Charity marketing receives the cold shoulder from almost one in three people, making its reputation worse than that of banks, and putting it on a par with utilities companies, according to new research seen by Marketing Week.
It is not just street fundraisers – better known as ‘chuggers’ or charity muggers – that draw consumers’ disapproval. All advertising from philanthropic organisations is actively rejected by 31 per cent of people, while just 28 per cent treat financial services marketing the same way.
The Consumer Connections Survey of 11,000 consumers, carried out by agency Carat, divides people into four groups according to their attitudes towards advertising. ‘Rejecters’ are people who notice advertising but have no interest in it and take no action in response. ‘Ignorers’ don’t notice any adverts at all. ‘Seekers’, on the other hand, are interested in adverts across a variety of media, while ‘reactors’ tend to see them and respond.
Carat planning director Joe Molony says the number of people who reject charity marketing took him by surprise. “We’re exposed to more commercial messages than previous generations, so there’s probably a greater sense of fatigue and even perhaps wariness. There are also more chuggers around and that can instil a sense of pressure,” he explains.
That people are rejecting advertising from financial services and utilities companies is less surprising than the charity data, Molony suggests, since all consumers would like to think they are immune to persuasion by these organisations, especially given their bad reputation. But it is also the frequency of exposure that turns people away, he adds.
“Categories which are seemingly too reliant on higher levels of frequency or repetition – be that of terms and conditions or even merely of promotional offers – are more susceptible to rejection. Insurance companies, especially the price comparison websites, tread a fine line between turning us on and turning us off.”
Research carried out by charity Plan UK, in association with Birkbeck College and the London School of Economics, backs up Molony’s suggestion, concluding that consumers think charities are “manipulating them and saturating them with suffering”. Those working in the third sector also say messaging around the impact of donations needs to improve (see Frontline, below).
Some charities are already taking this on board. The MicroLoan Foundation – a UK charity providing help to women in sub-Saharan Africa – recently ran a digital billboard campaign that was updated live, in order to show how the money given could make a difference to people’s lives.
And the National Centre for Domestic Violence launched a user-controlled billboard campaign in April to demonstrate how it helps victims of domestic violence.
Molony also expects to see more charities working in partnership with corporate brands, as Comic Relief does with snack maker Walkers. This helps charities achieve cut-through and creates a very public profile for the brand, he argues.
“I grew up with Band Aid – and that’s how we used to encourage charitable donations. Nowadays there is much more peer-to-peer communication and partnerships will be at the heart of it. Big brands need corporate social responsibility and charities need the financial backing.”
Digital media has also played a huge part in the changing dynamics of brand-consumer interaction, and this in turn has placed increasing demands on advertisers. According to Carat’s research, two-thirds of consumers expect advertising to be informative, while half also expect to be entertained. This is one area where charities are actually forging ahead, Molony says.
He highlights the investment St John Ambulance – “one of the least cool charities” – has made in designing its first-aid app. Its reach has become far greater than anything the organisation could have achieved through traditional marketing, he says. What’s more, consumers who reject ads are more likely to engage with charities’ pages on social networking sites than they are with other brand pages.
What’s more, Carat’s data shows that ad rejecters are significantly more likely to engage with brand pages on social networking sites, so they may be more receptive to less traditional advertising. For instance, over 21 per cent of ad rejecters visit the profile or fan pages of a product, brand of celebrity quite often (from at least once a week to several times a day), compared to an average of 16 per cent. This is a “significant statistical difference”, according to Carat. Likewise, 19 per cent of ad rejecters interact with a brand online quite often, compared to an average of 11 per cent.
“Social media provides an opportunity way beyond average advertising campaigns. You can jump straight to shifting behaviour and, potentially attitudes. “
The good news is that the overall trend for rejection of marketing across industry sectors has been heading downwards in the 15 years since Carat first ran the research. In 2002, 40 per cent of consumers were rejecting advertising from some categories, while today the highest rates are a shade over 30 per cent.
There are clear correlations between the type of category and the rejection rate, however. “Sexier” categories like films and holidays have relatively low rejection rates, while pharmaceutical products and supermarkets are in the upper half of the table, says Molony. He adds that “entertainment provides escapism for people”, and that these results are more likely to be a consequence of the appeal of individual categories than about the quality of the advertising.
Advertising related to higher education has low rejection rates (23 per cent). Molony argues: “Something that represents a more positive future, whether in the short or long term, will probably go down better than a change in interest rates.”
