Save the Children Plays the Sex Card. Does It Work?

May 14, 2014

A 2007 policy brief by CGD non-resident fellow Jeremy Shiffman lays out nine reasons why the campaign to reduce maternal mortality has fared less well than other causes, namely HIV/AIDS.  But a new ad campaign launched by the Save the Children suggests that Jeremy’s wonkish list -- which includes a lack of “political commitment of leaders” and “clear policy solutions” -- has omitted one important reason for the funding impediment:  not enough sex in the messaging. 

Save the Children’s campaign features a video in which models are asked to convey sexiness while they read horrible facts about the mortality of mothers and children.  Imagine a sultry smile and wink while the model reads “Almost 800 mothers and 18,000 young children die each day, mostly from preventable causes.” 

NPR blogger Marc Silver called me to ask for a reaction.  As Marc quotes me in his blog here, I found this infomercial to be both fascinating and repugnant.  Fascinating because the models are being manipulated and one wonders if they will crack.  Repugnant because they manage to read their lines at all.  But I do think the video will grab attention for the cause of reducing maternal and child mortality.  And therefore it may attract contributions for Save the Children. 

In contrast to almost all other health interventions, HIV/AIDS campaigns juxtapose the two arguably most emotionally charged themes in human culture: love/sex and death.  Perhaps this juxtaposition generates a more compelling narrative than is available to other global health campaigns and has thus contributed to HIV/AIDS’ fund raising success. 

What do you think about the Save the Children video?  More repugnant or compelling?  Will you consider contributing now that you’ve seen it?  Should malaria and TB and diarrhea now all start competing to see which disease can be the sexiest?


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.