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Are charity ads like Save the Children’s missing their target by being so damned miserable?

Charities are big businesses these days, winning a place at the top geo-political tables, being summoned to the cause of the UK’s ‘Big Society’ (proprietors David Cameron and Steve Hilton) and running ad campaigns a-plenty, including every other spot on digital TV channels aimed at supposedly time and cash-rich middle class potential donors.

Big agencies and celebrities queue up to feature in these communications, presumably for free or less than they would charge a commercial client.

Yet the message is always the same, a minute or two of solemnly voiced doom and gloom followed by an appeal to give ‘just three pounds’ a month to their cause (in some instances in the UK this seems to have gone down to two pounds, the never-ending recession I suppose).

And it’s all really, really unconvincing.

Here’s the latest effort from one of the giants in the field, Save the Children, produced by UK agency of the moment Adam & Eve. The PR for this featured the likes of David Beckham, Nelson Mandela and Albert Einstein. Well that’s quite a cast you thought (even if Albert is not readily available these days).

Well it doesn’t feature Dave or Nelson, or not directly anyway. It does have Helena Bonham Carter intoning drearily “no child was born to die.”

Which must come fairly high up on anyone’s list of meaningless statements. Because they do all die in the end (wherever they live), it’s just a case of when and how and how old.

Assuming you accept that the charity in question is raising funds for a good cause and carrying out its duties honestly (which not all of them are) then it’s not unreasonable for you, the donor or customer, to expect a rather more imaginative account of the benefits that will accrue to the recipients of your money (and, indeed, yourself) by responding to the offer.

This is what you’re offered in ads selling just about anything else, after all.

So why don’t we see some evidence of what Save the Children, and all the other similar charities, does with its money? Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?

All we get at the moment is an unsophisticated pitch trying to make us feel good by responding to feeling bad. It’s like Dove saying ‘God, you stink, why don’t you wash?’

Maybe the charities think they can do the light at the end etc stuff better in documentaries and things like the BBC’s Children in Need. Possibly the research says that this gloomy heartstrings stuff really does work best.

Or are the charities and their agencies just showing a lamentable lack of intellectual effort and imagination?

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

2 comments

  1. “Yet the message is always the same, a minute or two of solemnly voiced doom and gloom followed by an appeal to give ‘just three pounds’ a month to their cause (in some instances in the UK this seems to have gone down to two pounds, the never-ending recession I suppose).”

    You mention on this basis that the advert should show what is being done with the money. Watch the advert again (or perhaps for the first time?) and you will see that at no point does it ask for £3 a month, or indeed any sum of money at all. It is, all in all, a spectacularly inappropriate advert for illustrating your point.

  2. ‘Which must come fairly high up on anyone’s list of meaningless statements. Because they do all die in the end (wherever they live), it’s just a case of when and how and how old.’

    This sentence doesn’t make sense; it’s about children being able to live to reach adulthood and their potential; we all die, but normally of old age, not as children, and not the preventable diseases children are dying of in poor countries.

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