This is the sixth post in my attempt to hierarchize media uses according to a utilitarian rubric. My first five posts dealt with James Cameron’s Avatar, Marcel Duchamp’s The Fountain, Homer’s The Odyssey, Ludovico Einaudi’s Primavera, and the Idle No More movement. In this post, I examine the effectiveness of doing promotional videography for a good cause. I’ll use the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) as my example of a good cause, as it’s the top ranked charity in the world by GiveWell, The Life You Can Save, and Giving What We Can.
AMF is a charity that distributes insecticide-treated bed nets across sub-Saharan Africa. It’s just over $5 a net and roughly $2300 to save a life. Working for a charity seems like a great thing to do, but does it actually accomplish much? After all, not that many people will see your work, and the ones that see it, might not donate, and the ones that donate, might just as well have donated to another charity that isn’t drastically less cost-effective. It’s easy enough to see that producing promotional media for a top charity is better than producing promotional media for a weaker charity, but that doesn’t show that one couldn’t do more good by making art or culture jamming or producing promotional media for a political party.
Strength of Impact:
- How many people does the project reach?
- How significantly does it impact the people it reaches?
- How likely are the people it impacts to spread this impact?
- How long lasting is its impact?
- How grave was the issue pre-impact?
It’s important to remember that these answers apply to the resident AMF filmmaker and photographer, not to AMF itself.
The AMF YouTube channel is surprisingly underviewed. Despite hosting 192 videos over a 5-year span, their channel has a grand total of 63,670 views, for an average of 331 per video. Further, most of those views came from the first couple of years. Over the past two years, AMF has managed to crack the 200-view mark about once every 20 videos uploaded. Their 7 Jumbo Jets commercial has just over 1,000 views despite being well-made and featuring voiceover from Alan Rickman. The Become One In A Million ad has 2,700 views despite featuring the US Olympic swim team. Photos and video are also displayed on the AMF website but people watching these have evidently already heard of AMF and are interested enough to research them. Most AMF donors have likely never encountered any of their media. SoI-1 receives a resounding “Low.”
There is no way of knowing what percentage of 7 Jumbo Jets viewers decided to donate. I’d imagine that it’s very low. The percentage of people it impacts likely isn’t very different from the percentage of people a short film impacts, but unlike short films, charity ads urge at least a small minority of their viewers to behave in a specific way. People might watch fiction and have their attitudes changed, but we can’t quite predict their next move. In the case of the charity advertisement, we can expect those that were impacted to go onto the AMF website and donate.
People that are impacted enough to donate are moderately likely to get others in their social circles to donate as well. Recommending charities is a thing people do. Also, if someone really cares about minimizing suffering, they are likely to try persuading people they know. This is again different from how people usually react to fiction. If I loved Avatar, I’m likely to, as a result of having loved the movie, try persuading my friends to watch the movie, but not to, as a result of having loved the movie, try persuading them to value the preservation of the environment.
SoI-4 is difficult to answer because it really depends on the quality of the video. In general, and I think this applies to the 7 Jumbo Jets commercial, I would expect the impact of a charity commercial to be short lasting. Most people persuaded to donate were likely prior donors to other causes. And those that donate to AMF might next time donate to less cost-effective charities in the future. After all, the advertisement in question makes no mention of AMF being the #1 ranked charity in the world. It’s possible to imagine a particularly effective video campaign that manages to permanently convert people to AMF or to effective altruism at large, however.
Quality of Impact:
- How much does it increase the accuracy of people's models of reality?
- How much does it improve people's quality of life?
- How much more likely does it make people to act altruistically toward others?
Most people already have a vague knowledge of there being masses of “people starving in Africa.” The AMF video work I’ve seen is unlikely to significantly boost anyone’s state of knowledge but it is at least educational and somewhat informative. Their videos also show glimpses of life in various African countries that likely challenge Western stereotypes about what those places are like.
Despite only impacting a small percentage of a small pool of people, those that are persuaded are driven to do a lot of good. Donating $100 is already a 23rd of a life. The advertisement does not necessarily improve the donor’s life (although it might), but it does significantly improve the lives of those who would have gone on to die from malaria, hence the decision to answer QoI-2 with a 0 and QoI-3 with a +2. It’s important not to confuse the receiver of donations from the receiver of media messages.
Though producing media for AMF and other good causes has a pretty standard SoI, it has an above average QoI, and thus might be a good way for media producers to do good in the world, if sub-optimal. It may turn out that the pay cut a media producer takes for a good cause accomplishes more than their actual work does.