Marketing Brand Purpose Brand Strategy

Here’s how charity advertising can engage a new generation of donors

By Malcolm Poynton |

April 6, 2022 | 6 min read

Having recently created a lauded campaign for CRIS Cancer Foundation that asked people to battle against leukemia in a modified version of video game Doom Eternal, Malcolm Poynton of Cheil asks what charities must do to find support from a new generation.

CRIS gaming

With fundraising taking a hit during the pandemic and the impending cost of living crisis, charities are facing an existential threat. The UK Giving report shows that the number of people giving to charity fell in 2020 for the fifth year in a row. In recent years, charities have become increasingly reliant on older donors and they are now having to rethink how they engage a new generation.

The cost-of-living crisis is likely to further impact donations. Research shows a link between consumption levels and charitable income, with research charity Pro Bono Economics predicting that charities are likely to see a decline in income as consumption falls due to rising uncertainty and high inflation.

At the same time, charities supporting people in poverty will see demand increase as budgets in the most hard-hit households continue to be squeezed, and with food prices expected to jump as much as 15% this year as a result of the war in Ukraine.

To survive, charities need to urgently enlist new donors. Encouragingly, younger generations are more values-driven. They are passionate about social and political causes and want businesses to have a purpose beyond profit, with a recent study from Deloitte showing younger people aim to hold themselves and others accountable on society’s most pressing issues.

Yet many charities are failing to harness this dedication to tackling issues such as racial injustice and the climate crisis. They are not translating the passion millennials and Gen Z have for good causes into brand loyalty for their organizations. Getting people to signal their support for a cause via a hashtag or flag on social media is one thing, creating a steady flow of donations to keep your charity afloat is quite another.

Use formats and platforms beloved by Gen Z

To increase engagement, charity brands need to adopt a more relevant and targeted approach. A campaign across traditional channels won’t be enough to enlist a legion of young supporters. We centered our recent campaign for the CRIS Cancer Foundation in the gaming world. Gaming is Gen Z’s number one entertainment activity and we’re beginning to see charities connect with young supporters through gaming – including End Youth Homelessness, which runs an annual Gaming for Good fundraising event.

TikTok is also becoming a key platform where charities and NGOs can engage younger people with a serious cause in a fun, engaging way, as demonstrated by the British Red Cross’s hugely popular hand-washing dance routines on TikTok after the pandemic hit.

For CRIS, we launched a video game, a modified version of Doom Eternal, the iconic first-person shooter game, where players were challenged to ‘fight cancer to beat cancer’. The game, The Battle Inside, is set in the body where players fight against leukemia’s fast-replicating cells, blastocysts, carcinomas and viruses. Our objective was to engage a new generation of supporters by getting them to understand the battle leukemia poses for patients.

Make your comms interactive and immersive

Gen Z don’t want to passively watch your content, they want to be inspired, learn something new and, crucially, to interact. We knew many young people have little knowledge of leukemia and so we created an immersive, interactive experience designed to bring to life the behavior of the disease. In this way, we could give players a deeper insight into what the body goes through when battling leukemia and build empathy that would lead to support from a new generation for CRIS’s innovative research work.

By incorporating a mobile payment system within the game players could donate in a simple and familiar way while they played or, even while they watched live streams of influencers playing, resulting in +800% support for the CRIS foundation. Notably, while playing The Battle Inside on a livestream, Spanish gaming influencer @angelmartin_nc (923.6k followers) said: “I wish they had taught me everything with video games.”

Harness the power of influencers

To turn audiences into donors, it helps to connect with them on a deeper and more personal level. Generation Z continues to be heavily swayed by influencers, with 44% of Generation Zers making purchase decisions as a result of a recommendation from influencers, compared with 26% of the general population, according to Kantar research.

Young audiences appreciate the authenticity and honest feedback that many influencers provide, so when working with influencers, we find it’s best not to be too prescriptive and allow them to act as an objective mediator between your brand and their communities. To ignite engagement for The Battle Inside, we enlisted Spain’s top gaming influencers to play and share their experience with The Battle Inside mod.

With over 20 of the country’s key gamers playing the game in live streams over Twitch, we had gamers engaged for 30+ hours. This resulted in over 2.5m views and over 18m impressions, driving awareness levels far beyond traditional media campaigns.

What next for charities?

As the metaverse develops, charities will have exciting new opportunities to reach new generations in fresh ways. The power of VR, AR, mobile, gaming and multiverse experiences will enable new ways to build empathy over pure awareness. It’s an exciting era for charities if they can get their stakeholders to make the leap into the new space. And for those that do, the ability to build greater empathy will unlock greater support. After all, as Confucius said: “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”

Malcolm Poynton is global chief creative officer at Cheil.

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