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December 11, 2019; MarTech Series

The UK generally pays a great deal more attention to charity advertising (and poverty porn) than we do in the US. In a recent post entitled “Can Charity Positive Charity Ads Have More Impact,” Will Goodhand, who specializes in researching the short- and long-term effects of advertising, looks at how that applies in the nonprofit sector.

Goodhand’s project has tracked ads in the UK and US for the past two years, predicting “both short-term sales spikes and long-term brand building” based on the ad content. He writes that nonprofits generally underperform when it comes to long-term growth, and sees a problem in “the historic use of shocking and upsetting imagery to break through consumer apathy in order to get that donation.”

“And if you look at the short-term sales spikes for NFP ads,” Goodhand adds, “that becomes much clearer.”

This year’s Save the Children Pneumonia Appeal ad is a good example of this. It is a touching and powerful ad that provides us an insight into the pneumonia crisis in Kenya. It scored significantly for a short-term sales spike and will surely have resulted in an influx of donations for the campaign and it will most probably be considered an effective ad for the charity. Similarly, a Barnardo’s advert from this year, a tragic story of online grooming also scored significant short terms sales spike. However, in both cases, each ad scored only one star for long term effectiveness.

There is certainly an argument that in both cases the ads are created to produce a surge in donations, and I predict this is exactly what they did do. However, is there a way to increase donations and also accelerate long-term brand building that will potentially provide continuing positive impact for a charity?

Goodhand observes that the use of emotional hooks in advertising definitely works, but he points to two other campaigns in the UK as examples of how ads can be aimed at brand growth and, at the same time, attend to the immediacy of fundraising needs by basing their messages in positive emotion:

  • “Animal Journalists, part of a longer campaign from the charity from 2018, is humorous and there’s not a single shot of a distressed animal. Instead, we are treated to a more playful and fun framing of dogs and cats.”
  • “The Cancer Research ad, Angela’s Results, focuses on someone getting the news that their cancer is in remission, it’s a short bomb of extreme relief and happiness.”

Thus, the ads do not neglect the use of emotion, but they invite those they are aimed at to see the good that can be done rather than the misery of the underserved.—Ruth McCambridge