Save our Syrians

Three years of war in Syria, and we bystanders are hardened to images of destruction and displacement – while the job of those trying to keep the issue in the spotlight just gets harder.

Save the Children got a bit creative, producing a campaign video about Syria that shows nothing of Syria. It’s had 26 million views within 10 days, and counting.

Why did it work?

The cynical view would be that we can only empathise with something/someone familiar to us – that’s, of course, what Save the Children want to change with the message: just because it’s not happening here, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

It’s not only this hero-as-one-of-us that makes it work, though, as the points (gathered from a discussion among ecampaigning experts) here explain.  An emotional punch, great acting, an attention-grabbing headline (“too vague and I don’t want to click, too specific and I don’t need to click” – while getting it just right can increase clicks 32-fold), something that doesn’t look like a charity/appeal, and of course targeted promotion among the audiences you want to reach.

What’s more, though the scenes are set in Britain, the appeal of the video doesn’t seem to be limited to British (or even white/Western) audiences – STC say the views have been global, suggesting it’s the strategy that works and not (only) the basic human instinct to empathise with one’s own.

It was also purposely created for a ‘global’ audience (hence no embedded link to a campaign/donate site, which would need to be region-specific). One might argue that for marketing purposes, a global audience doesn’t exist – yet the apparent worldwide appeal of the video suggests there might be more of a common humanity out there than we assume.

Whether the video is successful – i.e. actually gets citizens/voters demanding more of their leaders and gets all of us feeling more generous – is another issue. It’s probably too early to measure clickthroughs, e-mail/social media signups, shares, and donations as a result of the video. As part of a broader campaign, though – the on- and offline mobilisation under the withsyria banner – it has no doubt added to the noise in a meaningful way. The message is strong: it doesn’t matter who’s behind the violence – to the victim, the suffering is the same, and it’s bewildering.

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