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Visuals are one of the most important tools to evoke emotion and get people to act. The effectiveness of images is rarely tested, despite their critical role in strategic communications. This report shares findings from image testing on the issue of international family planning, conducted with more than 200 American family planning supporters and donors using an interactive online survey. We hope these findings and recommendations help NGOs and advocates working in international family planning and reproductive health become even more effective in their visual communications.
What didn’t work
What does international family planning look like to you?
We asked respondents to tell us what they envision when they think about international family planning. The four highest ranked photos among respondents had the following elements.
Education within communities with tangible family planning objects
Respondents said that they liked that the teaching was being done by people who appear to be part of the local community. Throughout the survey, respondents preferred images that showed contraceptives or family planning tools and materials.
Happy-looking mother/child and father/child pairings
Respondents reacted positively to the depiction of a happy mother with a wide smile, carrying a baby and a touching image of a father holding his child. The mother’s smile was noted as being the reason why respondents thought she was in control and happy. Respondents also liked seeing a father in a nurturing pose and liked that it signaled including men in family planning was important.
Testing effective development themes
We tested images used by international family planning organizations to see whether they reflected development themes that have been shown to be effective among American audiences. We looked at three core themes from the Narrative Project, and asked respondents to rank the images that most strongly reflected the themes. Here is a quick summary of those themes:
- Independence: These programs result in helping people become independent and stand on their own two feet.
- Partnership: These programs work because people from across countries and communities share knowledge, resources and responsibility.
- Shared values: Everyone deserves a chance at living a healthy life, and every human life is valuable.
What works to illustrate independence
In addition to being the most popular and effective images overall, images showing concrete examples of women holding contraceptives or training tools ranked highest as reflecting the idea that programs lead to independence. An image of a young woman studying also ranked high.
What works to illustrate partnership
By a wide margin, respondents chose images of peer education, focused on women from local communities holding training tools or contraceptives as reflecting the theme of partnership.
What works to illustrate shared values
There was less of a clear trend on this theme. Respondents ranked a tender moment between a mother and child, a grandmother and child and a single girl with hopeful expression as most representative of shared values. However, other images, including shots of families and children smiling were also ranked within a few percentage points of these images, showing that respondents saw various effective ways of representing this theme.
What would inspire others?
At the end of the survey, we asked respondents to rank the images they felt would be most effective to inspire others to support family planning. They chose three photos that ranked highly throughout the survey: two of family planning education (using tangible examples) and the image of a mother with a wide smile.
Tips on using effective photos
Many of these results reinforce previous research and testing that Resource Media has conducted and compiled. Here are a few tips to help you make smarter decisions on using photos to build support for international family planning:
The image testing was conducted over two months with 223 Americans via an online interactive survey where respondents could comment on specific parts of photos and describe their response and interpretation of the images. The survey was open to all genders, but respondents were overwhelmingly female (94%). By age group, respondents were: Millennials (41%), Gen Xers (30%), Baby Boomers (22%), Greatest Generation (6%).
While over a quarter of respondents say they are involved in some capacity with all three of the organizations with which we partnered (see acknowledgements below), 22 percent are not involved with any of them. The most common ways participants reported being involved with each organization were: following them on social media; supporting the organization’s mission; going to the website; and talking to friends about the organization. However, a majority (75%) have not donated to any of the three partner organizations.
The UN Foundation provided valuable funding for this research. Thanks to ICRW, PAI and Pathfinder International for partnering on this project, and recruiting respondents from their social media followers and email lists. Special thanks also goes out to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for supplying selected images to test. We also want to thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their work on developing the Narrative Project, which was a helpful framework to test effective themes.
Photo credits: William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, ICRW, Margaret W. Nea, PAI (Sala Lewis and J Cogan), Pathfinder International (Sala Lewis and Quarum Abedin).