Digital Campaign of the Week: MSF UK

The charity was taken by surprise when bloggers all over the world joined the debate about its controversial fundraising film

MSF Boy cinema advert
MSF Boy cinema advert

How did it start?

Médecins Sans Frontières's controversial new 60-second cinema and online advert, called Boy, features an audio recording of a child's operation being carried out by MSF medics.

What happened next?

The charity anticipated a strong public reaction to the film, but its website did not have the technical capacity to host blogs. In order to gather feedback when the film was posted on MSF's site, Polly Markandya, head of communications, asked supporters to email her directly with their comments.

"I ended up with an inbox full of short essays, some from all over the world," she says. "We then noticed the story started to spread across blogs."

Popular blogs that picked up the debate included Osocio, The Road to the Horizon and Aidwatch.

One – multimedia blog Duckrabbit – offered to host a debate with Pete Masters, MSF's web editor, that attracted more than 70 comments.

"We were taken by surprise," says Markandya. "People's views were polarised. We tried not to be the thought police by attempting to control conversations, though."

What will MSF do next?

Markandya says she and colleagues read and considered all responses across the blogosphere, and will act on future campaigns where they think criticism is valid.

"Where comments come up again and again, we hope to address those issues," she says. "For example, the soundtrack to Boy didn't stretch to 60 seconds, so the ad people looped the sound. Commenters noticed and said it was manipulative, so next time we will consider leaving a silence at the end."

Markandya points out that online debate is not a substitute for focus groups: "It's not a public response, because web-minded people don't represent the full range of an audience."

Third Sector's verdict

Brave and level-headed: MSF joined in and informed the online debate without attempting to dominate the discussion.


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