By Nicoleta Fotiade, Adriana Mihai, Igor Kanižaj and Renee Hobbs
Have you seen the propaganda video designed to inspire Europeans to vote? It is an intense 3-minute film that shows the process of labor, delivery, and birth, filmed in a lyrical documentary style that captures the emotional intensity and the fragility of the process. The ad, with over 33 million views on YouTube as of May 2019, features 15 mothers and their families from countries including Greece, Hungary, Denmark and Czechia.
We appreciated the chance to critically analyze the propaganda created for the upcoming European parliamentary election in late May. The ad, funded by the European Parliament and created by a Danish advertising agency, is a good example of propaganda because of the way it activates strong emotions and simplifies information.
In a press release about the campaign, it is not labeled as propaganda, however. It is described as a “nudge,” designed to help European voters be inspired to take part in the upcoming elections and to think about those who will ultimately have to live with the consequences of this vote. Watch the video here, evaluate it using the rating scale, and add a comment if you like. As media literacy educators from Romania, Croatia and the United States, we think this video needs to be discussed and analyzed in and out of European and American schools.
1. What feelings did this ad evoke for you?
The film created a rush of emotions for us, Nicoleta has recently given birth so of course she had strong feelings and identified with the birth images. Her partner Robert also had strong emotions upon first viewing the ad, but then felt a little manipulated, noting that the long length of the ad “over-cooked” the emotional theme.
We appreciated the lyrical beauty and themes that activated a mix of joy, excitement, and fear of what is to come for them. The message of change and uncertainty was meaningful. Adriana describes the goose bumps she got for a few seconds thinking, “I could be them at some point,” remembering her own friends who have recently been through that process. In particular, the little girl’s voice-over and the representation of birth pains stirred up strong emotions.
Those of us who are fathers and mothers may feel strong positive emotions, but these feelings are not well-linked to EU institutions and its policy program to “reduce climate change, make the borders safe, fight terrorism.” We wondered about whether the campaign was also indirectly promoting natality, fertility, family values, and child health care.
2. What did you like best about the ad? What did you dislike?
There’s a mix of particularity and universality that is appealing in this ad. Given that parents are the target audience, the diversity of the families and how the relationships between women and men were depicted was a plus. We found the editing and the filmic quality of the images and the expressiveness of families to be compelling.
But the transition from this metaphor to political voting didn’t quite work. We did not like hearing policy words such as “reduce climate change” and “make the borders safe” unrealistically uttered by a child. For some viewers, it created a “spoil” effect when the child mentioned today’s global challenges. The abruptness of the shift actually made Adriana laugh, and in the end, it didn’t evoke any feelings in relation to the EU or voting.
3. What did you notice about how the “giving birth” metaphor is used in relation to voting?
For the producer, the most important message was the theme: “Choose the Europe you want me to be born in.” But for many viewers, the spoken line that resonates most includes a dimension of fear: “We know change is coming and nothing will be the same anymore.” The mix of hope and fear is captured well and effectively links the birth and voting themes.
But it is noteworthy to identify “what’s missing” from this video, which uses the frame of giving birth to a child but does not mention the most relevant key challenges in today’s Europe: low-birth rates, limited access to quality child care, and the need to provide support to young families living in poverty. Perhaps these topics are meant to be activated in the minds of European voters, but they are not addressed directly perhaps because of their potential to divide (rather than unite) potential voters.
4. How might different people interpret this ad?
Most Europeans do not have strong emotional feelings about the European Parliament and this ad aims to intentionally build an emotional connection. Some people may perceive the ad as very emotional and appreciate the beautiful images with the newborns, but they may not understand how the magic of birth is actually connected with the current European elections. Some may think: Children will continue to be born even if people do not go to vote. Other people could feel manipulated by the video. Eurosceptics are not likely to be won over by this ad. But for a particular group of youth (the so-called hipster subculture), the message may resonate because of its optimistic focus on the future.
5. Do you think this ad will help voter turnout? Why or why not?
The ad doesn’t mobilize or inspire action, but it does provide a feeling of identification and belonging. For mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers, the emotional resonance of the ad may inspire them to vote.
Does the ad intensify the bond that people feel about being citizens of a European community? This message is pretty conceptual and metaphorical. For young parents like those depicted in the video, they may be most likely to stay home on election day, taking care of the baby. But the ad may remind all people about the long-term value of voting unselfishly, for the interests of the next generation.