Water Aid advert



The advertisement is for Water Aid, a charity that provides water supplies and information to countries where people are living in poverty and do not have clean water to drink.

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The charity Water Aid was established in 1981 as a response to a United Nations campaign for clean water, sanitation and water hygiene education. It now works with organisations in 37 African, Asian and Central American countries plus the Pacific region. Since 1991 its patron has been Prince Charles.

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Notes 1

In the advertisement, I expected to see young children crying, some text along the lines of ‘you can help’, personal pronouns, emotive and persuasive language, sad background music, a serious sounding voice-over, close-up shots of sad children and children drinking dirty water. I saw the phone number to donate to; however everything else was completely different to expected. There were children, however they were singing an upbeat song with buckets on their heads, and they were very happy children. The close-up shots of children are not of them crying, but of them smiling and laughing. The videos of children are of them drinking clean water, not dirty water.

Claudia sings an upbeat, positive song- singing has connotations of joy, happiness and contentment. This goes against what a typical charity advert is like. The lyrics she sings include 'sunshine on a rainy day'- even though their situation is tough, they can still be happy and grateful for what they have.

The children in the advert are carrying buckets on their heads. They are not at school and so it is unlikely that they will be able to get themselves out of their situation (no education= no well-paid job). In the UK, education is the priority, whereas in Africa the priority is collecting water.

Children are also shown playing- they are very positive and happy rather than sad and they are also having fun despite their situation.

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Notes 2

The advertisement shows the children collecting water from the water tap provided by Water Aid and viewers can see the difference it makes and the happiness it brings.

It shows a radio in front of a window, through which you can see that it is raining outside, and the radio is talking about the weather. This is supposed to be in the UK, where there is a lot of rain often, and is used as a comparison right at the start as where the community in another country is their crops and the ground are very dry.

The advertisement is very unique as it doesn’t leave you feeling guilty (so many adverts do the same thing and so people stop paying attention to them) and it shows the difference that can be made to communities, which makes the audience want to donate and make a difference.

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Theories 1

Morley’s reception theory can be applied. The children involved will have been told what to do and ‘Claudia’ will have been told what to sing. The whole advert will have been staged, and it relies on people seeing the advert and the people in it as real.

Hall’s reception theory can also be applied. The preferred reading of the media text (what the producer intends people to see/think) is that even though a community may not have basic things, they can still be positive and that if you give a donation, you can completely change people’s lives with just a small donation. The charity want us to feel the happiness that Claudia and her community feel as a result of being provided with a water tap, and for us to come away from watching the advert feeling happier and positive. The negotiated reading of the text is that what has been shown in the advert is partly real (real community and  real situation), but the advert has been constructed a certain way and Claudia’s story has been mediated as a success story to show what past and current donors have done for communities in that situation. The oppositional reading is what the audience may interpret the advert as that is slightly different to what the advert creators intend. They may interpret the advert as being misleading; as the footage will not be real (children were told what to say/do). Everything in the advert has been mediated. This means that although it is based on true stories, the creator team has made some changes and told people to act a certain way as they want to get a certain reaction from the audience. For example, they will have told Claudia what to sing, they wouldn’t have told her to make up a song and sing it. Also, they put a big thing at the end saying ‘donate £3’. They make it seem like £3 will make such a big difference, but in reality it only does so if hundreds and thousands of other people donate also. Water Aid says in other adverts that one public tap stand will cost £500- 167 people would have to donate £3 each to install just one tap stand.

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Theories 2

Hooks argues that race and class determine the extent to which individuals are exploited, oppressed or discriminated against. The children in the advert are all lower-class and black, and the majority of the children are girls. No white people are represented in the advert- although Water Aid helps people in Africa, Asia and Central America and at least some of these people must be white, no white people are involved in the advert. Hooks would think that it gives a false impression- she says that white people fit the western ideology of beauty, and so if white children/people were included in the advert, it wouldn’t seem as real because they fit the western ideology of beauty and so it would be unexpected for them to be shown as the ones who are poor and without clean water.

Gilroy’s theories of ethnicity and postcolonial theory can be applied. In the advert, black people are still being presented as being weaker and less fortunate than others (colonial discourses). White people are at the top of the racial hierarchies (most people viewing the advert will be white and so are considered to be more fortunate than black people).

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Theories 3

Strauss’ structuralism theory can also be applied. The meaning of the advert is dependent upon two oppositions. It relies on the people viewing it being financially stable and in a position of being able to help- if the people viewing it are tight for money, they won’t be able to donate, however if they have financial stability, they will be in a position to help. The advert doesn’t give much information about the people, as there is no voice over and not much text. It relies on people reading between the lines and really understanding what is going on in the video. The advert shows the differences between England and Africa:

  • Wet vs Dry- in England, we have frequent rain which everyone complains about, but it is clear in the advert that Africa doesn’t and that we have something that we don’t like but other people really appreciate 
  • Clean water vs dirty water- Makes the audience appreciate what they have as we only have to walk into a room of our house to get clean and fresh water but they have to walk for miles to get dirty water
  • Rich vs Poor- It shows the audience that we are more fortunate (shown by the English rain at the start comparing to Africa’s droughts) and in a position to help but that they aren’t in a position to help themselves. Also, the audience is indirectly targeted to help them as in the song it says ‘don’t leave me won’t leave me here’, saying to the audience “You’re financially stable; surely you won’t leave me and others in this situation forever”.
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Theories 4

Barthes’ theory of semiotics can be applied to the advert. The advert includes enigma codes. Suspense is created through the use of the slow-motion, medium close-up, low-angle tracking shot of Claudia’s feet, the swinging bucket and the sound of Claudia singing. The audience watching the video aren’t shown a full picture of Claudia, which makes them question who the feet and voice belong to. The logo of the charity isn’t shown, making the viewer wonder what the advert is for. It also has action codes. The advert doesn’t have a voice-over, so it relies on the audience watching the advert to see what it is about. Through the image of the water pump, the charity is communicating that this is what they have done for a community and what they could provide to more communities with help. Seeing the community gathered round the water pump gives us the information that the charity (audience will have most likely worked this out by now) have just provided the community with a water pump that produces fresh, clean water. It uses semantic code. The lyrics (‘make me feel make me feel like I belong, don’t leave me won’t leave me here’) can be linked to the visuals from the sound bridge over the medium shot of women carrying water buckets on their heads. It suggests that they feel isolated as this is their job every single day and they aren’t staying within the community, and that they feel isolated from society in general as other people have clean water in their homes. It also uses symbolic codes. The idea of drought ridden African countries is reinforced both visually and through audio codes. At the start, the camera zooms in on a radio by a window, presumably in England, where it is raining. The focus switches to Africa, where the grass and crops are dry; showing that they have no rain, as otherwise the grass and crops would be in the condition that you would see them in England. Also, in Claudia’s song she says ‘sunshine on a rainy day’. We saw that the crops and grass in Africa are dried out, so this is used to reinstate that where Claudia lives has little to no rain and that ‘a rainy day’ isn’t to be taken as its literal meaning but instead as an alternative meaning.

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Theories 5

Gerbner’s cultivation theory can also be applied. Audiences have become used to the conventions of charity adverts and perhaps somewhat ‘immune’ to pleading non-diegetic voiceovers by well-known voices and slow-motion, emotive representations of people suffering. The target audience’s likely liberal political perspectives will have been shaped by exposure to previous, generically similar adverts, shaping their world view that the suffering of people less fortunate than themselves can be alleviated by charitable donations.

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