Creative masterclass on ... running an effective charity campaign

The focus of a charity brief is to raise money, says Jo Arscott, so forget your creative soul and concentrate on the golden rules - with a bit of finesse.

The biggest mistake that creatives make when getting a charity brief is to go completely OTT. Not that I'm knocking "blood and gore" concepts.

For some clients they work. But in my experience, most campaigns require a delicate balance of information and emotion. And that's a heck of a lot harder than it looks.

Remember who you're talking to

It isn't the judges at D&AD or the Campaign Direct Awards. OK, maybe they're your secondary audience. But there's no point in doing a trendy typeface or overtly clever copy when your key donor is a 78-year-old grandmother living in Kirby. So it may tarnish your creative soul to have to produce a letter in 18pt or to use well-worn phrases like "You can make a difference", but ...

Follow the golden rules, even when they're tarnished

The rules of charity marketing do work, and if it ain't broke don't fix it. This isn't a cop out, because not fixing doesn't mean not enhancing - whatever 'it' is. For example, whoever said emotional photos work was right. Whoever said give options on ways to pay was right. Whoever said, repeat the telephone number three times was right. You may hate them, but it's your challenge to give a 21st century interpretation of these rules.

Don't be afraid to research

Trial can be a wonderful thing, especially when your 21st century interpretation of DM, door-drops, press and DRTV has frightened the client half to death.

This is where research can be a great tool. Test various creative executions and response mechanisms to see what groups react to. You'll probably be in for a few surprises.

Don't be stupid when it comes to cost

Even if you think that a digital 3D pop-up encased in velvet or a response commercial in the Bahamas works, get real. A charity is a charity, and you have to be cost-effective with your executions. The money you save can go towards a lot better things - like saving or enhancing lives. However, it is worth remembering that if you have an idea with a big impact that allows for PR opportunities, companies will always give their products and services to a good cause for free.

Take chances - and have fun

Believe me. I'm not telling you all to be boring gits. All I'm saying is that your award-winning ideas have to work within logical restrictions.

But that challenge also allows you to have fun in more cost-effective formats and original media when it's part of the mix. I once did a postcard for the Family Planning Association. On the front was a picture of a naked man - except there was a hole in his groin where you could wiggle your finger through. The strap was: "Remind someone it's National Condom Week".

For the National Asthma Campaign, I did a 96-sheet poster at Vauxhall roundabout to promote air pollution. The poster looked completely blank, but in fact it was painted in a clear glue. As all the dirt and rubbish in the air stuck to it you could read "This poster has been up for just two weeks. Imagine what your lungs must look like."

Refine, refine, refine.

Even the simplest of direct mail packs should be well-crafted. Following the idea through from envelope to response is critical, but it's amazing how many charities stop at the insertion. And always learn from what went before. Did it get a great response - why? Did it get a miserable percentage - why? Every pack, every commercial, every insert is a learning curve to doing better.

Finally, take the tummy test

This one isn't scientifically proven, but it's the ultimate key to great charity creative. If your tummy doesn't go funny in the acknowledgement of a great idea - then forget it.


The National Canine Defence League (NCDL) is opposed to the destruction of healthy dogs, and sees neutering as one solution to reduce the number of strays. Research showed that low-income households are often unwilling to get their dogs neutered, partly due to the cost. The campaign message was "Neuter your dog for free with the NCDL and you could win £1,000".

The campaign

The DRTV ad was deliberately involving and engaging, backed by a strong creative idea and high production values. The ad showed a man throwing a ball to his dog several times ... which to his bemusement eventually returns with a wad of money in its mouth.

The radio ad was also humorous and highlighted different benefits of neutering, such as the prevention of unwanted puppies.

Various door-drops were used. One showed a wad of money to reflect the TV ad. Another was a wanted poster titled 'Sex Pests are operating in your neighbourhood' including a photo-fit of a dog's face, to highlight the fact that unneutered dogs can become sexually aggressive.

Results were impressive. The campaign increased the number of neutered dogs per month by more than 350 per cent.

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