Charity ads fail to lift awareness

From the RSPCA’s pile of dead dogs to an NSPCC campaign’s provoking images of the murder of Jamie Bulger, charity advertising has always shocked.

It has had to. Limited resources and the co-opting of advertising agencies, which have traditionally seen charity accounts as an opportunity to let their creative departments be “creative”, have cons pired to create some memorable advertising.

But according to ACNielsen. Meal figures, the top-spending 56 charities spent just 39.4m in 1996.

Saatchi & Saatchi has just parted company with the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) after three years. The agency’s work for the charity won two gold lion awards, its first, at the Cannes advertising festival in 1996.

While it might win awards the effectiveness of charity advertising has not always been so obvious. Charities hamstrung by the conflict between needing to raise funds and show the people they represent in a positive light have occasionally had to compromise on the ads. And there have always been suggestions that agencies have exploited charities to improve their showreels.

A recent survey of UK charities conducted by RSL CharityTrack shows that only four had an unprompted awareness of more than 20 per cent among the 1,115 people questioned – Oxfam, the Cancer Research Campaign and RSPCA, which between them spent 4.9m on advertising and direct mail last year, and Barnardo’s, which according to the ACNielsen figures spent nothing.

The CRE estimates it paid just 300,000 for 3m of pro bono work in three years, which was part-funded by corporate sponsors including Barclays Bank, Nike and Virgin.

“There used to be a culture of amateurism in charity ads but that has disappeared,” says former CRE communications director Marjorie Thompson, who quit the charity to set up Saatchi & Saatchi Cause Connection, a cause-related marketing agency.

“It is a myth to think that charity clients will buy anything,” says Chris Pinnington, managing director at EURO RSCG Wnek Gosper, which picked up the CRE account. “Charities are now aware that agencies find this work interesting and are accordingly businesslike in their use of agencies.

“They are complex briefs. It is easy to shock and get people to sit up, but the ads must concentrate on the issue. Great advertising comes when you combine the two.”

EURO RSCG has specifically targeted charities with which it wants to work. The CRE was top of the list. It has also just won the Global Cancer Concern account, which has been looking for an agency since June.

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