Looking at the demographics of rejecters in Carat’s research, nearly half are aged between 25 and 44, and have a strong male skew. Women are more likely to reject marketing for cars, computers and mobile phones, while ads for cinemas, computers and mobiles are a turn-off generally for people aged over 45.
There are some surprise categories that people reject, says Molony, who points out that those aged 16 to 34 are as likely to reject ads for fast food restaurants as they are government campaigns.
In general, rejecters are non-traditional in terms of their marketing preferences, with print media being a particular turn off, according to Carat’s data. Members of the group are also less likely than the average person to be influenced by word of mouth, says Carat senior research executive Lucy Moore. Instead, they’re tech savvy and are “glued to the net on their smartphone”.
When using their mobiles online, they are checking emails, but more interestingly, they are engaged on social networking sites, according to the research. They are heavy social media users, and have an average of 169 Facebook friends compared with the UK average of 151.
Moore says that although rejecters shy away from traditional advertising, they are more likely to interact regularly with a brand or product online and become a fan or ‘like’ a page. “That’s good news for brands with a social media presence,” she adds.
So, digital engagement is key for all brands – especially when people claim to be rejecting traditional advertising.
We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground
Founder and CEO
The male market for charities is very much in the 25- to 44-year-old sector. Men are predominantly more selfish than women, so advertising really does have to be catchy to stimulate them into action. Digital advertising for charities is more topical, more fun and hits the spot.
It’s a tough environment at the moment and any talk of finance goes down like a lead balloon. Social marketing enables a deeper story to be told about brands or charities and for people and friends to interact. If your peer group is linked in, then any message is going to be more difficult to reject.
With our Pennies for Life digital poster, we integrated the campaign activity with our online and social strategy. Once a participant had made a donation, the journey continued online. Each donor received a reply text inviting them to our campaign microsite, where they could view a live donation tracker and find where they had been credited in our ‘portrait gallery’, as well as seeing who else had contributed.
They could also announce their donation on Twitter and Facebook, and invite their friends to take part. The uniqueness of the campaign meant that people participated on multiple levels.
Director of fundraising and communication
People see charity fundraising messages every day and more often than not they know the ad will be asking them to give money. It’s a crowded marketplace and there is more need than ever to have a compelling story to tell, and to give a range of ways to get involved rather than just a committed gift.
People are increasingly bombarded with advertising campaigns, so it’s up to brands to come up with more interesting and engaging ways of reaching out to their audience and communicating their message.
People are also increasingly time-poor, so advertising channels that reach people while they are on the move, out and about or waiting for a bus are extremely useful. This is why we used digital billboards in our latest appeals campaign, launched earlier this month with the Outdoor Media Centre and Grand Visual.
Director of advocacy, campaigns and communications
I am surprised by the findings. They confirm the challenge charity marketers have in trying to monetise social media engagement with their brands. How do you convert friends or followers into financial donors? The answer is the next golden egg.
In the meantime, old school channels and activities will remain an important part of the mix to achieve cut-through and longevity. Innovative campaigns help, like our recent interactive ad on Oxford Street that used facial recognition scanning technology to deliver the campaign message. Judging by the number of complaints from men, who were excluded from the message delivered to women viewers about girls’ rights and empowerment, blokes do engage.
Social marketing allows for expansion of core messages and helps tie all aspects of the marketing campaign together. Therefore less advertising should be rejected because marketers should be directly appealing to what the target audience has asked for.
Our More Sense than Money campaign is an example of that. We wanted to stand out within the teleconferencing industry and cause a stir. The campaign was controversial and made a statement but we have had huge success in our ads being received by customers. We did spark negative feedback as well, but this has only served to raise our profile.
In February and March 2012, we recorded a 138 per cent increase in traffic to our website and our registrations rose from 5,664 to 10,896, so even though we ruffled some feathers along the way it was clear that our ads were well received.
Managing director (EMEA)
Mobile Marketing Association
It would be too simplistic to say that this survey heralds the death of advertising for these or any other sectors. There are so many other factors that could be contributing to these results, not least the economic conditions in the UK, the quality of creative, the media spend and so on. Nonetheless, the shift away from traditional to digital channels has long been observed.
I would expect to see a further shift towards mobile as brands tap into the ability to use it as a response mechanism at the point of impulse and a means of providing engagement with consumers. Marketers have always had to work hard, but with the proliferation of channels it makes the job even harder. Brands must understand where they are going with digital communications because consumer behaviour has evolved ahead of brand behaviour.