Why it’s time to rethink charity video campaigns

Mike Buonaiuto, Founder and Executive Director of social change agency Shape History, argues that it’s time for the traditional charity video campaign to evolve – here’s how.

Guest Writer | 15th Aug 18
Image shows man behind a video camera. Mike Buonaiuto of social change agency Shape History sees charity video campaigns as facing a much-needed revolution.

Mike Buonaiuto is Founder and Executive Director of social change agency Shape History. Mike is an award-winning Creative Director who’s spent a decade working alongside organisations, brands and charities that put people over profits. His background has always involved building teams that use creative tactics and digital tools that grow movements, fundraise and drive real-world change. Shape History is a vehicle to bring like-minded people together, and to prove that if the model is right, a social enterprise can work to support good causes of any type, with both integrity and a sense of adventure.

Scrolling through Facebook it could seem that simply sharing an emotive narrative is enough to launch a social justice campaign. At Shape History, we believe that a new kind of strategy and storytelling is needed for online campaign success, one which puts audiences in the driving seat and turns them into advocates for your campaign and brand.

Here are five ways charities can make campaign videos that truly get their audience to be active supporters of their cause.


1- Signpost your audience to action, and fast  

While awareness raising is important, without purpose, or a call to action, content just falls behind in the myriad of social noise. This “old” type of video material uses a one-way communication criteria; topicality, relevance, urgency and news-value to gain traction.

Instead, we’ve found that to propel a social change campaign in today’s digital world, two way communication tactics are vital. So your campaign video content should adopt and actively promote actionable targets catered to different target audience’s keenness.


2 – Emote before educating

Get your audience just as excited about your campaign as you are by using emotive content before educating them on how they can create a difference. This is a surefire way to creating genuine social change, rather than forgettable content. Education can then be signposted quickly to a landing page, blog article or facebook integration such as a canvas, with seamless call to action buttons.


3 – The power’s in the crowd

We’re moving away from the traditional ‘influencer’ led campaign to embracing the crowd, and the results tell themselves. Social media platforms are an increasingly democratising space, and campaigns and video content should reflect this shift in power to the crowd by visually displaying participation from a peer supporters at all given moments.

When launching a global healthcare campaign with the NCD Alliance, the help of over 200 healthcare enthusiasts and 1000 twitter micro-influencers worldwide helped us reach around 3 million people worldwide with our campaign message. It wasn’t enough for them to show their support online, it was up to us to then communicate their contributions back out to the community of existing and potential campaign advocates, to incentivise and drive further action.


4 – Remix, remix, remix

Gone are the days of one-way communication. Initiatives which are fuelled by video content should give audiences the opportunity to participate to boost engagement and action, for example by making it simple to remix and repost campaign materials.

When we worked with Greenpeace to tackle the destruction of the Congo rainforests for palm-oil we first had to demonstrate public need for change. To do this we created a campaign which united people around the world with a very geographically-specific issue – by creating a series of group dance style videos or the “Congo Selfie Sway” which, in turn, signposted to and fuelled the #DanceFortheCongo hashtag. The project encouraged members of the public around the world to remix the original song by sharing a video of them raising their hands and swaying their hips for a fantastic cause. The result was thousands online recording and reposting their own versions, driving huge web traffic to donation pages whilst putting their own stamp on a very specific social cause.


5 – Check in with your target audience

When conceiving video content to story-tell your campaigns or organisation’s mission – ensure you’re keeping in mind the current political climate and media landscape, and more importantly your target audience. Remember that Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner? It fell flat because it hoovered up tropes associated with social justice and spewed them up seemingly without having consulted the young people they were trying to reach.

In your own creative process, ensure that diversity of ethnicity, gender, social class and sexuality are kept in mind – whether that’s with focus groups, careful research and consultation with specialists.

It’s also not all about quantitative data informing creative decisions, your process must also consider qualitative insights – as well as current news-value. Why should this story be told now? In what ways is it being told which reflect the current media-landscape?


As non profit communications begin to adopt the ‘smart’ techniques used in viral content, the end aim – of creating change – shouldn’t be neglected, and audiences should be able to respond to content with actionable targets. In the future, video content that truly represents target audiences and gets audiences excited about participating your campaign will help shake up the third sector.

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