MSF video: An ad too far?

The UK branch of MSF - Doctors without Borders - launched a new advertisement campaign in the movie theaters. On their website, they asked for feedback, claiming "It is our attempt to make a deliberate move away from some traditional charity advertising which can tend to focus on images of starving children."

The video stirred up quite a bit of noise on the "aid watch dog" blogs: Aid Watch and Aid Thoughts. Also the esteemed Philantrophy gave a pitch (Update: see further below for the other "usual suspects" joining in ;-) ). While the commentary has now been disabled on the MSF website (I wonder why, Mr and Mrs MSF, as you "would really appreciate your feedback on the ad." - Update: this is incorrect.. apparently there were never any comments possible on the MSF website.. Confusing.. - see updates below and Marc's comments), the discussion continues on Osocio. The MSF web editor also joined the discussion on DuckRabbit...

By coincidence, just a few days ago, I published a post about an effective UNICEF ad campaign, and praised MSF for their simplicity of this ad. As usual, BBC picked up on the trend we set on The Road (eh), and published a whole picture series about "Branding" humanitarian aid.

So, the discussion of publicity around humanitarian aid is on... Let's have a look at this (in)famous MSF video then:

My train of thoughts were (in sequence):

  • clearly studio work mixing a faked video image with the sound of a child crying and artificial gunfire. Update: a friend of a friend ran the audio of the video through a sound analyser. The cries of the child were cut and remixed. Obvious for the maximum effect. The sound of the guns was mixed on top of it. Need I to say more?
  • Then I saw the comments of the MSF web editor saying the child cries were real.
  • I read the rest of the comments, where it was clear that it was unclear: no answer if the stuff was all cut and mixed by an over-eager "UK's leading advertising agencies, McCann Erickson" (dixit MSF UK). How much was faked, and how much was for real? No answer from MSF, to me, means, bad news: faked.
  • I thought.. well, if an ad stirs up that much noise, it must be an effective ad...
  • Soon after that, the thought: "Hmmm, nope.. That is not right" in how far does it differ from the cheap pictures of starving children, so often featured in ad campaigns?
  • then again I thought back on what MSF UK said on their website: "It is our attempt to make a deliberate move away from some traditional charity advertising which can tend to focus on images of starving children.".. Beh.. clearly worked: they moved away from the images of starving children! They broadcasted the sound of a starving child. Cheap.
  • Then my ethics started to work... What if it was my child being recorded while in real pain, and mounted in a faked video, shown to millions? No matter for what reason, humanitarian or not. I would not take it that my child's misery is commercialized, publicized, vulgarized. So why would I accept someone else's child is?
My verdict: MSF: you went an ad too far. Realism is one thing. Faking circumstances just for the effect to shock, is another. And publicly claiming "the child's cries are real, but I don't see what the point is", clearly shows you guys indeed have no freaking clue what the point is. Which makes me then think: who are these people who claim to be humanitarians if they don't see the human aspect of it all?

My verdict: humanitarian ad trash.


Update 1:
Aidworkers joining the discussion: Aidworker Daily and Martyns in Africa, In Development, Humanitarian Relief.

Update 2:
I wrote to Marc Dubois, Executive Director MSF UK this morning:

As an aidworker, as a humanitarian, and as a human being, I deplore MSF UK's poor judgement and even worse, poor taste in a airing a clearly faked and sensationalistic video "The Boy".

I regret even more MSF's handling of the communications around this video:
- putting it on your website as "our attempt to make a deliberate move away from some traditional charity advertising which can tend to focus on images of starving children."..
Well, you did better than showing images of starving children. You aired the sound of it.
- Asking for feedback and then disabling comments (and deleting them) from your website
- Half-assed "I don't speak on behalf of MSF" of your web editor on different blogs, with a clear poor judgement in responses, and not seeing "the point".

What will be next? Will you broadcast live the image of a child dying? "MSF-Aid-Cam: See Children Die Unless You Donate Now"

Poor quality, poor judgement of an organisation who was judged by many to be 'different'... And up and above, I take offense of the hypocrisy of your communications. Don't ask for feedback unless if you want it. Don't claim to be un-sensational if you are.

