Sex appeal

Matthew Reeves on marketing, charity and celebrities

"Sexy", like "trendy", is a grandmotherly buzzword that's still circling advertising agency boardrooms. It's wilting in the corner, like that forgotten plant on the windowsill of your halls of residence, but still there. There's also a maverick in town who's not scared to offend - yes, that's right: "edgy".

"Edge" oozes out of the latest promotional video produced by Bono's aid charity, One, like a thick jam from an overfilled doughnut (though on reflection that's an ill-conceived metaphor for a campaign aimed at raising awareness of catastrophic drought and consequential crop failure in Somalia, but let's press on). Celebrities swear in our helpless and unsuspecting faces, our precious senses saved by bleeps and censors' boxes.

The advert got the usual torrents of hate from people with no souls who don't enjoy radical ideas like moving out from their mother's supportive nest, or breathing clean air. They say things like: "All these celebrities make millions - why don't they give them some of their own money?" and "They're just using shock tactics." As if what they're doing is somehow foul play, or "just not cricket". The sad truth of the matter is that we just don't find the idea of 30,000 children dying in the past three months shocking any more. It's happened, past tense. Look, we aren't shocked.

What else could celebrities do to tackle the problem? Act them into good health? George Clooney was only pretending to be a doctor! The rest of them are all under 30, and have no experience of anything useful whatsoever, only of drugs and drama school. What about money? Well, the prime minister of Somalia was a Fellow of Political Economy at Harvard, so the problems his country faces are probably a little more deep-rooted than a lack of some loose change.

What surprise is it then that charities create videos using the classic pairing of "sexy" and "edgy". Who doesn't want to peruse a gallery of beautiful people with fantastic vocal cords? And it's shot in black and white, so it's not seedy. What better use of these beautiful people's time than sending humanitarian messages into my brain. If the best way for a charity to get millions of people to watch their awareness-raising advert is by sexing up famine, then so be it.

It's better than those poorly conceived newscaster rush jobs, with some (not very beautiful) face for hire strolling the aisles of the local supermarket: "Lots of shelves here have lots of food on them. People don't always eat all the food they buy here. Meanwhile, some people have no food so you shouldn't buy any either." The only emotion this kind of thing induces in me is hunger (and I'm male so yes, I do class hunger as an emotion).

What can we do? Bribe the leaders of Somalia with free Caffè Nero for life so long as they look after their citizens? Research agriculture, modify crops to survive the harshest conditions, piggyback on big business to deliver food, and find a way for Somalians to create wealth for themselves? I don't really know. I don't mind if they keep on working to make poverty sexy, though.

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