A campaign going viral 8 years later
Eight years ago, Cordaid People in Need, the Cordaid brand that helps provide emergency aid, launched a campaign called “Small Change, Big Difference” (Kleingeld, Groot Verschil). Although this campaign hasn’t been promoted for eight years, the images are still out there, online. And they are now being found by people and organizations from all over the world. Just like I did. They have been shared tens of thousands of times, as if the campaign is still ongoing. Given that this “old” campaign is now inadvertently going “viral”, I revisit the story behind it.
Cordaid had been working in drought-cycle management with communities of strong and beautiful Kenyan people for many years. This work focused on making the people more resilient towards ever-worsening droughts. They worked with many communities in Kenya to help them adjust to new ways of living, new ways of farming and more entrepreneurship. With the campaign in mind, Cordaid felt that one of these groups would perfectly communicate the message they wanted to convey.
So they went to the northern part of Kenya, near Maralal, where they’d been working with local partner organizations for over 10 years. One of these organizations introduced Cordaid to the local Samburu people, a nomadic tribe related to the Masai and who had always been at the mercy of extreme droughts. Working closely with trusted partners and local communities they developed their idea of portraying these beautiful people in situations that were completely alien to them: posing with the type of consumer goods that people in developed countries spend money on so easily.
When we started the campaign in 2007, working with advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, we wanted to draw consumers’ attention to the fact that the money we spend so easily in our daily lives can make a huge difference to people living in disaster areas. Such a campaign would be an excellent way to draw attention to the basic needs of these people, we reasoned.- Judith Maat
When the time came to do the photo shoot, with the help of the local partner organizations they first got to know the community. Cordaid explained the idea behind the campaign and its goals to them and, much to their credit, they were very positive and cooperative. They had never seen a fashion magazine before so they had no idea how to pose for the shots we had in mind.
The results of the photo shoot and campaign can be seen here, stark images of needy people posing like fashion models and holding luxury goods. Then, as now, the images were very confrontational and designed to make people stop and think, make them feel just a little uncomfortable. Back in 2007 the images were displayed on billboards in crowded shopping areas, they adorned things like coasters and cards and they were distributed in public places, such as bars and restaurants. They pulled no punches in driving home the message to people that the money they spend, often on inconsequential things like a handbag or a glass of beer, could make a huge difference to people in need. Essentially Cordaid confronted people with their consumer behavior.
The strength of the campaign lies in the fact that it almost ridicules wealth inequality, a serious issue that’s still with us today. Artistic, beautiful, provocative, bold and in-your-face, the images produced during that three-day photo shoot are as powerful now as they were then. To give them the necessary “glamorous” feel, Swedish high-end fashion and advertising photographer Calle Stoltz was asked to take the photos. He did so voluntarily.
The campaign won Saatchi & Saatchi a Cannes Silver Lion award, a prestigious international accolade for creativity. Much to their credit, Saatchi & Saatchi auctioned off the award and donated the proceeds to Cordaid People in Need. Moreover, art and advertising colleges still use this campaign for educational purposes.
When the campaign was launched the photos received mixed reactions. There were plenty of compliments, but there was negative feedback too, which was a little hurtful. But perhaps these contrasting reactions also help to explain why the images are still shared so often by people and organizations that find them online. Their simplicity and powerful, confrontational value keeps triggering bloggers and organizations that want to raise awareness.
People’s reactions to the images also demonstrate that wealth inequality has remained a relevant topic, even during the economic crisis of the last eight years. It’s also important to remember that before these photos were taken, Cordaid was working with the Samburu communities on drought-cycle management. And they still are today.