull on our heartstrings, shock or scare us into action, marketers often focus on negativity, prey on our fears and insecurities, or perpetuate dangerous stereotypes.
Not only does shocking your audience rarely work, as those creating PSAs against tobacco or drunk driving already know, it often misses the opportunity to tell compelling stories that have universal resonance because they speak to a fundamental human truth.
Speaking to people’s aspirations and how your product can help is more powerful than focusing on your customer’s pain. As Claude Hopkins famously said, don't show cavities, show beautiful smiles.
Stories about hope, joy, and resilience are inspiring and therefore more powerful than stories meant to shock or scare us. Shocking us may get you attention, and perhaps be more memorable, but it rarely inspires people to action.
Shockvertising is popular because attention and retention are important metrics in advertising. However, this is another example where turning outcomes into goals deliver short term results with negative long term effects.
EMPATHY-LED MARKETING: The Azira Foundation Case Study
When our agency recently got the opportunity to help craft a brand and create a marketing campaign for a nonprofit organization that provides access to nutrition, education and character development opportunities to children in Uganda, I knew this was my chance not only to set the Azira Foundation on a different course, but also to tell a different story— on behalf of African kids everywhere.
I knew I had to tell a story that advances the cause of the foundation, while honoring the humanity of the children and those championing the cause. I wanted to tell a positive story. One that would have universal resonance because it speaks to a fundamental human truth.
The main objective of this project was to help the foundation raise awareness for their cause and increase annual contribution to meet the foundation’s most pressing needs, and fulfill its loftiest ambitions.
Our main challenge was to figure out how to compel potential donors to give to the cause without playing on the old tired trope of “the poor starving kids of Africa.”
The key insight that informed the solution we came up with was found in the founder’s story.
Micheal Azira, a former professional soccer player who spent most of his career in the MLS with multiple caps representing his country, was once one of the children he is trying to help. Thanks to the love and generosity of a benefactor, he was afforded opportunities that helped him fulfill his dreams. When Micheal returned home and asked his benefactor how he could repay him, he simply challenged Micheal to do the same for another kid.
We realize that this was a story about gratitude, which could have universal resonance because no one is truly self-made. Like Micheal, we all stand on the shoulders of past generations and most of us have been afforded opportunities by people— parents, mentors, caregivers and even strangers— whose love, care and support could only be repaid by paying it forward.
We crafted a campaign around this idea: THE HIGHEST FORM OF GRATITUDE IS PAYING IT FORWARD. We brought it to life through a brand new website and various other touchpoints.
One question remains unanswered. What if showing photos of naked, starving children works in raising funds to feed them? Would it be worth it?
If it was the only way, or even the best way, my answer would probably be yes because what is dignity to a starving kid? But when there’s a better way, my answer is an unequivocal no.
Ultimately, with all their goodwill and great intentions, those NGOs on their humanitarian missions in Africa might have brought us food and medicine, but in the process they stripped us of our humanity.
I look at the children from the Azira foundation, and I see future professional athletes, lawyers, doctors, chefs and social workers. I listen to their stories and I’m inspired by their joy, grit, creativity, and positive outlook on life. I believe these are the stories that inspire action; these are the stories we should tell. Because in the end, raising money is merely a means to enhance the lives of those we seek to serve, and how we raise the money should support that purpose.