The what, why and how of health and development

Bring in the clowns: Sarah Silverman and Charlie Brooker show how comedy and campaigning can go hand in hand

If, like me, you’re an avid observer of goings on in the US sexual and reproductive health rights movement you may relate to the down-hearted feeling I sometimes get after an hour of being absorbed in news from across the pond. Do heavy shoulders, exasperated sighs and a feeling of pure disbelief feel familiar?

That’s the trouble you get when you sign up to so many campaigning non-profit newsletters. Campaigns are there to remind you that something bad is happening somewhere in the world and you should be doing something about it. But with messages as serious as these, it’s hard to stop them becoming boring, which is why it was refreshing to watch this short funny message from US comedian Sarah Silverman about men and reproductive health rights. Click on the link below to hear her ‘public service announcement’ calling for men to be ‘bro-choice’ on women’s rights (unfortunately I can’t seem to embed but make sure you come back to finish reading!).

Be Bro-Choice: A Public Service Announcement from Sarah Silverman from Sarah Silverman

Of course, using comedy to communicate a campaign message is nothing new. Over here in the UK, the annual Comic Relief TV show is probably the most famous, where popular comics show their sketches and spoofs throughout the show, with the occasional tearjerker video message shown in between to remind viewers that they’re not there just to have a laugh. Donations records from this show suggest that this format seems to work. On the night donations from the 2013 show were well over £70m suggesting that the right mix of comedy, celebrity and cause can work a treat.

But one of my favourite uses of comedy has to be the below video message from writer and presenter Charlie Brooker for the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan. A friend showed this to me a long while ago but whenever I’m thinking about effective campaign communications, which happens a lot in my day job, this always springs to mind. It’s a simple video message that kind of breaks all the rules – it is hand held piece to camera filmed in black and white that goes on for over five minutes. Brooker’s rant, which seems to be mostly adlibbed as he gets increasingly wound up about blood cancer, mixes comedy and campaign message at just the right amount. I got in touch with Antony Nolan to see just how good this mix was. Apparently it was successful enough for their website hits to jump from 1000 daily to 35,000 over the five days following the video message. More importantly, 2134 people signed up to the register in the first two days, which the charity says is the same as an entire month’s worth of recruitment. Of these, 35% were young men aged 18-30, their target audience. Not bad for a video that probably cost next to nothing to make.


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