How Shelter avoided melodrama to push crucial festive message

Shelter’s Disappearing Houses campaign

Christmas is the time for festive cheer, religious observation and charitable efforts. Yet with so may worthy causes thrust into the spotlight, it can be difficult to determine where donations would be best served. Ads become crucial to driving the coffers for those less well off.

Christmas is the time for festive cheer, religious observation and charitable efforts. Yet with so may worthy causes thrust into the spotlight, it can be difficult for consumers to determine where donations would be best served and ads become crucial to driving the coffers for those less well off.

Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, was one of the thousands of charities out there that made a concerted Christmas push last year. The charity’s ‘Disappearing Houses’ campaign launched with 2500 tube card panel adverts on London Underground trains and print adverts in national newspapers and magazines over a two-week period.

Created by advertising agency Leo Burnett who gave their time pro bono and featuring photography by Blinkk, the ad campaign depicts an ordinary family completely exposed after their home has literally disappeared.

The advertisement aimed to show how easy it is for anyone to lose their homes and how suddenly it could happen. At this year’s Pitch Blades Awards, it scooped the best not for profit creative ad award.

Tom Sussman, a planner at Leo Burnett, says the agency wanted to take a new tact with an advert that approached creativity differently to other festive charity ads.

“We didn’t want this to be just another Christmas charity campaign. Traditionally these depend on overwrought melodrama to override the reluctance of potential donors. We couldn’t use that sort of strategy – it just wasn’t compatible with our message or our desire to continue to build the brand around a socially encompassing idea of homelessness. We needed to tackle the preconceptions inf.orming this reluctance head-on. We wanted a hard-hitting message that could jolt people into re-evaluating” he explains.

The hard-hitting message that was chosen was a simple fact: “every two minutes someone faces losing their home”. Combined with Blinkk’s photography, the activity was much more stripped back than competitor ads circulating at the same time.

Sussman continues: “We wanted to show people that middle-class homelessness was not a result of imprudence; it was a result of chance. To that end, although the creative was quite subtle, it conveyed a very unsettling atmosphere of random vulnerability.”

Insight was essential to getting the concept right and in a spot of good fortune; the charity was also able to play on news from a week before, when the Government announced massive cuts to housing in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Overall, this seemed to work. Shelter received its highest Christmas donations for five years, and the charity’s awareness was at its highest since 2007.

Sussman concludes: “The biggest lesson for us was that brand building and fundraising do not have to be mutually exclusive ideas. We can now be confident that, with the right thinking, there will rarely be reason to compromise one in favour of the other.”

See a selection of charity work on Pitch here

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