Sunday, January 8, 2012

If it's January, it must also be time for...

depressing ads for UNICEF and the ASPCA... *groan*

Lately, the ASPCA has been airing ads trying to get animal lovers to pledge monthly.  They set tearjerking photos of distressed dogs and cats to Sarah McLachlan's or Willie Nelson's music.  On some ads, Ms. McLachlan herself makes a plea to animal lovers to pony up the cash to keep the ASPCA going.  I hate those ads even though I love animals very much.  I feel like they're a cheap shot and they piss me off more than they make me want to reach for my purse.  When I watch those ads, I feel manipulated and emotionally blackmailed... even shamed.

I did actually give some money to rescue organizations a couple of weeks ago.  I love animals and am committed to adopting my dogs from reputable rescues.  I'm sure the ASPCA does good work, but I cringe whenever their ads air.


Not to be outdone by the ASPCA, UNICEF has enlisted Alyssa Milano to beg viewers to give 50 cents a day-- that's two quarters to you and me-- to UNICEF so they can save children in poor countries.

These kinds of dramatic pleas from non-profit organizations have been going on for years.  Everyone from Sally Struthers to Bonnie Franklin have done their part to cajole and shame people into giving money to various charities to save lives.  But Alyssa Milano's ad is really annoying.  She's far from the sex bomb she used to be in the "Save A Buck or Two" ads she used to do.  Now she looks like a mother.

I know she's a UNICEF ambassador and I know UNICEF does good work... but I could do without the melodramatic pleas for donations.

January is also the time when people start thinking about their taxes.  Maybe that's why these ads run more than usual now.  Whatever the reason, this is just another reason to turn off the TV.


The following is an editorial I wrote in 2004.  It is posted on another Web site, but since it correlates to this blog post, I figure I'll repost it here.

I'm betting that those of you who own a television and watch it occasionally have seen the ads for sponsoring a child through organizations like Save the Children, Children International, and Christian Children's Fund. If you haven't yet run across one of these ads, you must be a public television watcher or a fan of premium cable TV. I'll describe one, just the same. 

An old guy, looking very casual, but "worldly" in long pants and a long sleeved, banded collar shirt is shown in a third word hellhole- it's never identified. He tells the sad story of a boy or girl who lives in the hellhole-- of course the child is invariably barefoot, malnourished and plagued by flies. The child usually has big eyes that dominate his or her face, just daring you, the viewer, not to feel sorry for him or her. The old guy tells you a little bit about the child's plight- the kid lives in this horrible slum, and his or her family has no money for food, education, clothing or medicine. You can help the child by agreeing to sponsor him or her; this entails sending about $20 or so a month to provide clothing, food, medicine, and education. In turn, you'll get cards and letters from the child documenting his or her progress. 

In the latest ad, the old guy rhetorically asks viewers "Why haven't you called yet?" Then he starts offering some "excuses" for why you, the viewer, are being so selfish. He suggests, "Maybe you're too busy with your day to day life. But these kids don't have time to wait for when you're ready to make a commitment. 27,000 kids died last night, but a lot more were saved with the help of sponsors." Then he lays on more guilt, reminding you how awful this kid's life is and how he or she desperately needs your help. He says, "You've thought about sponsoring a child when the time is right. Why not now? It's not the 80 cents a day, is it?" He implies that you will be a much better person if you'll just pick up that phone and call. Then the punchline is, "You know what I think it is? I think you just forgot the number-- so here it is." A train passes and the 1-800 number is flashed across the screen for your perusal. 

These ads are all the same. They almost never identify the country where they are being shot-- and they show kids with no spark in their sad, vacant eyes and no smiles on their faces. The kids always look helpless, frightened and depressed, and they always cling to something desperately-- an adult or an inanimate object. The kids always have an anglicized name, too- maybe to make it easier for you to relate to them and their plight. These ads are supposed to make the viewers feel like crap and they often succeed. After all, Christian Children's Fund has been around since 1938. 

Am I the only one who thinks these ads are in poor taste? Yes, I know the guilt approach works... it must, since these organizations have been around for years and they've had the same ad campaign for as long as I can remember. But, for one thing, I have doubts that $20 or so a month is enough money to save the world, one child at a time. Yes, I know that dollars stretch further in other countries than they do in the United States, but who's paying for these commercials to air? Who pays for people like Sally Struthers (Save the Children and Christian Children's Fund) and Walter Coppage (Children International) to pitch the program? What about public relations efforts? Who pays for that? Does that $20 a month really go directly to the child you sponsor? 

I think that while children's charities may be doing wonderful work, they are also selling something. When sponsors send in that $20 a month, they get relief from that guilt that comes from ads like these. That $20 (plus a couple of extra bucks to offset the cost of changing currency) monthly payment feels good because it makes sponsors feel like they're doing something to help save the world. But there are so many people in our own country who need help, and there are so many other ways to be helpful besides just blindly sending money to a charity. I never feel guilty when I see these ads. I spent over two years in a developing country and taught English to children and locals who worked for Save the Children and United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). I won't say that these organizations are scams, but I do think there's a better way to get people to make donations and sponsor children. We never hear about the good things that have happened because of these charities. Sure, the narrator always tells you how your donation will help, but the overall picture is kept grim, hopeless, and helpless. 

As it is now, we must watch these folks, usually has-been actors, peddle their charities-- holding the hands of these kids and leading them around trashy third world villages, begging viewers to help them. How do the kids really feel? Do they know they're being exploited? Do these programs really benefit them or are they more for the consumer? 


  1. If you ask me these idiots should stop doing these commercials and start donating from their OWN hundreds of thousands upon millions of dollars to these charities rather than getting PAID MORE MONEY to do the commercials and stop begging the common American when the economy is on the low end of the monetary teeter-tauter!

  2. Good point, Andrew. I wonder how many of these celebrities do actually donate... and how much they contribute to the causes they advertise.

  3. I just wonder how much they get paid by UNICEF and aspca. It woyld look better if they volunteered their time or just donated whatever large salary they are getting. You do it from the heart.

  4. Alyssa Milano donated $50,000 of her own money and challenged businesses to match it. I'd say that addresses every concern here and proves it isn't always a paid sponsorship that motivates people. :) Faith in humanity, restored.


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