Check out this recent guest post from Jeremy Jeffs, a documentary film maker with 15 years experience of directing films for BBC, Channel 4, National Geographic and PBS.
I’ve spent the last few weeks watching dozens of films made by charities around the world and I’ve noticed that all the really successful films – the ones that go viral and reach MILLIONS of people – all make use of 5 key strategies. So here are five great viral charity campaigns and their films and an outline of the easy to apply strategies that they use.
- Knowing your audience: F-Bombs for Feminism
Much more sweary than you might expect and not strictly a charity film….but it is sort of an activist film.
This film of young girls cursing about gender inequality and generally dropping the F-bomb has resulted in millions of views for activist t-shirt vendors FCH8.com. Although controversial – which helped it gain coverage in newspapers around the world – this video does demonstrate some key ingredients for a successful video. It knows its audience and isn’t afraid to speak to them directly at the risk of offending everyone else; it was designed to go viral and it was bold and brave.
- Leverage off current events: the No More campaign Super Bowl ad
This American charity turned a PR disaster for the NFL into $50 million of free airtime for an excellent PSA.
The NFL was hit with a storm of negative publicity after star player Ray Rice was filmed punching his fiance Janay Palmer unconscious in a lift. Things got worse when he was merely handed a 2 week suspension. And things got even worse when another player, Adrian Peterson was also accused of domestic violence. The NFL has attempted to show that it’s actively against domestic abuse by sponsoring the showing of a TV ad by the No More campaign. It was shown during this year’s Super Bowl to 115 million TV viewers.
The film is a masterpiece of storytelling: it opens with a 911 operator questioning a woman who’s called up for pizza. At first you might think it’s a prank call but then you realise what’s happening and are waiting for the operator to understand too. Then you’re moved by the professional response of the 911 operator and the calm desperation of the woman caller. The final wonderful bit of storytelling is that you’re left wondering if the police get there in time and what happens to the woman.
A TV audience of 114 million and 7.4 million views on YouTube
- Creating a new brand with video: Male Cancer Awareness Campaign –Rhian Touches Herself
A ballsy campaign that kick started a charity’s growth into a hugely successful campaigning and awareness group. All done on a shoe-string.
When founder Patrick Cox had a testicular cancer scare he set up Male Cancer Awareness. Right from the start video was an essential tool for MCAC to reach its audience – the lads’ mag readers. Inspired by adverts and movies – Patrick says that commercials like MoneySuperMarket’s twerking man are “huge” for them – MCAC have used brilliant video to create and grow their brand.
This film was made for under £1000 – they persuaded superstar photographer Rankin to direct and Rhian Sugden to pose for free. Now they run many campaigns all based round video and all costing them very little – their Male Breast Cancer film staring Chris O’Dowd cost £5000 including posters and the website.
Their films are designed to go viral: Patrick says a film MUST be funny, clever or interesting to be shared. His other startling insight is that you can’t rely on building an audience over a couple of weeks – a film has to go viral in 3 days or die. This was a very successful viral charity campaign.
8 million views on YouTube.
- Using humour to re-invigorate a familiar brand: Friends of the Earth –Will & Chloe’s Hot Date.
A steamy short film that made loft insulation sexy and brought Friends of the Earth a whole new audience.
When Friends of the Earth Creative Director, Glen Colegate joined the charity from an ad agency a few years ago, he found that he had a small pot of money to make a film with. He wanted to use it to make something shareable and engaging. He ended up with a film that caused conflict within the organisation – he was reported to the board – and not only generated a huge audience but redefined the way many, much younger, people saw Friends of the Earth. Without a melting iceberg or a temperature graph in sight, this funny little film got millions of people to take notice of energy conservation.
This film shows how well video can work if you have the courage of your convictions, plan to go viral and use celeb ambassadors to spread the word. Glen and his team have gone on to make other videos in this style – the most recent is Love Story in Milk – recycling as you’ve never seen it.
4 million views on YouTube
- Spotting current trends and goingBIG: Save the Children –Most Shocking Second a Day Video.
A clever film that takes the second-a-day phenomenon and amplifies it to bring home the reality of conflict.
Vishnee Sauntoo, Marketing and Communications Manager at Save the Children, was facing a problem: the conflict in Syria had been going on for a year and their campaign had dropped down the news agenda. Plus, whilst their traditional supporters were keen to help, younger people who may not be so interested in foreign affairs or far off conflicts, simply weren’t engaging with the plight of Syria’s children. Working with creative agency, Don’t Panic, Vishnee decided to take a risk and for the first time decided to make a film that used drama, actors and special effects.
Taking their inspiration from the hundreds of second-a-day videos that were flooding YouTube, they decided to show what it might be like if the Syria conflict came to the UK. In short clips, the film shows how the life of one little girl is changed beyond recognition over the course of a year.
The film was backed up with a careful distribution plan of YouTube advertising, paid for social and celebrity ambassador endorsements. But for Vishnee, one of the most important factors in its success was the name – Most Shocking Second a Day Video. It was designed to piggy back off the success of the YouTube phenomenon and make full use of YouTube’s search facility. The alternative name, If Syria Were London, wouldn’t have had the same success.
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