Click on the image below to play Spent before reading this.
For the piece of brand communication to analyze, I chose Spent by Urban Ministries of Durham. It’s an interactive website/game where people sitting at their computers can gain insight about what it’s like to be in the kind of situation people served by UMD face on a regular basis. This website came out a few years ago, and I remember playing on it when it was first gaining attention. Although I was one of the few people I knew who was able to make it through the month with money leftover, it got me thinking about the kind of sacrifices I had made to get through the month and how it could affect important relationships with loved ones.
I have been fortunate with my parents, and we haven’t been in any situation like that, but I imagine that was the point of the game. To make me understand. The designers at McKinney must have thought about how the majority of people wasting time on the web probably weren’t concerned with their day-to-day living and making ends meet; these people just want to be distracted by whatever is new on the internet. Because they might be unfamiliar with the complicated/frustrating nature of poverty, they might not understand how much of an impact their donations could make. I believe that must have been the insight, that people weren’t donating to UMD because they don’t understand (as it is hard to do without having first-hand experience) the nature of poverty and therefore lack the empathy required to make a donation, but they would once they fully understood.
This particular piece of communication resonates with me because I’m on the Executive Board of UNC Dance Marathon, the state’s largest student-run nonprofit, which benefits the patients and families of N.C. Children’s Hospital. UNC-DM helps families of the hospital in ways that insurance cannot, such as providing medical equipment or paying house bills when medical bills pile too high. For some of our families, it’s the choice between paying for your child’s medicine that month, or paying for gas to take them to the hospital for a routine checkup. These families can be in incredibly difficult situations, and UNC-DM exists to alleviate some of the stresses associated with a child’s illness so that parents can focus on their recovery instead.
I know of these difficulties because I have spent a lot of time with hospital families, getting to know their stories, and trying to re-tell them to the public. I also know that a lot of people don’t understand the reality these families face the way I, as a member of the Executive Board, do. It’s definitely one of our biggest challenges– getting young adults to think outside of their bubbles and realize just what an impact their involvement can make. Spent did a beautiful job of bridging the knowledge gap. It can be difficult to imagine yourself in these kinds of situations, especially for college students (one of our main audiences) who have, for the most part, been brought up comfortably and don’t face the same concerns on a daily basis.
Spent was an awesome way to connect people on the internet, who might not be inclined to think outside of their immediate surroundings, with those served by UMD. It used a medium everyone was already on and an intriguing platform to help users actually experience some of the worries and stresses. Granted, given one of the facts I learned on Spent, over 44% of people living below the poverty line visit the public library to get online, those actually under the poverty line probably weren’t as likely to stumble upon this site, ironically enough. Unless, of course they heard about it through UMD personally. Additionally, there is bound to be an audience of people who would see the game and its description, or even go as far as playing the game, and come away unchanged. Whether it’s because they have a lot of money or are not as empathetic as their peers, I don’t know. But they are not nearly as likely to benefit from this game. Overall though, I’m so glad to have run into this website. I might have been just playing a game online, but for many people, it isn’t a game. That experience helped me open my eyes, as I’m sure was the case for many others. That’s why I hang onto this link and keep it in my bookmarks. It’s a reminder of why I do what I do for UNC-DM, and it’s also a great reminder of what is possible when people have the resources, creativity and drive to tell a story.