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Development porn? Child sponsorship advertisements in the 1970s

Robert Mittelman (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada)
Leighann C. Neilson (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 9 August 2011




Child sponsorship programs have been accused of representing children in the developing world in a manner described as “development porn”. The purpose of this paper is to take an historical approach to investigating the use of advertising techniques by Plan Canada, a subsidiary of one of the oldest and largest child sponsorship‐based non‐governmental development agencies, Plan International, during the 1970s. This time period represents an important era in international development and a time of significant change in the charitable giving and advertising industries in Canada.


The authors conduct a content analysis on an archival collection of 468 print advertisements from the 1970s.


A description of the “typical” Plan Canada fund‐raising ad is presented and shown to be different, in several aspects, from other advertisements of the time period. It was determined that Plan Canada's advertisement did not cross the delicate line between showing the hardship and realities of life in the developing world for these children and what became known as “development porn”.


There has been little previous research which focuses specifically on the design of charity advertisements. This paper presents a historically contextualized description of such ads, providing a baseline for further research. It also raises important questions regarding the portrayal of the “other” in marketing communications and the extent to which aid agencies must go to attract the attention of potential donors.



Mittelman, R. and Neilson, L.C. (2011), "Development porn? Child sponsorship advertisements in the 1970s", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 3 No. 3, pp. 370-401.



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