Are Brits missing the seriousness of charity by submerging it in entertainment?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Is entertainment a necessary tool for raising awareness?

When it comes to charity, it doesn’t appear that a hard-nosed approach to suffering appeals to the hearts of the Brits. In its passive fashion, the UK euphemises the reality of helplessness through personal gain; charity shops, celebrity specials, red nose days, social media challenges and Children in Need are all examples of how we use entertainment and consumption as a middle man, bringing an element of joy to a serious issue.

We asked The Drum Network members if they think this approach is necessary for raising awareness, and how can we can alter our marketing technique so people’s mentality shifts from one of gaining benefit to wanting to educate themselves on the issues raised.

Travis Eyles, senior paid media executive, Rocketmill

It’s true, our response to tragedy and strife can often be to turn away when it hasn’t been softened by entertainment. But I don’t believe this is necessary for raising awareness; you only need to look at how millennials behave online to see they care. A recent Google study showed 39% of young YouTubers use the platform to ‘see the world differently’.

We don’t necessarily need to alter marketing techniques to make people care – many already do. Instead, we must ensure content reaches and informs these users through optimisation and refined targeting. This should educate people about how they can help and continually engage donators, encouraging them to share through captivating creative used in customer relationship management (CRM) and retargeting activity.

Chloe Rushworth, senior PR campaign manager, Stickyeyes

It is an excess of digital and social entertainment that has shaped this belief. Too much of the same stuff is being produced – whether its hard-hitting advertorial campaigns or marketing campaigns that are focused on personal gain – and there is no middle ground. This needs to change.

Marketers need to be more disruptive, step outside the norm and create valuable content for charities. Homeless charity The Passage launched a virtual reality (VR) campaign just before Christmas, encouraging people to experience what it’s like to be living rough on Oxford Street. An extremely well executed campaign with absolutely no element of joy or personal gain, it’s a prime example of what can be done to raise awareness for a serious issue.

Ian Hyde, head of paid media, Ayima

They call it a FUNdraiser for a reason. Bringing an element of joy and fun to serious matters cuts through the noise and grabs people’s attention, which after all is the most important thing. Yes, people may tune in to see Harry Styles get his haircut live on TV, but if 10% of the viewers make the connection between the action and the cause is that not worth it?

The most vital part of any charity campaign is retention and making sure that those involved know the positive effect that their generosity has had builds trust and a long-term relationship.

Stuart Button, group creative director, Lick Creative

At the moment, the personal gain approach is necessary, perhaps because it’s the more effective approach to enticing people to donate – in the same way that marketers may use a quick promotion to get people to sign-up to a newsletter. However, it isn’t necessarily sustainable for charities as it won’t lead to long-term donations. Celebrity specials, red nose days and social media challenges all have a short shelf-life.

As technology in marketing evolves, charities are faced with having to market to a more digitally-aware audience. Socially driven campaigns that utilise the latest personalisation features offered by Facebook’s profile picture filters, as well as everything Snapchat is pushing, will play a more integral part in educating the millennial, while adhering to their ever-growing social media-driven desires. The only way to achieve long-term, sustained donations is to educate people on the cause through the use of technology.

Dave Evans, head of digital, Chapter

Euphemism keeps us safe from the harsh realities of the world and, as we become more desensitised to the suffering around us, it’s understandable that charities resort to the tactics described to encourage us to donate. Couple this with increasing levels of competition (with over 160,000 UK charities), concerns around trust and transparency and squeezed household finances, a charity marketing team’s job gets even harder.

These organisations should learn to leverage the power of behavioural science that says people act in far more irrational ways than marketers otherwise might think. Once charities learn to abandon the fallacy of the ‘rational’ consumer, they will be able to create far more successfully influential communications.

Nick Meakin, head of sport, The Playbook

Charity marketing at its best provokes emotion. It makes people laugh and cry, question and understand. Brits aren’t becoming less charitable, they’re becoming more discerning and inclined to investigate the things they love. Disruptive content is a great way to resonate with the public; Standard Chartered resonated with fans with by showing football through the prism of visual impairment and featured the Liverpool manager taking a training session with and without his famous glasses. Charities need to refocus their attention on creating emotive stories and moments that connect with consumer passion points. Whether that be a favourite football team, must-watch TV show or engaging Instagram influencer, there are endless opportunities in placing charity at the heart of things that people love.

Emma Critchley, PR and marketing manager, TLC Marketing UK

Entertainment is a universal language. It captures the attention of everyone, young or old, whether interested in the cause or not. And I don’t think that should change because you need it to get the necessary cut through. It’s the same in any business; you have to find an angle that stands out, grabs people’s attention and makes your message unmissable. It’s only then, once you’ve achieved this, that you have earned the right to sell to them.

Not everyone is going to want to find out about your charity cause or what you’ve got to sell. But in business, if you want people to part with their money, you need to be relevant in their lives. Every charity has an element of suffering at the heart of it so that alone is not going to make you stand out and rarely works. You need to work out your purpose, who you are targeting, who is most likely to part with their money and come up with an engaging marketing campaign to attract them. Probably more so in charity than any other sector.

Emma Derbyshire, content strategy lead, Zazzle media

Emotion is great in all content marketing but where charities go wrong is that they usually concentrate on one emotion entirely: sadness. Often, great pieces of content play with the audience’s emotional state by encouraging two entirely polar emotions within the same piece. This way, as humans, we engage and respond well because we don’t like being confused about how we feel. I’d like to see more of this from charities this year; confuse our emotions to get us talking, interested and engaged.’

Dan Greene, creative director, Wolff Olins

Jumping on social media trends like the ice bucket challenge and using entertainment to increase awareness around a cause is popular, but isn’t right for every charity. However, straightforward education isn’t necessarily the answer either. To increase awareness and drive donations, nuance is needed, either through creating partnerships like aids charity Red or creating a movement like Macmillan – both examples of platforms designed to raise funds and awareness, but through two very distinct approaches.

Ultimately however, the concept of belief is key. Organisations can inspire and galvanise people by demonstrating a bold, self-assured approach to the most complex problems. In a sector – and world – that’s unsettled and unsure of itself, confidence is infectious.

Mellissa Flowerdew-Clarke, marketing director, Return

The media is awash with the trauma of the world and we’ve become desensitised to harrowing images; they rarely instigate action any more. But it’s patronising to say that Brits need the entertainment pay-off in order to be charitable, as proven by the rise of charitable micro-funding such as lendwithcare.org.

As an industry, we now have access to more data than ever before, and the tools and capabilities to drive audience-first marketing strategies. Relevancy is key – when you can personalise, localise and target users based on their interests and behaviour, you communicate with them in their voice and inspire them to engage. Multiple micro-campaigns that make people feel that they are part of a small group that could make a big impact will be more successful than a mass media campaign where donors feel dissociated from the end cause.

This article was originally published in the charity issue of The Drum Network magazine series. You can purchase your copy here.

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