I welcome your response which will be published on the web via



Update 3:
I got some offline comments via Email questioning if I was not too hard on the MSF webeditor, who clearly stated to 'act on his own behalf, and not representing MSF' on different blogs...
My answer: I don't want to target anyone in particular and certainly not personally. However, I think it is a bit of poor judgement if someone enters a discussion clearly stating they work for the organisation, and expecting not to be seen as "representing that organisation" as such... If I am in the field, wearing a Tshirt of an organisation, and speak to the press, I can expect the 'general public' to link my comments to my organisation...
I also want, from my personal perspective, add that sometimes, as aidworkers, we are in a bit of a bind as to up to where we are representing (and are loyal to) ourselves, our values, our beliefs and up to what point the organisation's. Up to what point we should speak up or be quiet if we don't agree. Certainly if there is a situation which is not right, or goes against our convictions... A particularly tricky point if it involves media or any other public means of communicating.

Update 4:
Quite a bit of offline comments going around via Email. A correction/adjustment is in place: Apparently there were never comments enabled on the MSF UK webpage with the video. Even though the blog on which MSF asks to leave comments says: "You can give your comment here on Osocio or on this page at the MSF website." Beh...
It seems originally MSF requested for feedback by Email to their head of communications directly, but the pure volume of response was too high. See also the comments on this blog.
Anyways, if you want to call or email anyone at MSF UK, you can find all their details here.
But let's not diverge from the main topic of the discussion: "Did this ad go too far or not?"

Update 5:
Paul and Amanda @feucontinu, Transitionland and Stop Genocide also joined the discussion on their blogs.

Read the full post...

Warning! Swine Flu flu prevention leaves white spot on your face

A(H1N1) Swine flu prevention leaves white spots on your face - funny

Picture courtesy of my colleague aidworker Paul, blogging at Head Down, Eyes Open. Even though Paul was much more serious about H1N1 in his post. (Sorry Paul...!)

Read the full post...

Picture of the Day: MSF in a message

I previously posted how a UNICEF ad gave a clear, simple and hard message. This -almost blank- ad for Medecins Sans Frontieres or Doctors Without borders beats anything on simplicity.

More Pictures of the Day on The Road

Picture courtesy La Cocina Creativa and Agencia McCann-Erickson.

Read the full post...

Picks of the Week: War jewelry, Seychelles and Africa...

sun behind the clouds
It has been a while since I published my "Picks" or "Links" of the week, so time to catch up:

  • And even lighter: Gado is one of the true great African cartoonists.
  • The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organisations at Harvard University now features its own blog with some in depth coverage of international justice and human rights.
  • It is great to see blogs, as a social media advocacy tool, to go mainstream. My list of nonprofit blogs became so large I could not feature them on The Road anymore, so I collected them on a Delicious bookmark list. I tagged them differently for organisations, individuals, magazines, teams and projects.
    A collection of the latest articles of these blogs, you find on
  • One example of a UN agency using a blog to propagate the work they do is the UN World Food Programme's Logistics blog. UNDP does similar on their blog too.
  • During our holiday in the Seychelles, we got bedazzled by the beauty and diversity of its nature. WildLife Direct, which hosts dozens of nature conservation blogs, now features a project blog of Nature Seychelles, a local NGO. Get bedazzled too...
  • For some truly inspirational pictures, try Open Photo...
  • Something special to end: Lovetta Conto, a 16 year old war survivor combines high fashion with heartfelt compassion. She makes gorgeous jewelry from bullets used in the Liberian civil war that affected her directly and uses the profits to help rescue other displaced young people. She was a finalist for the International Children's Peace Prize, given by Desmond Tutu at the Hague in December. Check out Akawell...

More Picks of the Week on The Road.

Read the full post...

Let me introduce to you... Ahmed, the dead terrorist

You might be surprised I post this video. Humour about terrorism, blabla. Then again, where I come from, we make jokes about anything and everything. The more sarcastic, the better. Guess it is our way of "dealing with stuff".

So here,.... Ahmed The Dead Terrorist.

Politically far from correct, but ever so funny...

Read the full post...

Picture of the Day: Unicef in a message

UNICEF Mickey Mouse advertisement Los suenos de los ninos no pueden morir - Children's dreams can not die

"Los sueños de los niños no pueden morir" means "Children's dreams can not die"
This UNICEF ad is so simple and powerful, it hurts.

More Pictures of the Day on The Road

Picture courtesy Ads of the World and advertising agency OUT (Santiago Chile)

Read the full post...

World Hunger: Disaster in the making (again)...

