Shock tactics: What business can learn from charity marketing campaigns
ANOTHER week, and another hard-hitting charity campaign causes public outcry. This time it’s Save the Children, with its “If London was Syria” video for its Syria Crisis Appeal. Before that, Pancreatic Cancer Action arguably torpedoed advertising boundaries with its “envy” campaign, which some condemned as “insensitive”.
It’s hard not to feel a sense of shock tactic deja-vu. That said, many in the media industry say it is charities which create the most interesting – and effective – work. Consider this: Oxfam’s UK Twitter account has over 113,000 followers, just 3,000 fewer than our beloved John Lewis. Charities have also seen results. In 2011, a DLKW Marie Curie campaign used radio adverts and online content to sign up 5,219 “collectors”. They went on to generate an additional income of £634,583 – delivering a payback of £2.45 for every £1 spent.
Charities ultimately have the same commercial requirements as business (brand awareness and compelling their audience to part with money). So what explains their success? First, they are adept at “creating emotional value,” says Ben Kerr of Somethin’ Else. Second, they can take on more risk – and to huge effect. Third, they are people-focused – understanding the need to inspire behavioural change. “Behavioural economics is a big issue in advertising,” says Tony Mattson of UM London. “And charities are ahead of the curve. Our client Marie Curie’s objective is rooted in behavioural change – galvanising people into volunteering, or hosting coffee mornings.”
Finally, charity work will tend to attract the best talent. Malcolm Green of Green Cave People says most agencies will have charities on their books. “Why? Because it gives the creative team a different way to express themselves. And they teach us a number of important disciplines.”
As you would expect, these organisations operate on very limited marketing budgets – a trend that is becoming increasingly common in business, too. “Charities are teaching firms to be smart when using limited and finite funds. Cleverness of budget, utilising PR, and ensuring PR and advertising are closely linked is something charities are very good at,” says Russ Lidstone of Havas Worldwide London.
Further, charities have grasped the need to entertain and engage – Comic Relief is an excellent example. “It was always the case for brand communications that you had to engage in return for reward. But this is more the case than ever, now that we live in a digital world,” says Lidstone.
And charity campaigns force agencies to find new and innovative ways to make an impression. “Less money will mean less frequency – agencies have to find a way to stand out in an ad that may only be aired a handful of times,”says Green.
Consequently, the third sector has been most advanced in adopting social media. “They are at the forefront when it comes to embracing new technologies. Businesses are playing catch up,” says Mattson. And their ability to adapt is not exclusive to technology. “The environment is changing. Today, charities face an increasingly desensitised audience,” says Lidstone. So while some, like Save the Children, are becoming more provocative; others, interestingly, are moving away from shock tactics. The NSPCC, for instance, pivoted its marketing strategy last year towards a softer, nudging approach.
Annabel Palmer is business features writer at City A.M.