Category Archives: charity

How to do great charity advertising







As Mr Punch says memorably, on piers and promenades throughout the land, that’s the way to do it.

There’s an Oxfam ad appearing on the telly right now asking for donations to help the Ebola victims in Western Africa.

And it’s a superb, best-in-class lesson in how to do effective charity fund-raising.

So often these days, charity ads are produced to look like perfume ads, with an eye on the awards jury rather than a focus on maximum fund-raising. Moody black and white photography, portentous celebrity voice over and a glib, punny endline. Looks cool on your portfolio site but doesn’t bring home the bacon for the charity concerned.

But this one from Oxfam gets it bang on and I imagine does extremely well. Here are the key ingredients for successful charity fundraising, on telly or in dm or the press:

1. Look cheap. The work must look like it was bashed out in a hurry by the charity team. Not crafted by creative teams with silly big beards in their plush London offices. It must look and feel urgent and real. In other words, it should not look like advertising.

2. Show results. Crises and misery make it easy to write award-winning heart-tugging copy. But don’t  just show the downside. Make sure you show the upside too — the results of the appeal. Generate an emotional response, yes, but paint a picture of hope not despair.

3. Ask for a specific amount. This ad asks for £3. No more no less.  Often it works to give three different tick boxes and an ‘other’ one in case someone wants to give a huge amount or a very small amount that’s all they can afford. Remember: the biggest donors to charity are poor people and old people. Perhaps because they’re the ones who understand being needy?

4. Tell them what this amount will be spent on. As specific as possible. Again, this Oxfam ad does it right, it tells me my £3 will buy a treatment ‘kit’. Perfect. I really feel my £3 will genuinely  make a difference.

5. Make the response mechanism clear and simple. Show them and tell them. ASK for the donation, don’t assume showing a phone number etc is enough. It isn’t. Tell them to do it right now.

Easy when you know how.


The copy’s too long

No it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t.

Have you ever had a conversation like this?

It doesn’t really matter if you’re on the Yes It Is side or on the No It Isn’t side.The fact is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule about the length of copy on an ad, an email, a dm letter.

The length of the copy in any particular execution should be, simply, as long as it needs to be.

It all comes down to three simple things:

* What you want the reader to do once they’ve seen the advertising

* What you’re selling

* How much it costs

Need someone to change their bank account to your bank, need someone to give money to a charity they’ve never heard of, need someone to phone for a car insurance quote, need someone to buy your tasty sausages, need someone to buy your hair dye, need someone to take out a monthly subscription to your cable TV and broadband service…

They’re all different objectives, and the length of copy should be markedly different as a result.

Wildly simplified, the more difficult the decision that you’re asking the reader to make, the more reasons you need to convince her to make it.

Asking someone to try your scrumptious sausages next time they’re in Tesco? Awareness is enough, and perhaps a bit of discount. No copy, really.

Ask someone to give money to a charity, however, and you’re going to have to convince them it’s the right thing to do. Not only are they parting with their cash, they’re not getting anything in return other than a sense of Doing The RIght Thing. (Not to be sniffed at, as a motivation, mind you.)

This is why TV direct response charity ads tend to be a minute or more (the successful ones, anyway).

Ask someone to pay £30 every month for Virgin TV, cable, broadband etc and you’re going to have to really spell out the reasons to do it if you want your response to be anything other than pitiful. Sadly, most of the marketeers running these kinds of business don’t get it. So the responses tend to be pitiful. And the mailpacks tend to be much more expensive than they need to be, too.

And the more expensive the product or service, the longer the copy needs to be generally (if you want them to sign up there and then or make the call).

But nobody reads the body copy!

If I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard this, I would have retired to the Bahamas aged 30.

It simply isn’t true.

What IS true is this: MOST people don’t read the body copy.

Actually, most people don’t even read the bloody headline.

But those people who DO read the body copy are the people you need. They’ve read the headline and decided, hmmm, I might want this. So they read on.

They’re a tiny proportion of the people who saw the ad or letter initially. But remember, you can never sell anything to someone who’s not in the market for it.

But if they are, for goodness’ sake give them enough information for them to be able to make a really informed yes or no decision. Reel them in, persuasive fact by persuasive fact to keep them hooked til the end.

And generally, crushingly sad as art directors and designers find this fact, the longer the copy, the more stuff you sell.

So if the copy needs to be four pages long to get in all the great reasons to buy or act, then four pages long is precisely the length it should be.





Is this the most dangerous ad ever written?

It’s very rare that a piece of advertising or marketing is genuinely a matter of life and death. Which is why I was so incensed to see a tube card the other day that was bordering on the evil.

