Awareness Campaigns: A Help or a Hindrance?

Awareness Campaigns: A Help or a Hindrance?

When you look at the recent poor taste charity campaign for breast cancer awareness, does the end always justify the marketing means? And where do your donations go?

“Motor boating girls for breast cancer awareness” video. Sorry, the what with the what, now?

Charity awareness campaigns are everywhere: TV, radio, bus posters, online and most prevalently on social networking sites. We have all come across the picture of a sobbing child/injured puppy/amputee soldier with a heart-wrenching story in the caption, inevitably ending with “share/like this to show your respect/that you care/raise awareness etc” in our news feed. It seems that every other week is some sort of “awareness week”, but how much does this stuff actually help?

Most of the campaigns gaining a lot of public interest are exactly the ones everybody already knows about; cancer, war, fluffy bunnies in labs or big cats being poached. I am in no way trying to demean the value of these campaigns – they are all important causes – but they are in no way suffering from a lack of public awareness. Charities like this and this are also examples of worthy causes, but they either cannot afford to market themselves the way that large charities do (which is actually at the cost of donations) or their poster image does not tug at the heartstrings the way big eyed children and heroes of battle do, resulting in a distinct lack of donations. It is also shown in studies that those who “perform a good deed” by sharing a post/liking a photo (read: actually doing nothing at all) then feel justified to cut back in other areas of giving, like donating actual money. 1,000,000,000 likes is not going to buy a meal for poor little [starving child], but the couple of pounds/dollars/rupees you might have otherwise donated could have done.

It is also common in these marketing campaigns for the actual purpose of the cause to be completely lost in the furore of the promotion. A prime example of this, highlighted to me by a fellow Mook, is a recent Breast Cancer campaign in which three guys go around “motor boating” women’s breasts, for a $20 donation per ‘boat. They raised over $2000 for breast cancer, which as a stand alone fact is great, but if they had $2000 to donate in the first place, why was the video even necessary?

It’s normal practice for one to collect donations for making a sacrifice of some sort (running a marathon, bathing in something unpleasant, generally making a fool of oneself) but who is the person really making the sacrifice here? “It’s just a bit of fun!” one may argue, “Where’s the harm?” the harm comes with the portrayal of women as nothing more than “bubbies to be saved” which derides those who suffer with the disease. It is also complete misrepresentation of those statistically most likely to get breast cancer. In the UK alone, 80% of those affected by breast cancer are over 50 – quite unlike the perky young women shown in that video. This now feels to me like flogging a long-dead horse, but what about the objectification of women, by completely strange men, poorly disguised as charitable gesture? That video does not show whether or not these women volunteered to have a man shake his face between their breasts, or if they were approached, and maybe even made to feel, under the duress of “charity” that it would be churlish not to? And when we get down to it, how many who viewed that video seriously thought about the implications of breast cancer afterwards? I bravely scrolled down to the comments section and found numerous comments to the tune of “Corr did you see the t**s on that one?!” Hardly the musings of someone deeply moved by a serious and life-threatening disease.

Breast cancer awareness is not the only cause garnering attention through the sexualisation of women; PETA are well known for their risqué campaigns featuring fashion models declaring their preference for nudity over fur, as well as reducing the benefits of veganism to a boyfriend that can hospitalize a woman with his sexy antics. The excuse given by PETA, and many other organisations touting poor-taste promotions, is that it is ‘free press coverage‘ – something perhaps not to be sneezed at in a world where apparently nothing is free, but the flipside is that the cause itself loses credibility. I am a vegetarian and animal rights advocate, but I have striven to distance myself from the likes of PETA, because in the minds of the general public, they are inextricably associated with extremism, objectification and not actually saving animals.

Charity is important. The world today is full of awful things happening to those who don’t deserve it. But it seems that the phrase “It’s for charity” has become a magical get-out-of-jail free card for anyone with an unscrupulous ulterior motive. Of course I think that people should keep holding inspiring events to raise funds, but I also think that charities – organisations that ought, in my mind at least, to characterize themselves as the epitome of decency – should be subjected to the same scrutiny as everyone else – if something seems tasteless, offensive or inappropriate, the fact that it’s for charity does not change or excuse that.