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Life-Changing Entertainment: Insight into Actionable Change

May 13, 2021 • actionable change

Life-Changing Entertainment: Insight into Actionable Change
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Sustainability starts with education. But education isn’t limited to the constraints of a classroom. It can’t be, if the goal is to reach and engage with diverse audiences all over the world. Entertainment can promote social causes and inspire audiences to reexamine their own beliefs, cultural practices, and traditions. TV, radio, and podcasts are meaningful avenues toward creating actionable change.

Get to Know Your Audience

Before production, it’s important to understand the people you hope to reach. In learning about your audience, you’ll be able to create more compelling content and build trust with them. In turn, viewers will be more likely to take individual action to improve the conditions of their communities.

Address Relevant Cultural Issues

More than 500 million viewers and listeners have tuned in to PMC’s hit entertainment. Although PMC’s shows air around the world, the content is culturally specific to prevalent issues in local communities, such as population sustainability, the rights of women and girls, and environmental conservation. As part of the process, producers must consider how an audience member’s cultural norms, beliefs, and values may inform their perception of content.

Broach Complex Subjects 

Compelling narration doesn’t shy away from even the most taboo topics. Entertainment that challenges social norms can stir up conversation and make audiences question long-held traditions and cultural attitudes. Gender violence and stigmas around reproductive education prove complicated issues to navigate. Openly addressing reproductive health and bodily autonomy on TV or in radio shows provides a space for  individuals to discuss these topics in their personal lives too. Ultimately, broaching these complex issues can shift mindsets and create actionable change at an individual or communal level. 

Mirror the Community

PMC’s East Los High quickly rose to the top of the charts on hulu.com during its first season by addressing real world issues with a cast that represented its audience. Over the show’s five year run, it also picked up six Emmy nominations. The show gained a reputation as Hollywood’s first series with an all Latino cast, and tackled taboo subjects such as adolescent sexual and reproductive health

Pambazuko (“New Dawn”) was originally broadcast in five languages across 14 community radio stations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The show addressed a number of important issues, including great ape conservation, reproductive health, and family planning, and narrowly focused on regions most directly affected by these cultural, political, economic, and environmental issues.

Develop Engaging Content

The best way to drive actionable change is to entice audiences with compelling narratives and relatable characters. Audience members who can see themselves reflected in the media they consume are more likely to engage with content in the long term. Ultimately, provoking societal and economic transformation through entertainment requires consumers to take stock of cultural practices and personal biases. In doing so, viewers are empowered to make informed decisions. 

The ethnographic research conducted prior to production provides additional information about the audience's opportunities and challenges. This research also gives information about media usage, preferences, and legal and policy-driven frameworks. 

PMC’s TV shows and podcasts specifically address sustainability as it relates to population stabilization, the rights of women and girls, and environmental concerns. 

Humanize the Issue

PMC’s Tafigawalo (“Working Towards Change”) reached 300,000 radio listeners in Nigeria. This show told the story of a 32-year-old farmer and mother of four children named Mbakwo, who stands up to her husband despite him wanting more boys. Throughout the story, Mbakwo learns about the importance of birth spacing, fights for her own reproductive autonomy, and reckons with her husband becoming infected with HIV/AIDS.

Local audiences who see themselves reflected in the characters on screen are empowered to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health. 

Build a Sense of Urgency 

PMC’s Umurage Urukwiye (“Rwanda’s Brighter Future”) premiered in 2007 and addressed issues of environmental protection in Rwanda. The show tells the story of Ndereya who lives in Tarama, just beyond the forested gorilla habitat. In order to provide for his family, Ndereya clears a nearby forest to plant additional crops, only to suffer soil erosion. Ultimately, a devastating forest fire engulfs his home and displaces his family. In a final desperate attempt to provide, Ndereya is swayed by a ruthless businessman to capture a gorilla and sell it. He is badly hurt in the process. At this point, it becomes evident that Ndereya must find a way to both keep his family safe and take care of the environment. 

Environmental conservation is a critical issue of sustainability that should drive us all to act. Destruction of biodiversity, unsustainable farming practices, and deforestation can render devastating effects. It’s up to each of us to make individual changes that will shift the course of current environmental projections. 

Expand the Scope of Impact

A customized feedback loop can assess the scope of impact. This feedback loop involves a social norm change, an individual behavior change, and an at-scale generational change. Sometimes, a change in social norms serves as the trajectory for an individual’s behavior change. In other cases, social norms directly increase demand for service. It’s important to understand how your feedback loop is functioning so that you can create supplemental resources accordingly. 

Employ Story Extensions

PMC’s Story Extensions, also referred to as Transmedia, bring the audience’s favorite shows to life. Viewers can get to know lead characters up close by interacting with their  profiles on social media or watching a show’s extended scenes. Transmedia may also take the form of character vlogs, video games, or fictional media represented in the show. Story Extensions give viewers the chance to deepen their relationship with storylines and increase engagement with the show’s action purpose. 

Add Issue Extensions

PMC’s Issue Extensions build on the social issues of a show and move beyond the screen. They vary based on region and subject matter, but generally include actionable community involvement such as journalist trainings, community meetings, and roundtable discussions. 

Implement Connections to Services and Providers

Encourage viewers to take the next steps toward education and activism. PMC’s East Los High was highly effective in this regard. On the day the show launched, StayTeen.org reported double their usual website traffic. And during season one, 22% of Planned Parenthood’s total widget visits were accessed through the East Los High website. The topic of reproductive health and safety struck a chord with fans, and they were given the resources to expand their knowledge beyond the scope of the show. 

Track Your Results

A key aspect of any actionable entertainment campaign is measuring impact. At this stage, research teams may be deployed to collect audience testimonials or analyze the reach of a certain resource, such as Planned Parenthood’s digital widget. 

Utilize Listener Groups

Get honest feedback through listener-initiated conversations. Hear firsthand from audiences which aspects of a show were most compelling, and which fell flat. PMC devised eight gender-delineated listening groups for the show Ruwan Dare (“Midnight Rain”), which aired in Nigeria. After each episode aired, these groups would get together to discuss their thoughts and provide invaluable commentary to writers and producers. 

Reach Audiences Directly via SMS or Social Media

Community dialogue can be facilitated and measured online through social media apps and messaging services such as Facebook and Whatsapp. By posting engaging content such as quizzes, contests, and Q&As, PMC's teams are able to interact with listeners directly on these apps and collect qualitative feedback on shows.

Survey the Community

Making phone calls is a way to communicate with the community more directly. These random phone calls may not be statistically significant, but they do offer critical insight. Information gathered by phone interviewers can be disclosed to writers and producers in a matter of hours.

Sustainability concerns are at an all-time high as deforestation obliterates acres of rainforests, national populations surge, and the rights of women and girls remain up for debate. But the tides must turn. The present moment requires a shift in personal attitudes and a major transformation of cultural ideologies. Entertainment proves an invaluable resource for actionable change. We must all play a part in demanding that community transformation, on a broad scale, comes to fruition. 

Learn more about Population Media Center’s recent award-winning show Vencer el Miedo (“Overcome the Fear”), its accompanying social impact resources, and the effect it had on viewers.

Download the VEM Case Study


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Written by Mary Fafard

Mary is the Digital Marketing and Advocacy Manager at Population Media Center. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Community Media from Johnson State College.