I recently had to search for non-profit advertisements to display at an event. Sifting through the various advertisements I came across the ‘crying hungry child’ vs. ‘beautiful smiling child’, that are often associated with non-profit advertisements.
However, it was not long before I spotted the pictures, hiding within the images of google search, it was the gem of non-profit advertising, which can only be described as the most ridiculous advertisement of all time.
The advertisement shown above was part of a Unicef Germany campaign raising funds for education in Africa. As if the pictures themselves are not offensive enough the text on the ads can be translated to:
First kid: “I’m waiting for my last day in school, the children in africa still for their first one.”
Second kid: “In africa, many kids would be glad to worry about school”
Third kid: “In africa, kids don’t come to school late, but not at all”
Fourth kid: “Some teachers suck. no teachers sucks even more.”
My initial reaction can be best described as:
1) What the f*ck?????????????????
2) Africa is not a f*cking country.
3) Where in Africa are they talking about?
4) Do they not think children in whatever part of Africa they are talking about go to school?
5) Who at unicef okay’d these ads?????????
After getting over my initial disbelief I rapidly searched google for others as shocked as I was with these advertisements. I came across the following blog posting, that helped ease my sense of isolated anger:
Besides claiming that every single person in “Africa” isn’t educated, and doing so in an extremely patronising way, it is also disturbing that this organisation thinks blackfacing kids with mud (!) equals “relating to african children”. Also, the kids’ statements ignore the existence of millions of african academics and regular people and one again reduces a whole continent to a village of muddy uneducated uncivilized people who need to be educated (probably by any random westerner). This a really sad regression.
Bottom lines of this campaign are: Black = mud = African = uneducated. White = educated. We feel this campaign might do just as much harm as it does any good.
The above post by Mulatto Diaries perfectly summarized my sentiments.
Also found on this blog was a statement from Unicef:
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We agree — these advertisements are not appropriate and run against UNICEF’s mission. They have been dropped from the UNICEF German National Committee’s website and there are no plans to use them in the future. We apologize for any offence caused.
As a UNICEF supporter, you may be interested to know a little more about the German National Committee’s campaign to promote child-friendly schools in six African countries. Launched in late 2004, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the fact that nearly half of all children in Africa lack even primary education.
With funds from private donors, 350 schools have been repaired or newly constructed. In addition, several thousand teachers have been trained and school management improved. In total, around 100,000 children and young people have benefited from this campaign since 2004. The right to education for all children is a prerequisite to develop their full potential and a basis for social and economic development. Again, we apologize for any offense caused’.
While it is great Unicef responded to their critics by pulling the ads, let us keep in mind that the communication/marketing team from Unicef Germany worked with their ad. agency to come up with the concept for this advertisement and then thought it was acceptable to launch alongside a campaign to raise funds for schools in ‘Africa’. It could be overlooked if it was only Unicef creating these highly offensive advertisements, or if these ads were acknowledged as the sad ‘regression’ Mulatto Diaries claims them as. Unfortunatly, what struck me while searching through online advertisements was the trend within the development community in their use of these sort of ‘creative advertisements’. In perhaps an attempt to move away from the sad child vs. happy child ad paradigm, many non-profits have been using advertising agencies to create ‘satirical type’ ads.
Here are a few more examples:
Ads by People in Need- You spend so much money on products why not buy some Africa hapiness?
Ad by War Child Canada- Send weapons to Uganda, no wait don’t, give War Child money to take away weapons from Uganda?
I have spent a great deal of time researching and articulating what I perceive as a continued discourse of development between the sad child, happy child, and satirical ads. However, explaining my findings would be too lengthy. What I want to pose through this blog post is what ideas of the ‘developing world’ and ‘development’ these various advertisements project? Do the three different type of ads project various ideas? How are they similar? How are they different?
When viewing the advertisements and the campaigns they are attached to, how are the following questions answered?
Who must be helped?
Who must do the helping?
What does this help mean?
In my own opinion, while these advertisements may use different images, they all can be understood as answering these questions in the same way. As they are all connected to non-profit organizations that are involved in the business of development, it cannot come as a surprise. Ads are merely a quick glimpse into how confined and restricted our ideas and methods of ‘development’ are. It is not until our notions of development are changed, or until we finally discard development as a viable option that images linked to development discourses are likely to change. Advertisements such as the one by unicef germany, while extremely offensive, may be useful in illustrating just how problematic development practices currently are.