Tube cards are the little posters above the windows in tube carriages. They’re interesting because unlike most ‘outdoor’ advertising spaces, you can write some long copy as you’ve got a fairly captive audience. Ditto their cross-track cousins at stations.

Which is another reason why this particular aberration was so startlingly misjudged.

The headlline said You Do Know the FIve Signs of Breast Cancer, don’t you? 

Good headline, got my attention, got my interest.

But did it then tell me what these signs are so I could check? No it didn’t. It asked me to send a text (yes, send a text, not even visit a website) whereafter I would be sent these potentially life-saving nuggets of information.

Not so much as a hint about what these signs or symptoms could be.

I’m sure you’re ahead of me, here, but the question is, of course: Why on earth, if the campaign is all about helping people detect cancer early, would you not give the answers there and then? On the poster. Where people could read it. And think about it.

What possible benefit is there in teasing the reader with such a powerful headline and then not telling him (or more likely her) how to spot the signs?

But I guarantee I know how it happened.

Someone — perhaps the dimwitted client, perhaps the moron planner, perhaps the junior creative team with a single GCSE in art and drama between them — decided this campaign was about Social Medial.

“Yeah, soshul meeeeeja..that’s where it’s at. SMS’s, Facebook. Let’s get them to text and it’ll be really cool, yeah, woooooh.”

(I’ve been in meetings like this, I’m not exagerating one jot.)

Nobody around the table had the common sense to pause for even a nanosecond to put their teeny brains into gear and think.

To think something like, “Er, but if our job is to stop people dying of breast cancer un-necessarily, surely we should get this vital information to them as fast and simply as possible? You know, actually writing it in the ad and stuff? We can always give them a website or a text number to find out more if there’s not enough room.”

Instead, people might actually die because these total fuckwits didn’t think about the message, only about the medium. And that is a total bloody disgrace.

Now that’s what I call a great headline

When did a piece of advertising of any sort actually stop you in your tracks? When did you last see a headline that was so compelling, so shocking, that your jaw dropped and you had no choice but to read the ad?

This happened to me yesterday with a small press ad, black and white, cheap left-hand page space.

I Wish My Son Had Cancer

There’s no way anyone could turn the page once their eye has been caught by a headline like that. Certainly not anyone with kids. Certainly not me.

Perhaps you’ve seen it?

The ad was for a charity promoting awareness of a condition called duchenne muscular dystrophy. The point of the ad was simple and very moving. A father of a young boy wished his son had cancer rather than duchenne MD. Because cancer is often curable and DMD isn’t. So his son was condemned to an early death.

Brutal, sure, but a sentiment any parent can readily identify with.

Naturally there’s been a lot of huffing and puffing by Outraged of Welwyn Garden City about the ad. But it did its job. It made me aware of the condition. It made me feel sorry for the little boy and his family.

(And of course it generated lots of PR too, an excellent and beneficial side effect to maximise the effectiveness of the media spend. Maybe deliberately. Good for them.)

Amid all the self-congratulatory, trendy and utterly invisible rubbish that advertising agencies pour into our media today, this little ad stands out as a blazing beacon of what powerful, memorable advertising is all about. Finding a genuinely compelling story and stating it simply and clearly.


The Red Cross and The Reciprocity Principle

A door drop thumped emphatically on to the Nobodyscrolls doormat this week, from The Red Cross.

Stuffed to the gills with goodies to try and persuade me to give to this most worthy of charities. This was a direct response pack put together by somebody who really knows what they’re doing. Lovely jubbly!

As well as the letter—nice and long, two sides of smallish type, long PS. Weak headline, weakish opening—takes a while to get to the point but its heart’s in the right place.

Demands that I give a fiver upfront though; an ‘early close’ we DM folk call that. This one’s in the first headline so you can’t get much earlier than that.

But what the pack really majors on is reciprocity. This is a tried and tested sales technique that relies on me giving you something in order for you to (unconsciously probably) feel obliged to give me something in return. In this case, your hard-earned fiver.

(There are loads of interesting studies on how the principle works. Cialdini is the name to Google here.)

So how do they leverage the reciprocity principle? By including in the pack a bookmark, two greetings cards for me to use, two floral drinks coasters and a biro!

All in an envelope with a huge window so I can see the goodies before I even open it.

Now this pack will have cost A LOT. But the people who put it together know precisely what they’re doing. Because they know that the more gifts they include for me, the more likely I will be to donate to them in return. The ROI will work.

How do they know? Because they’ll have tested in small increments.

Put one gift in, response goes up. Put another one, response goes up again. Put some coasters in? Up again. And so on.

Until they get a killer ‘control’ pack that does the business for them time after time. It becomes harder and harder to beat.

And that’s when they call me in. Please.