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Everyone Is a Critic

Did you know that the average score for an online product review is 4.3 out of 5 stars? Though there are various theories why folks go all nicey-nice when rating everything from vacuum cleaners to videos of people they don't know doing karaoke, I'd have to say the readers of this blog never got the memo about that trend.

And that's a good thing! A couple weeks ago, I asked for your thoughts (well, actually, I asked for a full-fledged essay) on an animal-related video that went viral in a big way.

It's a real tear jerker, and yes, you liked it, BUT — this a big BUT — there was an overall agreement that it strongly reinforced certain negative perceptions about shelters. The ones that get in the way of potential adopters finding their way to your agencies? The ones that shut down dialogue about tough animal issues in your community? Per your responses:

How effective is this video in telling a story about the animal sheltering world?

"It's very effective in telling a story about animal rescue, not so much animal sheltering," wrote Champaign County Humane Society ED Mary Tiefenbrunn. "As a director of an open-admission shelter, I find the use of the term 'high-kill' a little disturbing — especially when within a few sentences, the video refers to a cocker who has been there about a month. Shelters that work hard to find rescues for special-needs animals don't deserve that slam of being defined as 'high-kill' — and spreading that kind of terminology to the masses — many of whom don't understand the complexities of the problems that shelters face — is unfair and not helpful."

Capital Area Humane Society's Jodi Lytle Buckman saw a reinforcement of a similarly negative perception — that shelters are "sad, terrible places dogs need to be rescued from." Although it's true that stories like these can be powerful and effective at raising money, says Buckman, "I think what we gain in the short term with such campaigns and messages we lose in the long term , given we're reinforcing that sad and tragic message. I'd rather inspire people with positive messaging, like our current campaign — 'Because every pet deserves the life your pet has' — or humor."

Readers like Nicki Lucas, however, found the seriousness of the piece to be just what the public needs to see. "This video should be shown on TV and at movie theaters," she says. "People watch the big screens for entertainment, but they must also realize in a poignant but kind way that their help and hearts are needed."

If you were to make a similar video for your agency, what would you do the same/differently?

What works so well in this video, agree our reviewers, is the focus on one animal's story — and the message that one person can make a difference. "I really like that the video emphasizes what each person can do, and expresses gratitude to the audience for what they have done," says Tiefenbrunn. "My video would not paint the shelters in such a bad light, but I would still strive to make a compelling video about the contributions that donors, supporters and volunteers make and how they impact the life of one animal."

Or, as Buckman puts it, "I am happy for the dog — sad for the shelter."

What intrigues me is the use of language and its effect on different audiences — in this video and, for that matter, in all the content produced about animals in shelters. An article in a newspaper, commentary from a newscaster, an advertising flyer for an adoptions event hung up in a community center… Words (and images) can either add to or unravel the perceptions that the public holds. Would the reviews and comments about this video have been different if I'd been writing for a blog for pet lovers? Or for those involved strictly in rescue? Or for those who don't fall into any of those groups?

Please feel free to weigh in on this video if you haven't already — or add to any of the points brought up here.

Comments

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Thanks again for another interesting post, Pune. In taking publicity photos or shooting videos, I'm well aware that I'm making one shelter pet more "special" than the rest on adoption row. Some of them, of course, need an extra publicity push to get noticed. And yes, we may have to stoop (rarely) to scare tactics. But I never really know which photo or which video is going to connect with the public. This holiday video obviously struck a chord (did Christmas sentiment help?). All we can do is keep trying to connect. As one adopter told me a few months ago, "Once I saw your pictures and your video of that dog, I knew I wanted her. I didn't care where she was or what shelter she was in or how far I had to drive, I knew I wanted her." IMHO, that's what's important.

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