Just watching the articles on AidNews flowing by, it looks like hunger in the world is still here, and it is not getting better. The alarm bells are ringing everywhere:

Kenya drought worsens hunger risk
Number of Kenyans in need of food aid jumps by over 50%
Hunger on the rise in Mexico as recession bites
Cameroon ups maize output to avert food crisis
Uganda faces a food shortage crisis
Nigeria may face food crisis
Water crisis to hit Asian food
India to import food amid drought
Hunger warning for South Sudan now at pre-famine condition.
Drought looming in Syria, 250,000 people at risk
Millions in Nepal facing hunger.

And that is just in the past days, not including those affected by violence or conflicts.
We are in for a rough couple of months to come...

Picture courtesy A.Chicheri (WFP)

Read the full post...

10 seconds of sunset over Lake Bolsena

A snapshot of tonight's sunset over Lake Bolsena, about two hours North of Rome. The wind settled, the clouds disappeared, and lake became quiet.

Read the full post...

Obama: H1N1 prevention? Yes, we can!

Obama Swine Flu H1N1 cartoon

Picture courtesy of my colleague aidworker Paul, blogging at Head Down, Eyes Open. Even though Paul was much more serious about H1N1 in his post. (Sorry Paul...!)

Read the full post...

Me? I did not do a thing !

Mr H - our French bulldog pup in Tuscany

We keep on moving on The Road. Last week, we had a long weekend here in Rome, and I took the opportunity of doing some major clean-up and re-organisation of my blog network.

- I checked all links I have in the aid resources, aid worker blogs and aid news widgets in the side column to see if they were still valid.
- As the list has expanded to over 400 links, it became impossible to manage manually, so I extracted all nonprofit blogs (excluding those from aidworkers) and put them in a dedicated delicious folder.
- While I was at it, I made an aggregator of these nonprofit blogs. Check out NonProfit Blogs, and linked a Twitter account to it: @NonProfitBlogs

- As I scanned over 200 of these blogs within 24 hours, I got a good view as to what's up in the nonprofit blogging world. And I wrote a post about my findings on BlogTips.
- I also turfed all these blogs for their pageranks, and... (yes, you guessed it!)... wrote a post about it. :-)
- One of the tools I use extensively to aggregate RSS feed, NewsGator is de-activating all free online tools. So last weekend, I have been slaving, sweating, cursing, etc.. to redo the whole mechanism behind my blog network so that all feeds to AidNews, AidBlogs, Change Thru Info can survive. We're not done yet, there are still several glitches, but we're almost there.
- Oh, I also added several new links to the aid blogs... Time also to welcome Tales from the hood (Thailand) and Jon from Aid Worker Daily onto the list of AidBlogs... Jon recently joined our team at work, so that qualifies him again as an aidworker...! ;-)
- I also finalized the series about "selecting a blog platform", which I started to publish this week.
- Oh, one more thing: the poll I ran last week showed 70% of you liked the new layout of The Road.. Thanks!
- Oh, oh... one very last thing: Our blog's social project, allocating micro finance loans all over the world, passed the $13,000 mark, like it was nothing.. Do check our most recent loans, to get a feel what this project is all about. We have now 23 team members in our group, and allocated 282 loans, since past November... Pretty cool, no?

Alright, back to work now!

Read the full post...

More about challenging landing strips

In addition to my posts The World's 10 Most Dangerous air strips and There are moments you just have to trust the pilot, I think we should add this airstrip: Juneau Alaska (picture taken on the single clear day of a year probably)... Mountains, ice cold water, and a runway with a definite end...

Juneau Alaska airstrip

Picture courtesy Randy's blog

Read the full post...

Today is World Humanitarian Day

UN flag recovered from Canal hotel bombing

With a suicide car bomb killing two UN staff yesterday, a UN compound attacked in Somalia over the weekend, an aidworker killed during a mugging in Zanzibar and an NGO worker for a human rights NGO killed in Chechnya last week, we celebrate World Humanitarian Day today.

"Celebrate" is the wrong word... "Commemorate" should be more appropriate. Commemorating the 81 aid workers killed this year. And the hundreds who have lost their lives in the past years...

If there is one symbol that stands out for the sacrifice of many, it would be this UN flag, recovered from the rubble after the bombing of the UN HQ in Baghdad now 6 years ago.

This is the official World Humanitarian Day video:

August 19, 2003.

