Wednesday, October 10, 2007

As Seen On TV...

Posted on behalf of Gretchen Dellett

You’ve probably seen a Children International television commercial before. It may even have been what persuaded you to become a sponsor in the first place. But have you ever wondered how these ads are created?

I recently returned from Cartagena, Colombia, where I participated in the filming of two new Children International TV ads. I’ve worked as a writer for Children International for 14 years; I’ve been working on our TV advertising for 8. From the Philippines to Honduras to Colombia, I’ve stood in raw sewage, trekked through garbage dumps and dodged trains just inches from my nose – all in the service of getting the “right shot:” The shot that just might catch the attention of someone out there and convince them to sponsor a child.

Each trip has its own particular challenges; this time it was the heat. The unbearable, suffocating, sloppy heat. But even we hardy Midwesterners and seasoned travelers were not prepared for how very hot it was.

We were filming in a community called La Ciénega de la Virgen, which means “Swamp of the Virgin.” True, the community is situated on the edge of a swamp, but there was nothing pure about it. Tiny shacks stumbled over each other, with pools of stinking sewage running down the middle of many streets.

We spent an entire day filming behind a shack where a rotting chicken lay splayed near a pool of water that was covered in something that looked like tar (but smelled much worse). We tried to cover the deceased with old newspaper so we wouldn’t have to look at it, but every so often the pigs would wander through and snuffle it off with their noses. I always tell people that you haven’t seen poverty until you’ve smelled it, and this little corner of the planet in Colombia was certainly no exception.

Two different children were chosen to be used in our ads – a little boy named Danilo and a little girl named Veronica. Danilo had a blast with the whole thing – he was so pleased to have been chosen that we couldn’t get him to wipe the grin off his face when we needed him to be serious.

While we were filming him in a local market, some of the passersby whispered amongst themselves: “Is he some kind of movie star? He must be rich!” If only they knew he lived in a swamp and owned so little clothing that we had a hard time putting an outfit together for him to wear while we filmed him.

Veronica, the little girl, was much more quiet and contemplative (Kelly mentioned her in his blog a few weeks ago). But she shone with such a sweet radiance that we all fell in love with her. In fact, Sarah, with Outpost Broadcast Communications, the production company we typically use, began sponsoring her on the spot. Sarah has been on many trips with us and has at least a dozen sponsored kids by now! We’ve also worked with the same director, Mike Wunsch, since the 1980s, and he and his crew are pretty much part of the CI family, after all the miles they’ve logged on our behalf.

While we’re talking about the kids we use in our ads, you may wonder how they’re chosen. On this trip, we spent the first two days scouting for children and locations. We met dozens of children; every one of them was a sweetheart.

However, we’re looking for just the right combination to help us film a successful spot. They can’t be too shy or scared of the camera. They can’t be too young or they’ll tire easily and won’t understand the simple direction we give them. They have to be unafraid of our spokesperson – no easy task when he’s a “gringo” who doesn’t speak Spanish! Fortunately, we were working a great guy who jumped right in and made it very difficult for the children not to like him.

The important thing for you to know is that the children featured in our ads are really, truly children who are waiting for help.

But not for long! Once filming is completed, each “featured child” is immediately entered into the sponsorship program and begins receiving benefits. The family also receives compensation that our field staff uses to purchase food, clothing, household items and something special for the child as a “thank you” for their generous assistance. It’s a good feeling to know these children’s lives begin getting better the moment we turn a camera on them.

It sometimes feels intrusive to step into these people’s lives and in essence, record their misery for the world to see. But we’re always welcomed with open arms and warm hospitality. They know us and respect what we’re doing in their community. If I’ve learned anything from my travels, it’s that poverty doesn’t change the fundamental goodness and humanity in people. Some of the best people I’ve ever met live in the worst conditions.

My favorite part of creating a new commercial is seeing its end result. A successful ad can mean thousands of new sponsors – which translates into thousands more children who now have the chance to seek a future they once thought was beyond their grasp. I can’t imagine doing any other job that would reward me so much.


evergreen3 said...

In which markets are the CI television commercials broadcast?

Gretchen Dellett said...

Thanks for your question! Children International ads can be seen in markets all across the country. We advertise on a combination of national cable and local affiliate stations. The frequency and timing of ads depends on availability and cost, which we closely monitor to ensure the best use of our fundraising dollars. We'd love to tell you when to catch one of our ads, but due to the type of advertising we buy, we are not able to choose when a commercial will air -- only specify a block of time.

Anonymous said...

Would be nice if we could see this commercial (and previous ones) from your website.

Anonymous said...

Is this commercial you shot being shown already? I could be wrong but I think that I did see it on TV already recently.

It would be something that would stick in my mind because we once had a Columbian College Student live with our family for 6 months. She was a nice person but from a very rich family and rather spoiled. It's really amazing the huge gap in these countries between the have and have-nots. Obviously she hadn't a clue about how lucky she was and the extreme poverty that a lot of her country exists in. She found our normal, middle-class American life to be an adjustment and hardship.