Ian Maynard (left), head of marketing and business development director of London-based creative and production specialist network, says that even charities with limited budgets don’t have to use shock tactics to produce compelling, creative campaigns.
There are over 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales according to the Charity Commission; all of which, in some way, need to advertise their cause. And the ones that do it best pull in the most donations.
But this is anything but a level playing field even though most of the causes (not all perhaps) are good ones. For any charity the cost of media is perhaps the major issue. In some cases space and (occasionally) time is donated or offered at a discount. But the modern-day charities that pack the biggest punch are those that get their airtime free.
In the UK this means those supported by the BBC: Children in Need, Comic Relief (Red Nose Day) and Sport Relief. Now these are all fine and good causes but, because of the saturation coverage provided by the Beeb and the serried ranks of celebrities involved, extract a huge amount of money out of what is necessarily a limited amount of available generosity.
Then there are the major global natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, Haiti, The Japanese earthquake and so on that also earn 24/7 mass media coverage and can easily blow other charity efforts out of the water (if that’s not a tasteless analogy).
Then there is the ‘Premier League’ of big causes – Cancer Research and The British Heart Foundation, for example – and the big global operators (this is partly a business, after all) like Oxfam and Save The Children.
Bringing up the rear (although not that far behind) are those like the Alzheimer’s Society trying to combat a condition that is ever more top of mind as the nation grows older and children’s and animal charities that (reasonably enough) also have an enduring potency.
But this still leaves a hell of a lot. What should do to market themselves in the face of the big battalions? The temptation is to shock, an approach we’ve seen recently from various domestic abuse, animal welfare and even pancreatic cancer charities as well as its regular use in charities supporting victims of famine and war.
This is a tricky area but it’s an approach that works to a degree – as any direct TV media buyer will tell you – even though it can be gruelling for most of us and, you suspect, likely to work best with a pretty limited pool of donors. There is clearly a danger of ‘wear out.’
At network we have a lot of experience in handling charities and our experience clearly shows that there are two possible nerves to touch: help the audience feel the problem or show them how they’ll make a difference. Ideally you might do both. This is what shock treatment is supposed to achieve, of course, but you don’t have to use shock.
You also need to be very focussed on who exactly you can reach with your available budget: there’s no point in having a small (and probably non-productive) effect on a large number of people, you need to persuade the most likely donors to respond. Which, bearing in mid budgetary concerns, means a media channel that is either under-used or demonstrably the most suitable to reach that audience.
And, most important, a compelling creative idea. Here’s an example of a campaign that network produced for Arthritis Care, not one of those headline causes we mentioned earlier but a serious problem for a growing number of people in our ageing population (not that all sufferers are older).
It doesn’t shock or play to your emotions instead it just dramatizes the everyday challenges arthritis sufferers face in a simple compelling way. More importantly it worked, demonstrating that if you can touch the right nerve you can ensure you get noticed. In the end marketing a charity is like marketing any other product. If it’s different enough then consumers will pay attention.