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Is it time to take the entertainment out of charity messaging?

By Jessica Davis, Consultant Journalist

Propeller Group


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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April 10, 2018 | 8 min read

Celebrity specials, red nose days, social media challenges for charity appeals, Children in Need. What do all these have in common? They all use positivity and humour to celebrate good causes. In fact, when it comes to charities, a hard-nosed approach to suffering no longer appears to appeal to the hearts of the Brits.

Red nose day

Is entertainment a necessary tool for raising awareness?

We asked The Drum Network members if they think this approach is necessary for raising awareness, and if marketing has a responsibility to shift people’s mind-set from one of gaining benefit to wanting to educate themselves on the issues raised.

Frank Krikhaar, global CSR director, Dentsu Aegis Network

I think it would be churlish to claim, when people visit a charity shop, that the money they donate is somehow ‘less worthy’ because they have done so in return for some personal gain. These shops are an indispensable part of the high street and make a valuable contribution to a more circular and sustainable economy.

Charities don’t solely rely on a system of entertainment and stardom for raising awareness, and there are many examples of excellent work that highlight the stark reality of the people reliant on charities’ work. These examples can garner high engagement without relying on star value to publicise them. Think of the long form work that Macmillan did in 2017, which provided fantastic engagement of over 1,000 people per video via Instagram stories.

Oliver Bingham, consultant, The Clearing

I don’t remember Nike, Marmite or Apple using suffering to get people to care about their brands – so why should this work for charities? We tend to be drawn to brands that promise to add something positive to our lives and charity brands are no different. Today’s most effective charities play on our desires and aspirations – they aren’t trying to grab the spotlight by entertaining. The way they look, sound and feel are unmistakably positive, telling personal, motivating stories that provide potential givers with something optimistic to aim for.

Shaun Ezlati, head of integrated strategies, TVC Group

Charities are becoming more aware that gimmicks are not really giving the public the full picture when it comes to an important cause. While pass-it-on challenges and selfies with a message have raised awareness and money for a variety of causes, the shelf-life of this type of campaign is expiring.

In the last three years the news has been filled with more and more stories about the rise of some of the most serious health conditions. Charities need to react to this by creating more meaningful campaigns that connect, not just digitally, giving the full picture and kick-starting the right type of conversations which look to the longer term. There is more to successful charity fundraising than a trending hashtag, and by losing the gimmicks charities will ensure their message engages authentically with the right audience.

Alex Jones, campaign manager, Zazzle Media

The format of the atypical charity ad is one that the UK is very familiar with, so much so that the effect is somewhat nulled. We know what’s coming, so why pay full attention?

While the entertainment middleman technique is a successful one, I believe the UK has the ability to stomach a serious message without having to be rewarded with a participation medal. We just need to fix the format.

We need creative and compelling concepts. We need to do away with the cliches, (sad soundtracks, slow-mo footage). And most of all we need to make people want to act. I recommend War Child’s ‘Batman’ ad as an example of how it should be done in 2018.

Lauren MacRae, senior content and marketing manager, Yard

I would disagree that it’s necessary to bring an element of joy to the issue of charity to raise awareness, although it’s certainly true that emotional impact in some form works – look at hard hitting videos of those who have suffered as a result of whatever that particular charity is trying to combat.

Humans have a hard-wired survival instinct and we look to prevent ourselves from feeling pain. The key to encouraging education on a subject is to prompt your audience to empathise with the issue. It’s human nature to want to find out more about something that you can imagine affecting you personally – whether directly, or by placing yourself into someone else’s shoes. People are more concerned with issues than ever before, so it’s a great time to star offering this information.

Ed Burnand, partner, AB-UK

Charity communications are all about relevancy. There is no point talking to someone about homelessness if they’re interested in the environment, whether putting £2 in a tin or a philanthropist wanting to donate £500,000. Entertainment works for the hero charities but smaller organisations have to work really hard.

Success depends on the following: link giving to a person’s passions; a tailored approach with personalised communications; head versus heart (facts and figures make the need real); and clear reporting on the difference it makes. And remember, most of us Brits are a bit shy about our philanthropic tendencies!

Paul Mallett, managing partner, Brass

It’s a weird world we live in where rich people evade taxes but are happy to gift to charity on a whim – whether through a euphemised sense of fun or guilt tripping.

We need a movement in people and organisations where giving becomes routine, like tax. I believe the way forward are examples like Co-op Bank automatically gifting to charities as part of signing up for a product. Education around the issues the charity is involved in then becomes an authentic part of brand comms; this removes the need for charities to do all the heavy lifting and instead form communities of like-minded people, organisations and brands.

Jason Pearce, founder, Bonfire Creative Intelligence

Making fundraising more engaging and involved creates awareness that is more beneficial in the long-term. Rattling a tin probably still has its place but once the penny has dropped and we walk away, do we remember who we gave to?

If I grow a mo, wear a poppy or stick a red nose on my car, I remember the cause and develop a personal connection. I think some charities miss the valuable gains that can be achieved from operating outside of what is deemed ‘their moment’. Take Movember – a great cause and a brand with attitude, with huge exposure around November. Despite the connection, I think it could do more to educate and ‘not let go’ of donors throughout the year.

Ian Huckvale, head of user engagement, Reading Room

Reciprocity is a strong cognitive trigger; it works because we value being entertained, but it isn’t the only approach for experience designers.

Environmental organisations have successfully used the ‘threat of loss’ trigger of orangutans to inform and educate people about deforestation caused by palm oil production; this in turn changed consumer behaviour, encouraged donation to their cause and drove longer term engagement. Developing an understanding of what people care about enough to drive action requires market research insight and you then need to understand how to apply behavioural science principles based on these insights to move people from interest to action. These approaches require deeper understanding of what people care about.

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


Content by The Drum Network member:

Propeller Group

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The Clearing

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Challenging Convention Since 1983.


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We’re Brass.

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Bonfire Creative Intelligence

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