Saturday, October 31, 2009

“Subliminal” Messages about Volunteerism?

I read last week about the main TV networks’ concerted efforts to promote volunteerism in their shows and programs vs. through Public Service Announcements (PSAs) as it is usually the case. The USA Today article gives some details about iParticipate, a multi-year campaign that is the brainchild of the Entertainment Industry Foundation and took place all of last week across major TV networks in the US.

The major difference with PSAs (the campaign includes straightforward PSAs as well) is that this time messages promoting volunteerism or community service were included in the shows’ actual story lines. The article points out that it was actually easy to convince show producers to come on board and there was none of the usual battle and nastiness between networks.

We’ll have to see what impact this initiative is going to have. I’d be curious to hear whether anyone noticed the “convergence” of messages with the same tone and content – this is quite unusual, isn’t it? A barrage of goodness… But obviously, if down the road more folks are inspired to get involved in their communities and give back, that will be all nice and good. We’ll be happy.

However, there are a couple of things that do not feel quite right here. First, I do have a slight problem with the fact that this initiative was conducted unbeknownst to most viewers (not everyone had a chance to read the USA Today article or visit the iParticipate web site). Would the message be as effective if viewers knew? Not sure. I feel a bit odd knowing that some message – however valuable – was fed (force-fed?) to viewers without proper warning with a view to influencing them. Who said manipulation?

Also, can’t we keep entertainment and good intentions separate? I understand that working on the story lines per se may be more effective than delivering straight PSAs with viewers. But this is a TV show – it’s entertainment!! Imagine my neighbor next door – it is Thursday night, she wants to watch a comedy show to relax. It is her downtime. She just wants to let her hair down. At that very moment, she may not care that much about saving the world or helping the needy – maybe she just does not want to think about it right then. When I watch Extreme Makeover Home Edition which is about generosity and the trickle down effect that being good to others creates, I want to be moved by these acts of generosity and gratefulness. I have fun watching the show and seeing the awesome houses built for those nice folks!! That is indeed entertainment but it is also my choice to watch Ty and his team bring happiness to others.

So, kudos to the entertainment industry (don’t like this picture on their web site by the way) but maybe we want to keep all the goodness blurb separate from our favorite shows’ story lines.

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