The current entertainment landscape has changed. When They See Us, Always Be My Maybe, Chernobyl — these and other films, TV shows, music, and plays do more than just entertain. They inform, engage, and empower. “Issue-heavy” media was once relegated to “very special episode” status or the occasional high-profile song or movie. Now, it’s common for pop culture to do more than entertain. It often has some kind of social impact. Media of this type is often called Social Impact Entertainment (SIE).
What Is Social Impact Entertainment?
Put broadly, social impact entertainment extends the definition of what entertainment can be. With social impact entertainment, you may be entertained, but will probably be left with a message, too. Richard Williams, Head of Strategy and Partnerships at film marketing company elevenfiftyfive, defines it as “the use of entertainment to have a positive impact on society and communities, people intentionally trying to effect social change, and using entertainment as the delivery system for that change.”
Why Is Social Impact Entertainment Important?
SIE can leverage your advocacy efforts.
Nonprofit organizations work hard to ensure that their message gets out. This is often done through advocacy. That’s cool. Just know this: It’s not the only tool at your disposal. Social impact entertainment is designed to get a reaction, and when done effectively, it often does. A few examples:
- Blackfish (2013), a documentary about an abused orca at SeaWorld, alarmed more than just self-described animal activists. Upon learning about the company’s mistreatment of its animals, SeaWorld faced boycotts, petitions, and criticism both on- and offline. Eventually, the company changed its policies regarding live performances and breeding of orcas.
- It’s On Us is a national campaign to end sexual assault. While the campaign has always had celebrity ambassadors, Lady Gaga’s 2016 Oscars performance with sexual assault survivors saw a massive increase in interest in the campaign, as well as actions taken by individuals:
- Google searches for the campaign increased by 400%.
- 22,000 people signed the campaign’s pledge.
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline received a 34% increase in calls after the official video of ‘Til It Happens to You.
- Jimmy Kimmel has become well-known for advocating on social issues, particularly healthcare-related issues, on his talk show. His passionate monologues on the effects of healthcare cuts is credited with helping to defeat the potentially catastrophic Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill in 2017.
SIE changes the conversation.
Pop culture moments often change the wider conversation. When Frances McDormand mentioned inclusion riders during her 2018 Oscars speech, the role of women in front of and behind the camera became a mainstream talking point. Spurred by the impact of #OscarsSoWhite/#MeToo/Time’s Up, conversation around increased racial, ethnic, and gender diversity is now commonplace.
Likewise, the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006) is one of the best modern examples of changing the discussion. This film (and Al Gore’s very public advocacy) jumpstarted discussion about the environment and brought these issues to the proverbial dinner table. The result? Climate change is now mentioned everywhere, from the newsroom to the boardroom to TV shows and movies.
How Does Social Impact Entertainment Impact the Public?
Good storytelling can “change hearts and minds.”
Pop culture has the ability to deeply affect diverse audiences. Because of this, it is a great vehicle to use for social impact messaging. Research has shown that audiences are receptive to this. Researcher Dr. Paul J. Zak has found that, compared to listing a set of facts, “stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and … are better remembered.” The Norman Lear Center has also found that audiences exposed to social issues through “narrative storylines” report a reduction in bias. They also report increased behavior change. The center notes this is in contrast to news stories, which often harden a person’s opinion.
People want to see their stories on screen, their victories and their challenges. Box office receipts for films like Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and Love, Simon show that increasingly diverse audiences are enthusiastic about increasingly diverse media. And it’s not limited to in front of the screen either. Inclusion behind the screen, the stage, or in the studio is considered just as important.
How to Engage Your Organization in This Work
According to leaders in the field, the best way to engage in successful social impact entertainment is to reach out and establish partnerships with content creators, nonprofits, and other organizations and companies.
We ❤️ SIE!
Here at FUNKY BROWN CHICK, Inc., social impact entertainment is our founder’s life work. As such, she does this work for clients, for the community, and has created her own social impact entertainment media. She has written and performed two one-woman autobiographical theatrical shows focusing on sexual health education. She consistently partners with other organizations for events about the arts and social change. In addition, she’s worked with clients on their own SIE ventures. A few projects have included:
- Supporting films that advocate for reproductive health and rights;
- Getting funds to comedians on the Abortion Access Front;
- Digitally engaging works focusing on police brutality; and
- Directing a pop culture initiative at a communications firm.
We’re more than happy to go over the insights we’ve picked up through our personal and client work. If you would like to discuss to implement effective social media entertainment activities at your organization, contact us!