Practically since the dawn of time, the best advertising agencies have been more than happy to do charity advertising for next to nothing. It’s a mutually benevolent arrangement.
The charity advertising gets memorable, visible work, raising money and profile.
And the agency gets memorable, visible work for its shop-window. And a warm, philanthropic glow.
Also, from an agency’s point of view, great charity advertising is a cinch, isn’t it? Think of all the heartstrings you can pull – you’re pushing at an open door, right?
Wrong. Great charity advertising is very hard to do well.
What’s easy is showing victims of poverty/abuse/neglect/war/sickness, and hope that pity alone will move large numbers of people to give money.
Sadly, it doesn’t often work. In a world of daily horrors on 24-hour multimedia news, charities can rarely rely on shock tactics any longer. Mostly, we’re unshockable. (I also blame Scandinavian crime dramas for this tendency.)
And – let’s face it – we’re all poorer than we were. In the grips of a nasty global recession, looking after Number One is, well, number one.
I don’t have any answers for society’s charity-ennui. But there are some tactics I try to consider when I’m asked to conceive and write charity campaigns.
Charity advertising has to be different
I start by looking at what everyone else is doing in that field of charity advertising and try something wildly different – an unexpected ‘look’; an unexpected approach to the subject. If all the other advertising in the sector features black and white photography, be colourful. If all the other advertising is full of misery, be very positive. If all the other advertising is text-heavy, use one word instead.
Not a scientific template but you get my drift.
I try to think beyond the medium I’ve been asked to work in: if it’s a press ad, how do I make that message seem so important that it generates discussion, protest, outrage? I’ve always felt that private fund-raising is a mug’s game compared to galvanising government money. No amount of people waving plastic boxes will generate the sort of funds governments have for your cause. So use your message to embarrass politicians into doing something. (A good deed in itself.) Or find a way to lobby Bill Gates.
Above all, think outside the box. Create a national event, for example.
Red Nose Day and the BBC’s Children in Need are nationally famous, prodigious fund-raisers in the UK. And of course, the big daddy of them all, Bob Geldof’s Live Aid, did more for poverty in Africa than almost anything ever. We can’t all raise the resources for such mega-events. But a great idea like Movember (growing a moustache for prostate cancer every November) is very achievable.
I think of charity advertising as an opportunity to do some good but also as an intellectual challenge in using words to effect change that no ad for frozen peas ever can. It’s a terrifying responsibility but, by thinking outside the box, anything is possible.
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