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Charity Advertising Social Media

Vox Pop: Hard hitting charity campaigns

By Naomi Taylor | Client Services Manager

LONDON Advertising


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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August 27, 2015 | 8 min read

The British Heart Foundation has dealt us all an 'emotional punch' in the tear ducts with the reveal of their new campaign which aims to shift society's perceptions of heart disease. The advert is set in the classroom with a young boy about to receive news about his father’s death, a shocking and stark message which succeeds in showing the devastating and immediate consequences heart disease can have. Charities are constantly facing criticism in their drive for donations and are appealing to people in every way possible. The Drum Network has asked its members whether they believe that charities are going too far and possibly taking advantage of the emotionally vulnerable with these hard hitting ads, or whether it is part and parcel of the message they are trying to get across.

Michael Moszynski, partner & CEO, LONDON Advertising

I believe this ad reflects the wider challenge of fund raising facing charities today.

Having been hooked on the heroin of direct debits generated by chuggers, which have proved increasingly unpopular, and then castigated for hard selling to OAPs, all charities are desperately looking at new, more ethical ways to drive revenue.

On a personal level I can identify with the issue in this ad as my father died from heart disease when I was seven (which I believe was caused by having fought for six years in the war only to lose his Polish homeland at the end). Losing your dad at such a young age is a huge loss so I have no concerns on this ad’s emotional pull, but I am less sure if it will be as successful in driving donations versus communicating the impact of the disease.

However help in the form of new technology is here to assist charities build sustainable, long-term new revenue streams via an online plug-in called “Give4Sure” which automatically converts affiliate income from online shopping into charity donations. Once downloaded it works invisibly in the background and on average generates £4.80 per month per user. Every month. Much to googles’ annoyance it has pioneered a way to change the results of searches to highlight in pink those retailers which will make the charity donation on the user’s behalf. Simples. LONDON Advertising is proud to be helping Give4Sure make a difference to the future of fund raising in the UK.

Laura Varley, brand journalist, Vertical Leap

Charities have to keep pushing the envelope when it comes to emotion, as the great British public has become immune to so many of the adverts urging people to donate or take action already out there. As sad as it is, we’re all used to seeing crying children on our TV screens – we need an emotional, closer to home story to grab our attention.

A powerful, visual story has the power to do so much more, and I think the British Heart Foundation has done this wonderfully. It’s simple, short and believable. It sums up what impact heart disease can have on both the sufferer and their loved ones, without going too far. Charities need to centre their campaigns around more stories like this if they’re to retain their audiences’ attention and empower them to take action.

Nick Adams, strategist, Yoyo

I think the new British Heart Foundation ad is excellent, impactful and uncomfortable to watch for all the right reasons.

We’ve seen charities use a range of techniques to standout; funny, sad, hard-hitting, user generated, celebrity-backed – and let’s not forget, this is the same charity that saw Vinnie Jones and The Bee Gees coming together for a memorable campaign, providing potentially life-saving information through humour.

Charities have to standout because there’s over 185,000 registered in the UK alone. Any investment made in marketing needs to see returns, because donating to charity is usually a result of some kind of emotive rationale. Therefore anything they invest in needs to have reach and ‘talkability’.

I’m also not convinced that shock tactics, or playing with people’s emotions, are exclusive to charity sector either. If you think about the Marmite “Neglect" ad campaign they borrowed equity and sentiment from what could have been a hard-hitting RSPCA campaign, and like the brand itself the love/hate was well distributed.

In order for anyone to standout, be it a charity or brand, they need to constantly evolve their thinking and sometimes someone pulls something out the bag that is simple, effective, starts conversations and gets the message across, this delivers in bucket loads. And by the way, just because it’s uncomfortable to view, doesn’t mean that it’s not the right thing to do.

James Sansom, account manager, The Future Factory

As marketers, it’s easy to be cynical when it comes to the ‘emotional’ advert. It can feel manufactured - an attempt to encourage viewers to feel moved enough to reach for their wallets and contribute. Emotion has always been a key ingredient in a successful ad campaign.

You only have to look through your Facebook wall last Christmas to be reminded how many of your friends were moved by John Lewis’ latest advert. Then it was a simple and sweet advert that plays on nostalgia and your magical Christmas memories. This time it’s an emotional gut-punch to remind you the true cost of ignoring the message. Emotion always ensures engagement. In the charity sector where so many other causes are competing in the same space an emotional advert ensures you remember it and want to do something to affect change.

Every brand wants to stand out from their competition. Effective messaging helps to ensure they are the ones being talked about. The same is true of charities and what we’re looking at here is a powerful method of ensuring we’re thinking about the British Heart Foundation.

Andrew Roberts, managing partner, Gravity Thinking

Last week I did my 100th park run with my 12 year old daughter- 5k in an average 21 minutes. After we finished, she noticed two ladies who were still only half way round, her reaction, “good for them” was priceless. I asked her more about this and she spoke passionately of a video extolling the virtues of exercise a friend had shared on Instagram. She even talked about the benefits of running for your heart and said it was never too late to start up exercise.

Just over 50 years ago Marshall McLuhan-the so called media prophet of the 1960’s- wrote about the much misquoted concept of ‘the medium is the message’. In his essay he summed up the theory that the medium through which we choose to communicate holds as much, if not more, value than the message itself.

Fast forward to 2015 and as we all know that social now leads conversations. It creates sharing and drives peer to peer communication and that necessitates the use of messages that are impactful and memorable. In the case of some charities that clearly now means using the shock factor. The key however is not actually shock but rather emotional connection – the BHF ad connects with me (and indeed my daughter) because it pulls at the heartstrings and makes us think about the future.

Social is the place where we connect with our closest friends and family and, much like brands, if you can create emotional connection between your cause and your audience- the ‘message’ and the ‘medium’ are equally important. Of course shock tactics can work but so do many others, as long as charities focus on emotion then they can’t go too far wrong.

Richard Madden, digital marketing executive, Strawberry

The question isn't whether charities are taking emotion too far in their advertising campaigns, but rather what can a charity do to stand out from the crowd? It feels like television broadcasting has been pushing the boundary for a while now and, to a certain extent, we’ve become desensitised to it. Think about the sort of footage we see in a news broadcast or a show like Game of Thrones - would it have been so graphic or even broadcast 10 or 15 years ago? I think charities have to raise the bar to get their messages across because, quite frankly, messages that have traditionally worked don’t have the impact they once did.

Charity Advertising Social Media

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LONDON Advertising

LONDON is a global advertising agency built for today and is the only agency to have won Agency of the Year for four consecutive years. We create One Brilliant Idea that works in any media, any language and any market that is proven to deliver the highest ROI for our clients in their sector.

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Vertical Leap

We are an evidence-led search marketing agency that helps brands get found online, drive qualified traffic to their websites and increase conversions/sales.

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We work with businesses to bring their vision and ideas to life by blending big thinking with finely crafted design.

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The Future Factory

With a mix of lead generation, board level consultancy and coaching, we help to make the future more predictable for agency Owners, Founder and Directors.

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Gravity Thinking


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Strawberry was established in 1993 and is a full-services creative digital agency with a team of 37 highly talented staff.

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