We will not forget.

Video courtesy of OCHA
Picture courtesy UN Media

Read the full post...

Obvious pie chart

obvious pie chart funny

Picture courtesy Holy Kaw

Read the full post...

Mum, I made a water slide...

Just insane. Suggest to file this under the category #donottrythisathome...

Discovered via Philantopic

Read the full post...

The Facebook age: Your Life Is Empty

Facebook: your life is empty

No words to add...

Discovered via Mashable

Read the full post...

The top 10 levels of intimacy in 2009.

cartoon - the levels of intimacy today

Going up from level 1 to the top intimacy level of 10, which level are you on?
Don't get desillusioned, level 10 is just unobtainable, I agree... ;-)

Cartoon discovered via Iced Tea and Sarcasm

Read the full post...

Afghan Women: The struggle goes on...

I worked in Afghanistan before the war, and went back into the country right after the Taliban left Kabul.

All in all, I spent quite a few months working with Afghan men and women, and got to appreciate them as people. They had been through hell in the decennia before the war, and when Western forces "liberated them from the Taliban", their hopes were high to have peace at last.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Today, the insecurity and repression of individuals is probably even more precarious than during the Taliban times. Even more so for the women.

When I flew into Kabul two days after the Taliban left, I saw on Western TV station how news bulletins were announcing that the women finally threw off their burkas, I looked out of the window and saw no changes.

I left Afghanistan late 2002, and according to this video, things only got worse for Afghan women...

Discovered via One Peaceful World

Read the full post...

How did I get here?

Direction signs

Sometimes, you get sucked into a situation. It is like a hole in the sand your in. While trying to climb out of it, you actually make the hole wider and deeper.
And as things progress, your efforts get more frantic and in the end you have a bloody deep hole.

Don't we all get 'sucked' into situations without even realizing it... And then, one day, you wake up, and look at it all with fresh eyes... When that happens to me, my AHA-thought concentrates around two things only: "How the hell did I get here?" and "How is it possible I have let it slip that far?"

An example, on a more lively and cheerful note: When I lived in Uganda, one morning the driver did not pick up my on time, and I nearly missed my flight.

I asked why he was late, and he shrugged:
- Not my fault...
- Why not?
- It was the neighbour's wife's brother fault.
- Why?
- I have an electric clock with an alarm, but it did not work.
- ...
- My neighbour had connected his electricity line to mine. He had locked up the connection in a box with a padlock.
- ...
- The wife had visited her brother.
- Whose wife?
- My neighbour's... She had visited her brother.
- ...
- She had left her keys there. The padlock key was amongst them.
- ...
- In the evening, she returned home. There was a shortcircuit in his electricity connection, which also shut off my electricity. They could not repair it, as they called the wife's brother to come with that key. But he did not.
- ....
- So my electric clock did now work, and I overslept...

To get up in the morning, the guy had to resolve the electricity problem, but ran into solving problems which were related to problems which were related to other problems which somehow related to the original problem...

And that is a problem, you see?

Read the full post...

If you find problems on this blog

The North Sea

The Road To the Horizon has about 1,500 posts. I do my utter best to find dead links, formatting problems and other errors, but sometimes a bug slips through.

If you find any problem on this blog, please leave a comment on the post concerned, or on this post (mention where the problem occurs and eventually which browser you use), and I will correct the error.

As usual, you can also email me via peter (at) theroadtothehorizon (dot) org...

Thanks for your help!


Read the full post...

World Humanitarian Day: August 19

World Humanitarian Day

OCHA (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) launches the "World Humanitarian Day". It is dedicated to "thousands of aid workers who have devoted their lives to humanitarian work, matching idealism with action, and principles with practice. Their selfless and non-political endeavours are vital for the necessary acceptance by all concerned that assistance to the needy should be provided impartially and neutrally, without reference to religion, gender, or race."

In short, it is a day dedicated to us, aidworkers. Why August 19th, you may ask? On August 19 2003, "Canal Hotel", the UN office and living compound in Baghdad was hit by a massive terrorist attack, leaving 22 UN staff dead and dozens wounded, as you can read in my Ebook shortstory A Requiem for Baghdad.

