APG Creative Strategy Awards - RSPCA 'you need the RSPCA' by The Campaign Palace

LONDON - How a campaign to raise awareness of the RSPCA in New South Wales, Australia, helped boost donations to the animal charity.

RSPCA 'you need the RSPCA' by The Campaign Palace
RSPCA 'you need the RSPCA' by The Campaign Palace

Creating new found respect for a household name.

Insight can only come from understanding, and understanding only from proximity. This case study is evidence of the value that comes from getting up close and personal and choosing to experience things first hand rather than reading about them; talking about them or running research groups about them.

At the start we saw the RSPCA in the same light as everyone else - a well known animal charity with smiling inspectors helping cute animals. Everything was always positively positive in the land of the RSPCA.

There seemed to be no real reason to be concerned. However, the powerful brand truth we uncovered first hand had the potential to shake people out of this sense of lethargy; open their eyes to what this organisation had to tackle every single day and expose them to the reality that the RSPCA are as integral to human welfare as they are to animal welfare.

Where we started: Smiling, happy RSPCA

We started our journey with the RSPCA seeing them in the same light as your average Australian. They were a well established household charity name, with a warm, family-friendly exterior. They had their own slick TV show ‘Animal Rescue’.

They had smiling inspectors whom they tasked with helping kittens caught in drains and puppies with broken legs. And they provided shelters that acted as a half way home for abandoned animals.

They were in short a ‘nice’ organisation, doing ‘nice’ work and financially were probably doing just fine too. Everything was happy and hunky-dory in the land of the RSPCA. Why worry?

The Task: Both Open & Overwhelming 

Before we began the strategic journey we were given one very sobering fact: the RSPCA NSW were currently $10 million in debt. The newly appointed CEO, Steve Coleman, briefed us with a simple task – ‘Help us find a way out of this’.

It was clear that this rose-tinted picture we had of a stable, happy institution was far more complicated than it seemed on the surface.  It started to look as though the task was not only about saving animals, but about saving an organisation.   

Getting up close and personal

To get a sense of what that solution may be, we first needed to have a deeper understanding of the organisation. We had done our initial homework – interviewed senior management; read all the articles; gone through their annual report; explored the different approaches and relevant examples of overseas media work. But none of it lead us anywhere particularly new.

So we threw ourselves into the thick of it. We spent quality time with the shelter staff and - what proved to be most enlightening of all - time with an inspector by the name of Slade. Sitting as a passenger in the RSPCA van, we observed Slade go about his usual week’s work. At the end of it, everything we thought we knew was turned upside down. This was an organisation with an untold story.

Uncovering a whole new organisation

A diary we made on the road Slade captured as much of it as possible. Little did we realize at the time, the diary was to become a more vivid briefing tool than any creative brief could hope to be. Out of it came two key observations:

1. The RSPCA deal not just in animal welfare but human welfare too: 

As we discovered, animal welfare and human welfare are intrinsically linked. As a result the RSPCA take on a surprising role in helping not just animal life, but human life too. For example, they run programmes to help women in abusive relationships who choose not to leave, for fear of what will happen to their pets.

They also run an education programme in hundreds of schools across the country to stop the well-documented cycle of cruelty to animals leading to cruelty to humans. During the week we spent with Slade, he even assisted the police in a large drug raid, subduing the vicious guard dogs, allowing the police to then safely enter the premises.

In short – it turns out this organisation went well and truly above and beyond the call and did so much more than merely helping cute puppies and kittens.

2. The harsh reality of the job they take on:  

Despite the infectiously positive exterior the RSPCA presented, below the surface there is a dark and dangerous side to the overwhelming job they are tasked with. After all they are dealing, not only with an endless list of unimaginable acts of cruelty, but also with the individuals responsible. There were a number of occasions where Slade would instruct me stay in the van, from a fear that things were about to get ugly. And for good reason too. That week a woman tried to stab him in the back and another inspector had her baton taken off her and was brutally attacked. In fact one inspector had already been killed on the job. Getting to know Slade better opened my eyes to both the physical and emotional strain the job put on him and his colleagues. It suddenly made sense to hear that the RSPCA had their own dedicated counselor for their staff.

The revelation

The revelation was blindingly clear: This organization simply undersold itself.

Furthermore the long promoted image of cute kittens and smiling inspectors didn’t help. It only lulled the public into a false sense of assurance, which led to complacency and a subsequent drop in donations. Because in the context of a thousand and one charities all vying for our attention and wallets, we naturally gravitate to helping the ones who we feel need it and deserve it the most. Not the ones swanning along doing just fine thank you.

