Advocacy media – one up from the Simpsons?

by Granate Sosnoff on 29th June, 2013

Drugs are bad. You shouldn’t do drugs.

This is what Mr. Mackey, the guidance counselor on the Simpsons, tells Bart Simpson and his classmates.

But it’s not so far from what many a nonprofit imitates in their advocacy.

It’s not pretty but it happens. And because we are who we are it ends up on a bumper sticker, your social media and shared elsewhere.

And as our president said a campaign ago – “we can do better.” 


My friend is the epitome of the tireless, brainy, activist-leader. She’s involved in complex work in Africa investigating and organizing to stop “land grabs.” Land grabs are when financial groups and corporations swoop into (usually) poor countries and buy up or lease large swaths of fertile land for investment not development. These mostly foreign groups are involved in a variety of industries, with a majority focused on export crops – including palm oil for biofuels.

Investors claim to be improving economies and livelihoods for impoverished communities, but investigations into the benefits are negligible. Worse, the projects often cause great harm to the environment, loss of work and food production and displacement to the people already living there.

It is a very troubling global trend impacting Africa particularly hard. Not a brand new issue, the fight against what’s been dubbed a global “land rush” is underway by environmental, land and human rights activists. Unfortunately the work isn’t unified by a single vision and messaging.

SIDEBAR: My friend’s group works on a shoestring budget, even after impressive wins and courageous strategy that put a halt to the largest land grab in South Sudan and stalled out a huge land grab in Tanzania that would have displaced over 170,000 people. They don’t get the kind of funding name brand nonprofits get, even with the notable strides they’ve made. The money seems to go elsewhere.


By chance I stumbled upon a very slick video made by a much, much, larger international group working on land grabs. It shows what appear to be first-world people who suddenly find themselves without homes. Shown with various belongings, like couches on the street and the like, and doing things like brushing their teeth and sleeping (in clip after clip) out-of-doors while a song by Coldplay plays in the background.

Copy appears and states things like: “imagine getting kicked out of your home.”

The problem with the campaign is that it isn’t about the widespread tragedy of poverty and homelessness that occurs in first-world countries every day (like the areas shown in the video) the video is addressing “land grabs” that most often take place in Africa, South America, Papua New Guinea… but no word is said about these places. And nothing points a finger at the corporations and investment groups taking over the land.

There are no answers to who, what, why and where.

The message is: land grabs are bad, you wouldn’t want to be displaced. The secondary message is: aren’t we awesome for being a part of saying it’s bad.

“Drugs are bad, you shouldn’t do drugs.”

And there you go.

I’d like to think we’re more than one up from the Simpsons’ guidance counselor when it comes to this stuff, but sadly others think differently. It’s not a lack of money that is the issue, it’s a lack of creativity and respect for our intelligence.

Just like regular bad advertising.

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