Spitfire Strategies

Social Issues + Motion Pictures = Reel Impact

The It Gets Better Project’s video aimed at inspiring hope in young people facing harassment sparked a viral revolution, garnering more than 50,000 video submissions and 50 million collective views. It’s also credited with a 50 percent increase in phone calls to the Trevor Project’s suicide prevention hotline, saving countless lives.

Stories have the power to inform, inspire and spark change. Successful films – whether five-minute videos asking mothers to support GMO labeling or feature-length documentaries like “Blackfish” – connect viewers to characters and can motivate audiences to take action. Videos that are coupled with a campaign or media strategy and provide clear opportunities for viewers to get involved have an even higher likelihood of creating positive change.

An inspiring video can enliven a campaign in progress or spark a new one. Here are some points to think about if your organization is considering getting behind the camera.  

  1. Can you make Malcolm Gladwell proud? Could a video push legislation or a grassroots campaign past the tipping point? You don’t always have to think big. A well-crafted story could be influential at the local level, by influencing state government, a corporation, a city council or a school board. “The End of the Line,” a nine-minute film meant to raise awareness about over-fishing, created a tipping point in corporate policy. Many household names from Pret a Manger restaurants to Whiskas cat food switched to sustainable sources of fish, attributing the change in policy to this film.
  2. Are your characters relatable? When viewers identify with a character, they often see themselves in that character’s shoes. Identification with characters is critical to changing beliefs and behaviors of your audience. Nuance is important. Relatable and persuasive characters act within a spectrum, not in extremes. BuzzFeed got this right in a viral video about the poor quality of prison food, in which some of the actors reacted by spitting it out, yet others said that the food isn’t so bad. BuzzFeed succeeded by including reactions that viewers could imagine their friends having.
  3. How does your video translate into action? Think about who has the power to affect change on your issue and what messages will speak to them. What does this audience need to do? It’s important to think profoundly about the social action you want them to take – presenting an audience with an easy yet ineffective solution could hurt the issue if people consider their part done. “Follow the Frog,” a clever video from the Rainforest Alliance, urges viewers to take meaningful and manageable action to help preserve the rainforest.
  4. Who makes the video? Once you’ve decided that making a short video or issue film is the right tactic to move the needle on your issue, you likely will need help to bring your idea to fruition. Wire Walker Studios (whose founders I met at this year’s frank conference) is an example of a production company that creates meaningful and entertaining films, both short and feature-length. The two founders believe that story-driven media can spark a conversation, inspire people to take action and create beneficial change. Their video “Three Dreams” manages to surprise and inspire the audience in less than three minutes.
  5. Filming is over – now what? Will your allies promote the video through their channels? Will you target audiences through paid advertising? Will you conduct media outreach? Will you host an event? You’ll need to think about the various elements involved in release and distribution to ensure that your video or film is seen by the appropriate audiences.

If you want to use film to advance a campaign but don’t want to make your own, you will benefit from Spitfire’s new project, AndACTION. This pop culture hub offers nonprofits inside intel on upcoming and recent film and TV storylines on specific issues. We hunt down leads and suggest creative ways nonprofits can use them to reach new audiences.

What we see on TV and in the movies affects how we feel about issues and the way we talk about them. Characters from “Jane the Virgin,” “Modern Family” and “Black-ish” help make immigration, marriage equality and racial justice feel less hypothetical – and more like real issues facing our friends. Simply put, pop culture is an untapped tool that can drive culture shifts.

The storylines we collect will be housed on AndACTION’s website, set to launch in early June. You will be able to sign up for email alerts to learn when upcoming film and TV shows cover your top issues. This way, you can move eyeballs from the big and small screen to your action page, making it easy to reach more people than ever before. Want to know more? Connect with Justine Hebron (justine@andaction.org), AndACTION’s communications manager.  ACTION IMAGE 1

Whether you’re thinking about making a film or taking advantage of someone else’s, Spitfire is here to help. 


“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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