Yet the reality was that hidden behind the surface was an organization that undertakes a range of hazardous tasks not just in animal welfare but in human welfare too. Domestic Violence; drug raids; violent individuals; child abuse – who would have ever thought the RSPCA would also take all that on?

This was the revelation we felt would jolt the public out of its current lethargy, and formed the basis of our strategic approach from there on in.  

A reappraisal of the task

To start with, we re-framed the task at hand. We needed to look at this as more than just a push for donations. We needed in fact to open people eyes and build new-found respect for an organization that had long been toiling in the dark.

The public had to recognize the lengths this organization go to in helping both the animal and human world.

The financial opportunity this presented

We were confident this story had the potential to shake the cobwebs off the brand and generate new found interest and respect for them. But more importantly we were confident that it could generate new found support – both in the form of public donations, and very importantly, in the form of new found government support. 

Because as we discovered, if it could be shown that the RSPCA fulfilled a vital role in our society, the organisation would benefit from very significant tax cut through the Public Benevolent Institution Status (PBI). A tax cut which in itself could enable the organisation to clear seemingly insurmountable debts within a matter of years.

Until now Government had never entertained the thought of granting the RSPCA with this tax break, as helping society (not animals) was a key requirement. It seemed in short that Government too suffered from the same limited perception of the organisation.

Making that shift: The ‘What’ and the ‘How’

To generate this important shift in perception we now had guidance on not just what to say, but also how to say it. Both we felt were of equal importance.


Allow people to experience what I had experienced during those days that I spent with Slade. Tell the true story on the extent of the work they perform and what they go through to perform it. If we could give the truth sufficient impact, it would not only gather new found support from the public, but in time help the RSPCA in its negotiations with government to obtain Public Benevolent Institution Status (PBI). The tactical plan was to speak first to society at large and then to approach government to discuss a reappraisal of their status.  


The brief for tone was simple – be honest. Because in a strange way, to their own detriment, that’s the one thing this organisation had not been.

The Creative

The creative recognised that there wasn’t the need to put a fancy spin on the story. The story was there and was compelling enough in itself. It simply needed to be told. The Diary I had kept became the source of inspiration for the work. The stories I had gathered became the TV ads. The quotes I had documented from intimate conversations with Slade became DM headlines. And the things I had seen and heard became the context for the copy. Even Slade himself ended up featuring in the advertising.

The work made that dramatic break that the brief dictated. It looked, felt and spoke like nothing that had ever been done for the RSPCA before. No more puppies, smiling inspectors and bright colours. Instead the creative drew on cues from darker worlds that the public had assumed never touched an organization like the RSPCA. Drug raids; domestic violence; child abuse; even frequent violence to RSPCA staff - all photographed and shot as we had briefed – brutally honest.

The last name you ever expected to see at the end of any of this work was the RSPCA, and it was so much more arresting and engaging for that very reason.

It was a major change for the RSPCA.  But in every respect it was a carefully considered change and one which we all knew had to be made.

How was it received? 

The campaign attracted mainstream media attention.  It sparked exactly the sort of dialogue we hoped for. Radio shows discussed the challenges that the RSPCA had to face – with the public calling in to discuss their own experiences. The RSPCA itself received calls and letters of praise, a number from women who had been in the sort of abusive relationships the campaign spoke of.  Many others were simply impressed with the work the RSPCA do.

But talkability as we know is not enough and donations followed too. In the first 3 weeks of the campaign, the RSPCA received in excess of $550,000 (well beyond what they had ever anticipated). One long term RSPCA member called up to say that he was so touched, he wished to donate $50,000. The message was striking home. Even long standing supporters were seeing the organisation in a new light.

Probably more importantly though, as planned, the campaign also set the scene for the RSPCA to enter into negotiations with government regarding their PBI status. These negotiations are currently ongoing and apparently making very positive headway. . 

Summary: How did planning help?

1.    It helped identify the real issues that contributed to the RSPCA’s $10 million of debt.
2.    It got us up close and personal and uncovered a powerful yet untold brand truth. A truth that only came from first hand experience.
3.    It served to reframe and focus the communication task at hand.
4.    It found an opportunity to not only create a spike in donations but to solidify long term financial support for the organisation. 
5.    It provided the creative team with not just a fresh strategic directive, but a clear tone and a unique creative fodder to work with.

Read about the planning of other major worldwide campaigns at Campaign's APG Creative Awards 2009 page.