August 19 2003 was a turning point after which attacks on aidworkers became more frequent and equally violent. 2008 had the highest amount of security incidents involving humanitarian aid workers: 260 humanitarians were victims of security incidents. 122 aidworkers were killed, and 62 were kidnapped. (Source)

Despite all these efforts and human sacrifices, the world is still in a sad state:
  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), world hunger is projected to reach a historic high in 2009, with just over a billion people going hungry every day.
  • Violence and war forced 15.2 million people to flee their own country while at least 26 million have been displaced within their own countries.
  • In 2008 more than 9 million children died before their fifth birthday. Most of these children lived in developing countries and died from a disease or a combination of diseases that could easily have been prevented or treated.
  • Every year, 1.8 million people die from diarrhoeal diseases
  • An average of 211 million people are directly affected each year by natural disasters.
  • Millions of the world's most vulnerable are expected to be affected by climate change, increasing prolonged droughts, repeated floods and more frequent cyclones and hurricanes.
  • While humanitarian needs are increasing because of the economic crisis and other global challenges such as population pressure, global health pandemics, and price spikes, the global economic crisis puts pressure on the aid budgets of all donor governments.
More on The Road about aidworkers

Read the full post...

The Road is re-asphalted

I spent the past 24 hours doing what I wanted to do for a long time: give The Road to the Horizon a facelift.

As many bloggers, I started with a standard Blogger template (or layout), tweaked it a bit here and there as the months and years went by.

32 months ago, The Road looked more or less like this:

old Blogger template

Late 2007, The Road was more customized, with its own picture banner:

The Road late 2007

And bit by bit, it grew in what we had up to yesterday:

The Road yesterday

I got rather tired of the narrow width, limiting what I could put in the side columns, so a new template it should be.

Migrating templates is something of a blogger's nightmare... Blogger, the software and host I use, is not flexible at all in migrating from one template to another. They don't move over all widgets and customizations automatically, and each template has its own oddities. So I had to create a backup site, prepare and test everything there, and move the lot manually to The Road...

But we're there... All tested in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome and Opera.. I think all is working. Let me know what you think of the new layout, and even more importantly, let me know if there is anything not working (don't forget to let me know which browser you are using)...

Some fine tuning is left to be done before I can start working on new features. Will we ever be at a point where we want to be? Nope... don't think so.. After all, The Road to the Horizon is all about the joy of experiencing things NOW, rather than reaching the destination... And the Horizon can never be reached, can it? ;-)

Read the full post...

Use Twitter Offline In 3 Easy Steps

Now that Twitter, the all-praised social networking tool, is going into its 2nd day limping on one leg after yesterday's hacker attack, it is time to fall back onto proven technology: Twitter's Offline Utility...

Step 1:

Twitter offline utility - Step 1

Step 2:

Twitter offline utility - Step 1

Step 3:

Twitter offline utility - Step 1

Discovered via B3TA (Tnx Mau!)

Read the full post...

Proverb of the day: Friends...

the sunset last night

Tell me who your friend is,
and I will tell you who you are..

Old Turkish proverb

... with a picture from the sunset last night, near a castle just a few kilometers north of where I live in Italy.

Read the full post...

Living in Italy - Part 14: Size DOES matter in Italy

Big car, Small car

I live in Italy and normally drive the car in the front of the two: a Smart, a small two seater.
During the holidays, I flew to Belgium to pick up Tine and the girls. We drove back down to Rome with the second car: a monospace family car which we normally keep in Belgium. So, for the first time, I drove a bigger car in Italy for a month.

I was surprised how Italian drivers reacted differently. In the small Smart, I get pushed aside on roundabouts and in traffic jams. If I want to overtake anyone on the highway, they don't give way or 'd rather speed up than to let me pass.
With the big Peugeot on the other hand, I hardly have to push. It looks like traffic makes way for me, just like Moses parted the seas in the Bible...

Tine and I debated what the reason could be? We noticed that the average car driven this far south in Italy is a smaller family car, something like a Fiat Panda. Bigger than the Smart, but definitively smaller than our 7-seater... Could it be that the car was "respected" as a status symbol?
Or was it merely the size, where people think bigger cars just won't give way and *will* push their way through, even be it while 'gently touching' the other cars?

Whatever it was, the difference was there and I enjoyed not having to fight for "my space" on the road as I had to do with my Smart. Parking was a nightmare, though!

More about Living in Italy on The Road

Read the full post...
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Kind people supporting The Road to the Horizon:
Find out how you can sponsor The Road

  © Blogger template The Business Templates by 2008

Back to TOP