During the 2019 Warsaw Fellowship program, Fellows wrote a brief article on the topic of their choosing in response to one or more of the activities/speakers during the program. Pieces written by these fellows represent their individual opinions.
‘I’m a rich, influential, white, middle-aged, heterosexual man. If you can convince me to support your cause, you can convince anybody’ states Marek Dorobisz during a lecture for Humanity in Action Fellows. He is a Creative Director with over 20 years of experience in working on marketing campaigns for top companies both in Poland and abroad to his credit. ‘But first, we need to get one thing straight. All I care about is my family and Apple products. Whether you’re advocating for women, refugees or LGBT+ rights, I don’t give a damn, and neither do other people.’
Dorobisz argues that we can only get 0.5% of people’s attention, which amounts to approximately seven minutes of their daily time. It requires us to simplify the message and use marketing techniques to stand out and combat the information overload.
As controversial as it may seem, there is a lot of truth in Dorobisz’s words. Being an activist deeply passionate about a certain social issue, you can sometimes forget that most people are simply caught up in their own lives. Juggling their own problems, aspirations, work and family, leaves them little time to think about human rights. What’s more, to get people’s attention, activists have to compete with marketers, influencers and even other activists. This makes it even harder to convince people to acquaint themselves with and support the cause.
The following question arises then, how can we make people care about the cause we are dedicated to? Dorobisz argues that we can only get 0.5% of people’s attention, which amounts to approximately seven minutes of their daily time. It requires us to simplify the message and use marketing techniques to stand out and combat the information overload. How do we use such a short amount of time to explain issues that are often very complex? Dorobisz’s advice is that controversy is our friend if we want to have wide coverage and go viral. Political correctness and being afraid of bold statements won’t take us anywhere. According to him, we need to spark the discussion about the social problem we’re trying to address, regardless of whether people are going to be outraged. We can worry about explaining it later.
Some of the online campaigns he sets as an example are indeed controversial. ‘UnFuck the Gulf’ campaign uses the F word to attract viewers’ attention and express people’s frustration in the face of the lack of effectiveness of the measures taken by BP after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. While the ‘Fuck the poor/help the poor’ campaign uses a social experiment where people would ignore the call to donate money for the economically disadvantaged but would be offended by the ‘ fuck the poor’ slogan. This discrepancy is used to convince the viewers to take action and donate.
When asked about their impressions after the lecture, several fellows admitted that they were not in the least shocked by Dorobisz’s initial harsh words. ‘I get that a lot from my dad’ – admitted one of them. ‘In this case, however, I know it’s not to discourage me from activism but to make me get better and more effective at what I do. I believe Dorobisz cares more than he wants to admit.’ We need to get out from our NGO bubble and face the real world, where people don’t necessarily agree with us, on the contrary, some strongly disagree. We need to learn how to communicate with people to make our point. But first, we need to ask ourselves how willing are we to compromise to get our message across and convince people to take action.