Comic Book Heroes Leap off the Page to Help Millions Facing Famine

DC Comics and Warner Bros. launch We Can Be HeroesWith 13 million people in Horn of Africa countries facing down drought, famine and other real-life challenges that would give pause to any fictional superhero, DC Entertainment has joined forces with Warner Bros. Entertainment and other Time Warner companies to launch the  “We Can Be Heroes” campaign, to enlist the help of ordinary citizens across the globe in raising relief funds. We Can Be Heroes is notable in several respects, not only because of its ambitious reach – the funds will go to help find long term solutions as well as short-term relief in a part of the world beset by historic levels of drought – but because it also sets an incredibly high bar for communicating about social responsibility and motivating people to get involved and pitch in for the long haul.

Leveraging the Unique Resources of Media Powerhouses

Human nature being what it is, the level of public engagement in crisis response can run in cycles, and according to We Can Be Heroes right now we are in a down cycle. A killer combination of drought, displacement and conflict in the Horn of Africa countries – Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya – has put more than 13 million people in dire straights, and yet the human scale of the disaster has been, for the most part, off the public radar. DC and Warner Bros. aim to change that by drawing on their rich heritage of powerful storytelling, a legacy that has captured the imagination of generations of people from all walks of life not only here in the U.S. but around the world.

Engaging Ordinary Heroes

Real and fictional celebrities are often enlisted to help raise awareness for a good cause, but We Can Be Heroes takes a more active approach. Rather than encouraging potential donors to simply follow the example of an admirable spokesperson, the campaign encourages people to see themselves as living embodiments of the relief effort. With spare, haiku-like brushstrokes, a short video on the We Can Be Heroes website draws the viewer into an introspective process that lays out the basic element of being a hero, which is quite simply to be needed. When you think of the heroic action spanning decades of storytelling in DC comic books and Warner Bros. films, in which fate calls upon ordinary people to become extraordinary, helping others in need is the essential thread. We Can Be Heroes encourages people be aware of the ways in which they can cast themselves in that role.

Accomplishing Great Things Together

Another storytelling element that distinguishes We Can Be Heroes is the use of a team, the Justice League, rather than a single spokesperson. The Justice League (for those of us who need reminding) brings together the individual specialties of several very different superheroes into a single powerful force, and that provides a platform for We Can Be Heroes to emphasize the twin concepts of strength in numbers and the effectiveness of collaborative action.  This team-based approach is the perfect answer to the old “but what can one person do?” question, and it can help motivate potential donors by enabling them to visualize the effect their individual contribution can have.

Heroes Joining Heroes

In a conversation with TriplePundit, Jeff Robinov, President of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, emphasized that a the essence of  a good story is its ability to engage people in an “emotional commitment to the characters.” We Can Be Heroes creates this emotional connection by appealing to the common human instinct that binds all heroes together, the instinct to help those in need. It tells the story of ordinary people who are fighting a daily battle to care for their families and build a better life in the face of tremendous obstacles including food scarcity, health care issues and the threat of physical violence. In doing so, the campaign creates a powerful cycle of identification between donors, the fictional superheroes they admire, and real-life heroes in need of a helping hand.

A Solid Foundation for a Successful Campaign

While We Can Be Heroes has certain unique resources at hand, it also has deep roots in the bedrock principles of a successful fundraising campaign. DC and Warner Bros., as part of the Time Warner media empire, are well positioned to partner with three of the most well known and well respected non-government organizations with a wealth of experience in hunger and relief issues, namely Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, and Mercy Corps. Another reassurance factor is the campaign’s attention to a seemingly small detail, its merchandising component. The immediate goal is to help raise additional funds (half of each purchase goes directly to the campaign), but more broadly a well thought out line of merchandise establishes a familiar presence in the public consciousness and can make a significant contribution to awareness of the campaign.

Image: We Can Be Heroes t-shirt courtesy of We Can Be Heroes (via

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.



Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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