Anatomy of a Good Advocacy Video

This video was a 2012 YouTube DoGooder award winner. I wanted to dig in and try to understand what makes a good advocacy video. So, I asked a room full of filmmakers and activists, “What moments in the video do you remember or stood out?” Answers: the statistics, the video included a male subject, the rape kit, the Congresswoman’s closing statement.

The Storytelling Arch of an Advocacy Video

Armed with this information, I revisited the 1:45-minute video. I did some research on storytelling. I found in WITNESS’ training materials collectively state that stories should have a beginning, middle and end (also see Aristotle’s Poetics or Freytag’s Pyrimid exampled in infographic).

Using the basics of storytelling outlined, I broke down the elements further, relating them to advocacy videos:

  1. Beginning (exposition) = Introduce the issue
  2. Transition point 1 = moves story to next section
  3. Middle (rising action) = Building blocks of story are added about core problem of issue
  4. Transition point 2 (climax) = moves story towards ending
  5. End (falling action) = Propose a possible solution/action

Applying the above to “Protect Our Defenders,” I found a correlation between the breakdown and the moments staff remembered.

1. Introduce the issue 0:00 to 0:42 (42 secs) Transition point 1: Statistical information was used to emphasize and legitimize the first interviewee’s statement. The numbers directly tied to the interviewee’s accusations.

2. Rising action, building up the story about core problem of issue 0:41 to 1:13 (32 secs) Introduction to middle: This section starts with a male interviewee. Men are rarely included in rape issues and using this interviewee helps to pull in the viewer further. Rising action: Rape kit — The next interviewee describes her rape case. Her story helps raise the stakes of the problem: it isn’t only about rape, but the unwillingness to address the issue even with case evidence. The filmmaker even leaves in a few frames of the interviewee trying not to cry. Transition point 2: Last interviewee summarizes core problem of issue with this quote, “The chain of command has a vested interest in keeping this under the rug.”

3. Propose a possible solution/action 1:13 to 1:38 (25 secs) Ending: Representative Jackie Speier (an expert) on the House floor addresses colleagues. She emphasizes the summary made in transition point 2 and adds, “…[it is] a problem we can fix.” Then the video cuts to a graphic.

More Good Examples

I also applied this breakdown to other winners of the doGooder Nonprofit Awards. Each had similar correlations:

  • Transitions were used to emphasize points and raise the action from section to section.
  • The transitions tended to be key moments that viewers remembered.
  • The pacing moved faster as the story progressed towards the ending.
  • Lastly, as online videos, each included a prompt for the viewer to take part in an online action, learn more on a website, or view related content .

The ending of advocacy videos differentiates them from other types of videos. Online or offline advocacy videos tend to call for an action, whether it is to fill out postcards at a live screening or sign an online petition or any other action.

Apply this breakdown to advocacy videos you find interesting. Does it give you any insights? Share your results in the comments below.

Originally published at on May 10, 2012.

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