I have to just put a caveat at the beginning of this post that I have taken the images below from google searches, and while I think each image corresponds with the campaigns I mention, they might not. But i reckon you'll get the gist...
From speaking to people here in Lisbon, it seems that the perception of Clowning in Portugal is much the same to at home. People immediately think of The Circus. The difference in Portugal is that the next thing they think of is the ONV Clowndoctors. So how the heck?
When I said to Magda Morbey Ferro, Communications Manager at ONV, that I was impressed by the Facebook and Social Media following that ONV has, she immediately brushed it off as a cultural thing, and nothing to do with any specific strategy that ONV has had. She said that everyone uses Facebook in Portugal, and that is all there is to it.
I suspect there is a fair bit of modesty going on here. Everyone uses Facebook in the UK too. She mentions, almost in passing, that ONV is a 'Superbrand' in Portugal, and is one of the top 10 NGO's in the country. I imagine this also has something to do with their huge following.
The ONV brand was built, from the beginning, alongside the artistic programme. Marketing and communications came hand in hand with the work, and the founders always had it clear in their minds that this was a central part of building their visibility.
First their focus was to say WHAT they were. Clowns in Hospital.
Second they expanded this to include images of clowns with children.
Next, they moved towards showing a more realistic representation of the work, and they launched a campaign for their 10th anniversary to show the EFFECT of the work.
Then, the focus was to emphasise that the clowns are professionals, to diminish the perception that anyone can put on a red nose and do this work. With this, they launched the, 'When I grow up I want to be a Clowndoctor' campaign.
And moved their focus to young people – to educate them in social responsibility (people don't give to charities in Portugal the same way that people do in the UK due to a variety of reasons) – AND to educate them in what it is to be a Clowndoctor.
To do this they launched the ''Dia do Nariz Vermelho (Red Nose Day...which of course we already have in the UK – in fact, Comic Relief has exclusive rights to this in several European countries, but missed out Portugal for some reason!) As well as awareness raising events, they send resource kits to schools with activities and games – encouraging them to think up their own Clowndoctor name, to make characters, and think about what it is to be a clown in hospital.
I find the idea that the next generation will have grown up knowing that there are clowns in hospital, that this is a profession that you can aspire to, like any other, really exciting!
And in Comic Relief fashion, they get lots of celebrities on board...including Mr Bean!
TV Spots too:
Endorsement from young celebrities who use Social Media as second nature will also be doing a lot to raise awareness with young folk about the work, and I imagine that these endorsements have had a huge impact on ONV's Social Media following.
Magda emphasised that they do all of this with very little budget – all of the TV & radio spots, the website etc are done on a pro-bono basis. For her, this is frustrating as she is somewhat at the whim of these companies and their availability. From where I am standing, as an artist who knows absolutely nothing about these things, it seems very resourceful to even have TV spots and Radio campaigns, even if they do only air at 2am.
I was kind of bowled over by all of this. Just imagine if Hearts & Minds - and for that matter - other European hospital clown NGO's could use the Red Nose Day thing?! If we could have an international Red Nose Day for Hospital Clowns?
And since that definitely isn't going to happen - what might the alternative be?
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I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.