I was recently forwarded this video, produced by the U.S. Embassy in London to promote to and educate the public about the G8 Summit hosted this week by Great Britain in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland. I don’t have an inside track about who produced it or how, but it surely deserves more views on its YouTube Channel. It demonstrates what a creative approach can do not just for public diplomacy, but for public education on major international issues.
Embassy London produced this short video to explain, literally, the who, what, where and why of the G8. Under normal circumstances, this would be a gold-clad snoozer, a bore-fest guaranteed to fetch a dozen or so views before expiring in Google’s cloud farm gulag. But something great happened. This video is funny, relevant and informative. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. And the usual Embassy seal capstones aside, it doesn’t look or sound like any State Department official product you’ve ever seen. No wonder Macon Phillips, Director of White House Office of Digital Strategy, cited it as an example of department “best practice”.
It’s worth a few lines to take it apart and understand why this video works so well as an example of virtual public diplomacy.
Why It Works
It’s easy to miss because the format is so simple. A man reads a text (in English) and a woman illustrates the lecture with a felt pen on a white board. That’s it. For all the high-tech whiz-bang of YouTube, desktop video and social media, you could probably do this at home with your kids and a chalk board. And the producers have embraced and put those low-tech features to work to their advantage.
The text is fortunately pretty straight-forward and well-read (more on that in a moment). But it’s the felt-pen illustration that really makes this work, for two main reasons. First, obviously, it places pictures to capture the narration neatly and smartly in sharper focus. Just like a good political cartoon. This is NOT EASY – so more commendation to the artist and creative team, whoever you are! It’s obvious that a lot of creative thinking and planning went in to executing this. Coming up with snappy images to contextualize a complex international meeting is much harder than it sounds, and they do that with vim here. State’s got its own little Conrad and Walt Kelly working over there in London.
Second – and this is something else you may not notice on first watching – replaying the act of the illustration introduces a kind of comedic tension to the video. You sit there, watching and wondering what the artist is drawing, where she is going with that line, and then, bingo, there it is! (You can see another, more graphically sophisticated example of this here.) It’s like watching a comedian set up a joke, and you lean in, waiting for the punch line, and then, WHAMMO! It’s a clever use of the constraints of the medium.
It runs a little long. Explaining why the G8 is really the G7+2, or G9-1 (or whatever; it’s still a little confusing) could probably have been done with two or three sentences – organizational history is not really that interesting to the lay audience. Listing every country and international organization participating was no doubt the politic thing to do, but I bet 30 seconds could be saved by listing the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization by its universally recognizable acronym, UNESCO, and the same could probably go for the rest of that virtually interminable (and perfectly pronounced) list. But the accompanying graphic is really impressive, with anonymous faces crushing in around a too-small table labeled “G8” – it demonstrates that “G8” is really a misnomer and that the table is in fact a grand forum for far more countries and international organizations to come together and discuss major issues of common concern. (Just like NATO.)
Finally, since this is an American product, I would expect the Embassy to articulate the U.S. position on issues relating to the G8. Maybe they decided that’s not exactly what they wanted to do with this, that they didn’t want to use an educational product to make a hard sell. But even articulating what’s on the table would not only demonstrate why the G8 is so vital, but what’s really at stake when all these countries and organizations sit down to talk to one another. That, when you think about it, is the real purpose of public diplomacy.