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Published on October 27th, 2010 | by Éilish Burke


Ad Nauseam: Charity begins on Daytime TV

Being self employed affords me the luxury of making the last minute decision to work from home in my pyjamas, on the sofa with my laptop on my lap and the TV on in the background. Yesterday was such a day. Apart from my mid-morning hit of The Gilmore Girls, I normally avoid anything broadcast pre 6pm though. It’s usually such a pile of mind-numbing poop as to warrant avoidance. Unless it’s a repeat of Project Runway that is. Oh, I’m such a girl!

Not watching daytime TV, however, means not seeing all the ground breaking advertising targeted at pensioners, stay-at-home parents and the unemployed. I miss out on all those ads for Vanish Oxy Action, denture adhesive, chair lifts and cash-for-gold rip off merchants businesses.

And I also miss the majority of the ads for charities because for financial reasons charities mostly buy the cheapest airtime available (the ‘direct response’ media purchase). And actually many of these charity ads are very good. I saw one yesterday for Barnardos and I was well impressed by it.

This is a new approach from Barnardos (who have a history of making excellent ads) and is apparently the first time they have got real Barnardos staff members to record on camera their experience of working with at-risk children. The ad works because we believe in the authenticity of these workers and the unsentimental delivery of their roles make it even more compelling.

Earlier on in the year I had noticed that there seemed to be a shift in advertising for charities in Ireland. Instead of the usual shock-and-awe tactic involving pictures of starving children with flies crawling over their faces, there was a more thoughtful, perhaps more oblique, approach taken. This is not to say that as citizens of the developed world we shouldn’t be shaken out of our comfort zone. But as a society we have become jaded by these tactics and it looks like charities are asking their advertising agencies to probe deeper into the motivations behind making a donation.

In a similar vein to the Barnardos ad, this commercial for Sightsavers International uses vox pops which helps us relate to the interviewees and the underlying message of the campaign.

The Barnardos campaign brings us closer to the issue of blindness by asking us to imagine we were the ones who had lost our sight. How difficult would our lives be? How much would we be willing to pay to get our sight back? Instead of the ‘starving children in Africa’ genre, which keeps the issue at a distance, the approach here is to make us to personally identify with the problem.

The ad for Trocaire’s 2010 lentan campaign was an excellent example of this approach.

Too often characters in charity ads are completely one dimensional. They are either the ‘famine victim’ or the ‘happy, well-fed, donation recipient, dancing under a deluge of clean water from the community water pump your money helped install’. Trocaire have made a compelling ad here because they refuse to make the characters into stereotypes. Before they are ‘famine victims’ or Africans the people in this ad are individuals: a child busy in imaginary play; and a mother brokenhearted about the world of poverty her daughter has been born into. Maybe it’s just me, but I can identify with those sentiments and these individuals very easily.

I’m not sure if there is a reason beyond coincidence that more effort is being put into charity advertisements these days. Perhaps, with big spending clients cutting back budgets / going to the wall, there is more time for the best agency minds to work on charity accounts. Or maybe the ads have always been good; I just wasn’t watching enough Jeremy Kyle.

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About the Author

Éilish writes the Ad Nauseam series of posts for Culch.ie as well as some other bit and bobs. She used to work in adland and still likes to dissect the advertising she comes across, though these days mainly from the comfort of her couch and in the form of angry tirades while her flatmate rolls her eyes to heaven. She secretly harbours smug feelings that instead of saving and putting a deposit on a house she spent all her life savings on extravagant holidays and has therefore escaped a lifetime in negative equity. She co-runs a company called Amp Music Marketing. You can get in touch with her at eilishburke{at}gmail{dot}com or follow her on Twitter.

5 Responses to Ad Nauseam: Charity begins on Daytime TV

  1. Annie says:

    Great post.

    I was just tweeting about the Barnardos ad the other day. It really caught my attention. Had me bawling in fact.

    I’d imagine it is so hard for charities not to become cliched, as more and more people become desensitized and as you said, jaded, to their ads.

  2. Ah – there’s nowt like a midday cry is there?

  3. Bngr says:

    Yea those starving kids ads just become a parody of themselves. The one I found most annoying was for Trocaire I think with the voiceover or Ray Darcy talking about water and visuals of famine Africa – except it didnt look like a famine, it was beautifully shot images of hot sunny deserts just after we’d had another summer of 12 weeks of rain and therefore a total kick in the teeth. They can feck off with their hot sunniness expecting us to empathise when now I’m just jealous and angry. It’s the same with that 7up ad from few years back with beautiful people dripping with sweat, roasting in the evening sun before being refreshed by the drink. I mean when in a million years would people be roasted by the sun here.

    Advertisers – stop taunting me with heat.

  4. aha… famine jealousy! i’ll take your corrupt government, tribal warfare and centuries of pillaging by European colonists if you give us some of your climate change heightened sunshine! trilt.

  5. Bngr says:

    lol, you see? You know where I’m coming from.

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