Slacktivism, Feminism & why 2014 was a Good Year for Good Cause Videos

Sarah Wood shares her thoughts on one of the hottest trends in advertising in 2014.

When you talk about the most successful video campaign of the year, there’s a clear winner with the Ice Bucket Challenge. Millions were drenched with ice cold water across the globe (check out my own personal favourites – Bill Gates, Benedict Cumberbatch and Unruly’s Eddie Tomalin) to raise awareness for the neurodegenerative disease ALS. The figures are staggering: millions of video uploads, a billion views on YouTube and 10 billion views on Facebook.

However, it certainly wasn’t the only campaign of note when it comes to promoting social good through social video in 2014. Donations were up 270% on the previous year for Giving Tuesday (an annual campaign which encourages giving on the Tuesday after the US Thanksgiving holiday), but from a video marketing perspective, I’d argue that 2014 was the year of social video for social good. It was the year when brands used video campaigns to promote good causes in record numbers, with a third of 2014’s top 20 video ads promoting social causes.

Campaigns from Save the Children and Coordown both made it into the top 20 most shared ads. As a mum, I was hugely moved by both campaigns. Coordown’s Dear Future Mom released in conjunction with World Down Syndrome Day, has attracted 812,533 shares and sets out to show that kids with Down Syndrome can lead normal, happy lives. It’s a heart-breaking video.

Save the Children UK’s Most Shocking Second A Day, created by UK agency Don’t Panic, has been shared almost 1 million times so far – an incredible performance from a UK charity, with a video that brings the horrors of the Syrian Civil War close to home by imagining what war in the UK would look like to a UK child. Poppy displays are a powerful way of remembering the horror and futility of wars past, but if you want a powerful reminder of the horrors of wars present, you should watch this video now.

Activia’s smash-hit trackvert La La La, run in conjunction with the World Food Programme, became the most shared ad ever this year, ending VW The Force’s long reign at the top and nor was Activia the only brand to team up with a charity for their ad campaign.

You only have to look at two of the UK’s most successful Christmas ads to spot the pattern. John Lewis is donating profits from its Monty the Penguin merchandise to Barnardo’s and the WWF, while Sainsbury’s has partnered with the Royal British Legion on their “Christmas Is for Sharing” campaign. This is more than a one-off donation – Sainsbury’s has been supporting the RBL for 20 years, which is important as there needs to be a genuine, authentic connection between a brand and its chosen social cause, otherwise the connection can feel like a cynical move in the eyes of consumers.

One particular social cause that took off this year was “femvertising,” where brands have used advertising to reflect and amplify their consumers’ demands for more equal, less stereotyped attitudes towards women.

Feminism as a movement had a watershed year in 2014 – just think of some of the stories in the press – not just “KarmaGate” but Apple and Facebook announcing their plans to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs in order to focus on their careers; the furore over feminist T-Shirts; the #banbossy campaign; Entrepreneur Barbie; female scientists from LEGO, 10 hours Walking in New York as a Woman(this one really opened the eyes of my husband) and, of course, Emma Watson’s impassioned speech at the UN. The fact these stories are making headlines and driving so much conversation speaks to a wave of New Feminism that has washed across social media this year, exposing both casual feminism and ugly misogyny alike.

Branded videos have been at the centre of the New Feminism debate. Dove may have started the ball rolling back in 2006 with its “Real Beauty” campaign, but in 2014, in particular, there’s been a noticeable shift in the way brands market to women. Leading the way was Always’ #LikeAGirl ad, showing what young girls really think it means to act “like a girl”. Whether it was sassy little girls explaining equality (FCKH8), or hair products breaking down gender stereotypes (#ShineStrong – Pantene), this was the year that smart, socially-enlightened brands marketed with women and for women rather than at women.

When it’s authentic, the trend of brands supporting social causes can be seen as part of a macro-shift in business towards brands taking more responsibility for social issues (caveat: this only works where they have permission to play!), in line with ideas expressed by David Jones in Who Cares Wins: Why Good Business is Better Business (2011). Jones argues that the most successful leaders and businesses in the future will be those who are most socially responsible. In other words, brands that are driven by a higher purpose beyond the profit imperative will win in a digital age of consumer transparency and social media. As governments increasingly feel irrelevant and removed from reality in the eyes of many, it will be interesting to see whether and how brands and businesses step in and stand up for the values and causes their customers espouse.

After all, there’s no need for a ballot box to punish a brand behaving badly and we don’t have to wait 4 years to reward a brand by parting with our hard-earned cash. I’ve been a loyal customer of Dove deodorant ever since I saw Dove Evolution back in 2006. Why? Because I believe in raising female self-esteem and I believe that Dove does too.

And one final question to mull over at the end of the year, as we assess the year that’s gone and make plans for 2015: do videos for social good actually make a difference to the causes they support? After all, just because someone clicked on a charity ad does that translate to real world giving or IRL activism and advocacy? Many of us are familiar with the term “Slacktivism” – a pejorative phrase that describes “feel-good” measures, often a show of support on social media but one that has no real effect other than making the person clicking “Like” take satisfaction from feeling they’ve contributed.

For sure, Kony 2012 resulted in the US Congress authorising a $5m reward for information leading to Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony’s arrest. And this summer’s Ice Bucket Challenge raised more than $115 million in donations; providing anecdotal proof points to dispel the myth that supporting good causes on social media doesn’t deliver real world results. However, for a more data-driven proof point on this matter, I highly recommend research from Unruly’s Product Director Cat Jones, conducted as part of her MsC dissertation at the University of London. Using Unruly’s comprehensive video-sharing dataset, Cat uses big data to demonstrate that “slacktivism” is a myth in terms of social video sharing, and that when people watch and engage with cause-related social videos they do go on to act.

Cat’s paper finds that sharing videos from charities or social / political organisations is not a ‘slacktivist’ action. The stronger viewers’ motivations are to share a video to help a cause, the stronger their motivations are to find out more afterwards. It also finds that social videos in the Good Cause sector get shared for the same reasons as other sectors, however, altruistic sharing tends to be associated with stronger feelings of happiness, warmth, inspiration, awe, knowledge, pride, shock and sadness than non-altruistic sharing.

Watch the news on TV this Christmas and it may not feel like a season of peace, but watch the online videos that we’re sharing with each other and you’ll see a wave of good will that will hopefully outlast the festive season. As for 2015, it’ll certainly be interesting to see which brand marketers continue to engage with good causes after the Christmas break and how they “keep it real”.

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