It’s time to vote for the best and worst charity ads of the year.
Is a video featuring Batman the best? Is an ad starring English pop star (and Beyonce duet partner) Ed Sheeran the worst?
The annual contest was started by the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH). Back in 2012, they made a music video spoof of cliched Western charity ads. The people of Norway are freezing, they declare in a video with wintry footage, and Africans must help by bringing radiators to them.
The video went viral with over three million views. And it helped inspire SAIH to start its annual contest: the Radi-Aid Awards, calling out the best and worst charity fundraising videos.
Beathe Øgård, president of SAIH, says the organization was motivated by a concern with how the media and aid organizations portray developing countries. “What we have seen,” she says, “is that they are often showcasing a simplified image that is full of stereotypes and not really representing the reality.”
The award’s goal, Øgård explains, is “to change the way that fundraising campaigns are communicating. And also to engage people in issues of poverty and development.”
The Golden Radiator goes to a video that, among other things, steers clear of guilt and stereotypes. The uncoveted Rusty Radiator prize is given to a video that reinforces stereotypes and fails to give adequate context for people in need.
From now until December 4, you can cast your vote. Here are the nominated videos, along with Øgård’s comments.
Golden Radiator Award Finalists
“Batman” from War Child Holland
This video depicts a young boy spending time with Batman, playing soccer and arm wrestling. It looks pretty ordinary — but then there’s a scene of the boy and his family walking away from a burning town.
Øgård comments, “I think that it shows that children, no matter where they are born or what situation they are in, still have their own imagination, dreaming themselves out of difficult situations.”
“Biggest Unboxing Surprises EVER!!” from Save the Children USA
Three kids from different countries are excited to open a box that seems to hold a toy. But what they find is something quite different — and Øgård likes the way the video makes you think about life for kids in conflict areas. For example, a grinning young boy thinks he’s getting a toy gun but instead the box is full of bullets and a written message: “Conflicts and war have forced nearly 1 in 80 children from their homes, some even onto the front lines to fight.”
This video starts with an aerial image of a coastal village and a voice-over saying, “Welcome to the Third World.” Then a woman begins critiquing the village to make sure it’s the best image to solicit donations: “Make it more jungle-y” and “She’s not supposed to take a taxi. I thought she was supposed to walk to school.” The ad, says Øgård, pokes fun at the use of “negative images to evoke pity.”
“True Freedom” from Rescue: Freedom
Øgård says the video gives a sense of how difficult it is to recover from sexual assault or sexual slavery: “It’s not a quick fix, it’s not just donating a few bucks and this woman will be saved.” She adds, “It’s really important that the main character [is] the hero in her own life, taking charge and fixing her own problems.”
Rusty Radiator Award Nominees
“Ed Sheeran Meets A Little Boy Who Lives On The Streets” from Comic Relief
Ed Sheeran stars in this documentary-style video about his real-life trip to a slum in Liberia. He meets JD, a homeless boy who sleeps on the beach. Sheeran says he and his film team “can’t leave this place without sorting these kids out.” In the end, he offers to pay for JD and his friends to stay in a house.
Øgård comments, “What we find problematic is that the video is more about Ed Sheeran. He is the main figure.” She says Sheeran is acting as a “white savior” and appears to believe “he is fixing the problem by giving [the street children] somewhere to stay, but in fact, it’s not addressing the root causes of why they are sleeping on the street in the first place.”
“Tom Hardy Appeals For You To Donate To Yemen Crisis” from DEC
English actor Tom Hardy urges people to donate to help Yemen at its time of crisis while the video shows montages of starving children.
Øgård says the video, with its stereotypical images, is “just preying on guilt and trying to evoke empathy and make people give as much as possible.”
She adds, “We have seen a lot of examples that it is possible to show the hunger crisis in East Africa and Yemen in a much more constructive way without using those terrible pictures that show nameless people and do not give any context to why this crisis has happened in the first place.”
“Africa Famine Appeal” from DEC
This ad, from the same U.K.-based organization that made the Tom Hardy video, stars Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne, who solicits donations to help those starving in East Africa. As he speaks, the video flashes images of suffering children.
Øgård says that in general, using a celebrity as a spokesperson isn’t advisable. She explains, “I think you should always give the local population a voice to tell their own story. They have inspiring stories that should be told. They can tell them by themselves without a voice-over or celebrity speaking on their behalf.”