What’s On

Why charities need better ad campaigns

It’s mid-summer. Time for the Western world to chill out. Time for reflection. This meditation leads us to make a commitment en masse to change our ways and do something for others. Churches now even tie-in with this newfound spirituality by running TV commercials to recruit sheep for their flock. Many of us choose to cleanse our souls in the comfort of our own homes. We’re collectively becoming softies. We spend all summer pondering what we’ve done so far this year. Contemplating the meaning of life. And after six months of taking, we want to give something back. And lots of charities – virtuous but not bonkers – capitalise on viewers’ introspective mood. And what do they use to pull the heart strings?

You’ve got your death and destruction campaigns. These are a tear-jerking mix of malaria, tent camps, violin music and Oprah. Next up are compilation campaigns. They feature panthers, panda bears and penguins leaping in slow motion. And they culminate with baby orang-utans. Opera music, an Oprah voice-over and Bob’s your uncle. And, last but not least and so totally now, you have your sponsorship campaigns. TNT supports the World Food Programme, M&S backs Oxfam Novib and Boots partners with Macmillan Cancer Support. These charities don’t jump on the Oprah bandwagon, but instead hitch a ride on the back of rich advertisers. They donate one cent for each item sold. Hence the name Golden Goose advertising.

So it’s all more of the same. Which isn’t surprising given the fact that the foundations are held together by good intentions, ideals and volunteers. Advertising agencies pass the projects on to young creatives as a practice exercise. And so we just plod along. With charity advertising gushing with clichés of oedema bellies and crocodile tears and other metaphorical bullshit. And Oprah or one of the other masters of charity. Granted, the general public still votes the charity malarkey into the final of the Cannes Lions. But the harvest of EFFIE awards for worldwide effectiveness – which is the only award starving Africa and animal species facing extinction want – is literally and figuratively measly.

Let’s join forces to put an end to all this non-committal fun and games. Charities deserve the very best marketers, strategists and creatives. That don’t make great-looking videos, but instead make dazzling business cases. That focus on achieving results in the entire funnel based on insights and KPIs. And come up with more strategic inventions like Unilever’s Shakti project. And that run hard-hitting promotions. An iPad for everyone who signs up as an organ donor. Three WWF memberships for the price of two. Air miles at Flying Doctors. Kick-ass charity. Comic Relief taken seriously.

And there’s another thing. This professional approach can come with a hefty price tag. While Europeans prefer to see median income-earning amateurs, Africans and Philippinos, and ultimately the little koala bear as well, want effective top professionals. Winners who might cost twice as much, but also bring in three times as much. Go big or go home. Cut the culture of mediocrity crap. Get on the EFFIE stage and go for gold!

Dick van der Lecq

Dick van der Lecq is the Managing Director at DDB Unlimited. He was previously the Managing Partner at Etcetera.