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A response from WaterAid UK


Yesterday we posted a blog from one of our readers about their views on a recent WaterAid UK TV advert. We offered them the chance to respond yesterday evening resceived the following from them.

Our thanks go out to WaterAid for agreeing to respond and put forward their views to widen the debate.

WaterAid helps some of the world’s poorest people gain access to safe water, hygiene education and sanitation, which, as the article correctly states, are essential to end extreme poverty.

As an organization we are committed to the people we serve, and have a strict ethical policy on the procurement and use of images. We are passionate about protecting the dignity of the people we work with, as well as portraying an accurate picture of our work and its effects. We only photograph and film in communities where we work, or are going to work, and ensure that we have the consent of the people in the photographs and that they understand why we are taking images of them, and what they will be used for.

Our advertising allows us the opportunity to raise awareness of the situation, as well as being a means to raise vital funds for our work. The article is right in saying we do need to grab the UK audience’s attention because it is a challenge to find people willing to give £2 a month. But it is a challenge we have to tackle head on if we are to make that difference.

This is why the advert focuses on the very real and urgent need of 884 million people who are living without clean water – showing the need is an essential part of this narrative. It may be shocking, but the reality is shocking and we can’t shy away from showing this if we are to change it.

With our advertising we have to find an instant way to engage with people who are not always aware of the issues that face so many people in the world. We have found that people do react to a simple presentation of the facts: that 4,000 children are dying every day from diarrhoea. But the advert does also show the community building their own wells and pumps, which is a key way in which WaterAid works; helping people to help themselves.

We have to be aware of our audiences and tailor our narrative approach accordingly. We have actually tested other approaches that were less need focused, one just earlier this year, but it drove four times less response than this advert. We have a duty to our supporters to ensure every single penny we spend on advertising makes a good return – normally £4 to every pound spent .

There is an increasing debate over how images of poverty are used, and this is one that WaterAid welcomes, as our aim is to help people to lead a life of dignity, free of poverty.


26/11/10 12:42am - Posted By Simon Moss - Reply to this comment
I think this response raises a really important point - negative images work. I'm stunned that it works this well - but to me that indicates how deeply ingrained these images of need in our attitudes and understanding of poverty.

One reason that this ad may work so well is that it's not JUST negative, it includes the positive at the end, and shows what change can achieve.
+ 26/11/10 6:31am - Posted By Zac Whyte - Reply to this comment
I agree with Simon and the approach that WaterAid UK is taking with their advertising policy. Many people are aware of the poverty afflicting people and need a gentle reminder followed by a "healthy" dose of optimism. Images that can convey both sides of the narrative can feel contrived but like any good script in a movie, they can relay a poignant and powerful message. A healthy child sharing clean water with a younger friend for example, can go a long way to create momentum in a campaign. Or a child cupping clean water with their hands and offering it to an elderly family member. The images and actions of community building are essential to the future of zero-poverty because there is a holistic accessibility that everyone can respond to in their foundations.
26/11/10 6:39am - Posted By Zac Whyte - Reply to this comment
I should also add that WaterAid UK has an opportunity to really shift their thinking here with some creativity. I appreciate their policy but no their bleeding heart approach, it's dead. Think creatively and spare me the big brown eyes approach - I just want to be clear on that.
26/11/10 8:14pm - Posted By Brendan - Reply to this comment
I agree with Zac on this. WaterAid do have a real opportunity here and what I have seen in the past they seemed to be leading the way with creative advertising and not using the bleeding hearts approach - look at the remote control poo back in September they used to raise awareness of sanitation issues. It was very disappointing to see them reverting to the old techniques in that video
26/11/10 8:19pm - Posted By Marc Davies - Reply to this comment
Short-term gain is in ensuring the flow of money to support the charity. Necessary I know, but the process and the images help solidify our attitudes. Yes, the viewer can always dig deeper and learn more from the charity about the problems at hand, but in the time-starved world I occupy, people do not. The charities are not solely to blame for the problem, we need educating, and an educated media too in order to address the balance and make positive change. Charities do a great deal to help. But all I see in my daily life are charities growing in number, employing increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques, in competition with each other, the problems not going away.
26/11/10 10:23pm - Posted By Emily Scale - Reply to this comment
I wasn't that suprised by the response from water aid. Of course they are going to defend the way they make their adverts because it gets the response they need. The guilt trip effect is what we have come to expect from charity adverts which is wrong.
Marc is right in saying we need educating. I am gratful for the GPP in doing this as I wouldn't have seen the advert as a bad thing had it not been for your blogs and therefore written my own.
If the bigger charities started changing the way they made adverts it would also allow the smaller charities to do so and so the more people we can get to protest against this kind of media the better.

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