Advertising Week 2007

Cause-Marketing Panel Calls on Ad Industry to Help With Darfur

Agencies Can Exert Media-Buying Pressure to Help Bring Issue to American Public

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NEW YORK ( -- Actress Mira Sorvino is calling on advertising professionals to take social-cause marketing efforts to the next level and devise novel ways of helping mobilize the international community to end the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.
Mira Sorvino
Mira Sorvino Credit: Scott Gries

The Oscar-winner, who is also a Darfur activist and goodwill ambassador for Amnesty International, made her remarks today as part of a panel discussion during Advertising Week 2007, being held in New York Sept. 24-28.

Drawing attention to Darfur
Ms. Sorvino was joined on the panel by participants from an array of nonprofit governmental groups championing the fight. They highlighted advertising campaigns they say have already played a pivotal role in drawing attention to the current crisis in the war-torn region of the Sudan.

But "advertising alone can't do it," Ms. Sorvino told Advertising Age following the panel discussion.

Ms. Sorvino suggested the industry should partner with TV networks, magazines and other mainstream media to increase attention of Sudanese genocide. One way the industry can support the work of non-government organizations and others committed to the issue is to exert media-buying pressure, and commit to purchasing ads that promote documentaries on Darfur or benefit concerts, for example.

Such pressure is necessary because concern for TV ratings or lack of popularity on the newsstands often cause mainstream media to shy away from the issue, Ms. Sorvino said.

Hard to communicate genocide
"At first blush, it might seem like a subject like genocide would be simple to communicate," said David Mitchell, partner at GMMB. But NGOs are challenged to create advertising campaigns that can convey the full scope of the atrocities, without the use of graphic images or footage, which typically don't pass standards for TV and print appropriateness

Social-cause marketers also must careful to not sensationalize events such as Darfur, said David Tobey, senior VP and creative director at advocacy-focused ad agency GMMB. Sensationalism can cause a campaign to lose credibility.

Harnessing the power of celebrities is one way to generate a demand for action for Darfur and other social causes, as they are "major-league advertising hot shots," noted John Prendergast, founder of the Enough project to abolish genocide and other mass atrocities.

As part of the panel, the Save Darfur Coalition and GMMB -- which also represents Sen. Barack Obama and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, among others -- presented the strategy and creative work behind its domestic and international advertising campaigns.

Robin Raj, founder and creative director of the Citizen Group, shared the making of the "Instant Karma" Darfur benefit album released earlier this year and a new website,, which uses high-resolution satellite imagery to illustrate the reality of the situation there.
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