Alanna Shaikh's post on AidWatch captures the tension between the need to raise funds and the ethical responsibilities of NGOs not to turn poor people into images of passive victims or to oversimplify the reality of aid work. This is part of an ongoing conversation/debate both in the blogosphere and off-line. I struggle with this issue. Before any analysis or thinking about it, some ads just make me cringe and others make me smile. Sometimes with the same sort of idea. .
This Save the Children ad makes me cringe.
This topsy foundation ad makes me smile.
Academically, I am aware that there are differences in agency and voice and how these two concepts are presented. But my gut reaction to the adverts probably has more to do with the kind of ad market I'm used to, in my case one that has few limits but is generally fairly sophisticated and either elegant or funny (or both) in how messages are conveyed. I wonder to what extent that should be part of the discussion? If people are used to seeing straightforward, simplistic ads for everything else, presenting a complex story in an NGO ad might not be effective. There are NGO ads and behaviour change communication ads in South Africa that get lost (and I imagine aren't all that effective) because they're simplistic and, frankly, amateurish by comparison.
Just for fun: one of the ever-popular Windhoek series of ads from South Africa: