See Our Film, Join Our Cause.


Mar 11, 2001
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See Our Film, Join Our Cause.

By Jenn Shreve, Wired News

2:00 a.m. Aug. 2, 2001 PDT  
Cash-rich outfits such as BMW aren't the only ones discovering the image-enhancing properties of original, online movies. A number of nonprofits have gotten into the act as well, minus Madonna and special effects, of course.

Amnesty International, Save Our Environment, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Adbusters, are among organizations hosting short flicks on their websites.

Two weeks ago, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence joined the club, sending an original Flash movie (,  to about 14,000 e-mail subscribers. The South Park-esque cartoon features NRA president Charlton Heston taking a plane full of multi-racial passengers hostage at gunpoint to the tune of "America the Beautiful."

"We do a lot of direct mail. We thought, let's try to do something different, with an edge to it," said Brendan Daly, communications director of the Brady Campaign. While the average Brady Campaign member is in his 40s or 50s, Daly said the organization hopes the e-movie will help attract younger people to the cause.

Nonprofits were among the Web's earliest adapters, quickly grasping its potential to instantly and cheaply organize and inform people around the globe. For them, e-movies are simply the next logical step.

Once you factor in list acquisition, design, copy writing, and postage, a direct mail campaign that targets 10,000 people costs a nonprofit between $10,000 and $20,000.

The average response rate to a snail-mail campaign is a measly 1.5 percent, or 150 people for 10,000 contacted, according to Jonah Sachs, co-founder of FreeRangeGraphics, the lefty Web design firm that made the Brady e-movie. On the other hand, he says, a short Flash animation costs between $5,000 and $7,000, it grabs people's attention, and the response rates are way better.

Within a week, the 90-second Brady Campaign e-movie was viewed 35,000 times, nearly 1,700 people signed up for the Campaign's e-mail newsletter, and 3,000 sent a letter to Heston. The organization also received threatening phone calls and letters from gun rights supporters.

After Amnesty International sent out a spoof of DeBeers' diamond commercials, highlighting the violent war in Sierra Leone that's partially funded with diamond profits, they gained 10,000 new e-mail list members, according to FreeRangeGraphics' other co-founder, Louis Fox. In the nonprofit world, these are huge successes.

"We think of these really in the tradition of political cartoons. It's a tried and true method of getting ideas out to people," Sachs said.

For organizations such as PETA and Adbusters, the Web is often the only place they can air their messages.

Every year, anti-consumerism organization Adbusters has its "uncommercials" -- for events such as Buy Nothing Day and TV Turnoff Week -- turned down by the major networks in Canada, the United States, Australia and the U.K. You can, however, view QuickTime versions on Adbusters' website (

The same goes for PETA's anti-leather Singing Cow commercial and the pro-spay and neuter ad Sex and the Kitty. CBS refused to air Singing Cow (, during the Superbowl. And Sex and the Kitty, (,  which features animatronic cats having a sex orgy, was repeatedly rejected for being "too lewd," said Lisa Lange, PETA's director of policy and communications.

"We often can't buy time on television for the least graphic of our videos, let alone the behind-the-scenes footage of what happens in slaughterhouses and factory farms," Lang said. Gory and playful clips alike are free for the downloading on PETA's website.

But for Adbusters-founder Kalle Lasn, the impact of a Web ad hardly compares to that of a TV spot.

"It's nice to have the Web to put QuickTime versions of our spots up. We're coming up with shorter messages and trying to make the most of that," he said. "But it doesn't even begin to do what television could do if it became a free marketplace of ideas. Imagine if McDonalds was able to come on and say, 'Big Macs are fantastic,' and five minutes later we could come on and say, '53 percent of McDonalds' calories come from fat. Why don't you rethink your diet?'"

Nevertheless, Lasn acknowledges that Web-vertising does have some advantages. "The best and most powerful thing about it is organizing resistance," he said. FreeRangeGraphics' Fox points out that, unlike TV commercials, e-movies can be easily shared. "The viral effect of e-mail is huge. That's how Amnesty International got the e-mails of 10,000 new members."

Sachs adds that e-movies' interactive aspects –- you actively choose to watch one -- makes them more likely to stick in someone's mind. Plus it's easier to react to a Web commercial than one on TV, since you usually just have to press a button, tap out a quick email, rather than, say, writing down a phone number, turning down the volume, and placing a call.

"A lot of our clients have used both (Web and TV spots) at the same time. (E-movies) won't replace TV ads necessarily, but they have a tremendous place next to them," Sachs said.

Lasn refers to this as the "strategic pincer," with grassroots organizing through the Web being the bottom pincer and mainstream advertising being the top. "If you can catch somebody from the top and the bottom, then you really have a campaign going."

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