As the recession took hold, international aid agency World Vision was hit by a sudden fall in donations and decided to test DRTV, after years of using press and inserts. As Jo-Anne Walker reports, the charity has not looked back since

Until 1989, charities were not allowed to advertise or raise funds on television. Now, 30 per cent of the sector’s total advertising budget is devoted to the medium.

It would probably be higher if charities had the comparatively limitless supply of cash that the big advertisers spend on a med-ium that demands high expenditure. As it is, they often rely on the goodwill of people to provide free services, or get by with low-cost productions. But it is worth it because in terms of response, DRTV does the business.

In the case of World Vision, response from TV campaigns far outstrips any response that the international aid agency ever secured from the best of its print campaigns. As a result, during the past two years, the charity has diverted virtually its entire ad spend into DRTV.

World Vision, established in the US 50 years ago, launched in the UK in 1982, entering a market that was full of long-established and well-known local charities. Last year, it raised almost 17m in this country – a significant increase on previous years which marketing director Andrew Barnes puts down to DRTV.

World Vision’s fundraising base in the UK is in three main areas: its annual 24-hour famine appeal which this year raised 250,000; a child sponsorship programme which is what the DRTV work concentrates on; and general support raised from individuals and government grants.

Before the charity ever thought of using DRTV in any consistent way it launched a one-off campaign in January 1993 for its 24-hour famine appeal and received 1,000 calls a day.

The problems for World Vision and other charities began in about 1991 when the recession started affecting the amount of money people were prepared to donate to charity.

World Vision had traditionally spent its advertising budget on press ads and inserts in Sunday Supplements. “Suddenly, our response took a dive,” says Barnes, “and all charities were experiencing the same problem.”

He says the situation got so bad that at one point when World Vision was running creative tests to establish which work to use in its main press campaign, he halted the production of nine million inserts because response to the tests were so dire.

World Vision retreated to its test base in Scotland and started experimenting again with all its traditional media – but nothing worked.

“So we decided to take a flyer at TV. We knew that TV worked particularly well in the US, but we didn’t really know what would happen here,” says Barnes.

World Vision appointed an agency, DP&A – which still handles the work – and developed a TV test for Scotland which, according to Barnes, “went bananas”.

World Vision launched its first 60-second DRTV commercial in spring 1993 in most parts of the country except for London – which, despite the medium’s success, still proves prohibitively expensive and tends not to generate particularly impressive response rates.

The ad, called Playground Nightmare, was specifically aimed at recruiting sponsors for children and cost 600,000 to produce.

Response, according to Barnes, was phenomenal and outstripped even the best responses received through World Vision’s press work. Barnes says through the first campaign, World Vision was able to recoup the lost opportunities which resulted in the failure of the print media – making TV very cost effective.

He adds: “DRTV is a great challenge. When most people don’t know who you are, you have to lead viewers through low awareness to actually picking up the phone and responding.”

The World Vision push was soon followed by campaigns from other child sponsor agencies. So World Vision produced a second one-minute commercial which centred on a set of twins in Kenya who had been sponsored for a number of years.

“Because other agencies were coming in with similar propositions, we decided to take a different route and actually go to speak to children who had been sponsored and see how their lives had been affected,” says Barnes.

The Twins ad was launched last autumn and now both commercials run alternately.

Barnes says in the past year, the child sponsorship support base has increased by 25 per cent. In previous years, the increase was between five and six per cent.

“We have never had a growth rate like this in all our history. And this is at a time when most charities are seeing their incomes dropping. Nor do we take people’s money on the phone – we want long-term supporters so they go through the whole fulfilment process,” says Barnes.

Almost a year after the second commercial was launched, the combined campaign now pulls in an average of 300 responses per day.

Barnes says that subsequent to the launch of its DRTV programme, World Vision had to tighten up its fulfilment programme and overhaul its response system.

The telephone responses are handled by Teledata in its Glasgow centre with spill-over going to the London operation. World Vision has direct modem links to these bureaux and downloads information from them several times a day.

This means if someone responds to one of the ads before 2pm, they will be sent a pack that same day.

Respondents receive information about what sponsoring a child entails and the kind of information they will receive as a sponsor. Respondents are invited to become a sponsor for a minimum of one year. World Vision sends up to three prompts if the first one is not acted upon. Says Barnes: “One man sponsored 25 children after our third reminder.”

But if people were not giving to charity because they were feeling the pinch of the recession, why should TV make them feel any different?

Barnes believes this is because TV is a mass medium and reaches those people who never go near their traditional press base of TV Times, The Guardian and The Independent. Reaching a mass audience via any other medium than TV is cost prohibitive and Barnes says World Vision is drawing in a new market.

“Also, people were used to seeing charity ads in the press, they weren’t used to having them jump off the screen at them,” says Barnes.

Besides these long-term campaigns, World Vision also runs emergency appeals and did so soon after the civil crisis erupted in Rwanda last year. In fact, the initial film footage used by the world media was supplied by World Vision as none of the media was in the country when problems started.

World Vision developed what it calls “a cheap and nasty” ten-second Rwanda appeal which

ran during news items – and was the first charity to do so in that situation.

Barnes says World Vision is now committed to DRTV as a medium and only dips into press every now and then to see if it is performing any better than it used to. As yet there has been no change.


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