Disembowelled animals, bruised children and forgotten
This is the stuff of shock charity advertising. Arresting visuals
highlight the depravity of a modern world and agencies consider the risk
of Advertising Standards Authority censorship a small price to pay for
all the free publicity they can muster.
Yet a recent spate of charity ads signal a shift away from the graphic
towards a more subtle and implicit approach to difficult subjects.
The latest work from Saatchi & Saatchi for the NSPCC is a perfect
One commercial exposes viewers to the sounds of child abuse but the
imagery departs from the harrowing scenes of cruelty that were more
apparent in previous campaigns.
’When the abuse is implied, it’s much more chilling,’ David Droga,
executive creative director at Saatchis, says. ’The ad cuts across all
social boundaries. You don’t see the characters so you can’t say, ’well
I’m not like that’. There’s no pigeon-holing. The icons (Action Man, the
Spice Girls etc) that viewers do see are universal. It doesn’t matter if
you live on a caravan site or in Mayfair, everyone will relate to
Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe has just launched the Millennium Gift Aid
campaign with a humorous ad featuring a taxman and the cross-dressing
comedian, Eddie Izzard.
The brief was to produce a campaign to encourage charitable donations to
education and anti-poverty projects in 80 of the world’s poorest
countries. The idea is that the taxman will give an extra pounds 30 to
overseas charities for every pounds 100 donated by taxpayers.
’Everyone knows that poverty in the third world is an issue,’ MT Rainey,
a partner at the agency, says. ’People don’t want to see more begging
bowls, and the challenge was to find a different vehicle to attract
donations from younger people.’
Help the Aged has reached the same conclusion. Last year, The Daily
Telegraph and The Times refused to run ads for the charity’s ’heating or
eating’ campaign which featured name tags on the feet of elderly people
lying in a morgue. The latest cinema work from Leo Burnett for the
charity uses a very different strategy.
It lasts four minutes and is centred around a poem that was written by
an old woman before she died. We see a young woman at rest while a
voiceover recites the verses that plot the various stages of her
’The ad has a very emotional but positive message,’ Nick Bell, joint
creative director at the agency, says. ’We were going to just film lots
of old people but decided to offset age and mortality with youth and
beauty. The ad had to be very simple so as not to detract from the words
of the poem.’
Bell does recognise that shock advertising has its place. He says: ’When
I worked at Abbott Mead Vickers on the RSPCA account, research showed
that the work that drove donations featured pictures of wasting
The dilemma seems to be about creating work that shocks the public into
action but doesn’t paint such a bleak picture that people feel there is
nothing they can do that will make a difference.
Animal cruelty is one cause where advertisers are reluctant to turn away
from the use of gruesome images. Last year, AMV launched a controversial
press campaign for the RSPCA supporting a ban on hunting with dogs. One
ad was captioned, ’Whatever you think about foxes, you have to admire
their guts.’ This ran alongside a picture of a fox with extreme
Similarly, in 1997, Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper created an anti-hunting film
for the International Fund for Animal Welfare which had stills of
brutalised dead foxes.
The latest work from DMB&B for Respect for Animals cuts between a woman
buying a fur-trimmed coat and a man who is butchering minks at a fur
farm. Viewers can see the animal’s feet being cut off and its innards
ripped out. Barry Cook, the managing director at the agency, believes
the approach is justified. He says: ’The ad could be construed as
shocking but for me it’s not as shocking as complacency towards animal
Paul Cardwell of Doner Cardwell Hawkins, the agency which has just
launched a light-hearted press and poster campaign for the Cats
Protection League, disagrees. ’The most shocking thing you can do is to
be charming because no-one else is,’ he says. ’To be funny is the best
way to treat serious issues. Horror is best left to the
The work encourages owners to have their female cats speyed. One
execution shows a suave tomcat who ’like any man, is only after a good
time ... and if she gets pregnant, it’s her problem’. Yet even this
light-hearted strategy has attracted censure - some vets have deemed the
posters sexist and are refusing to run them.
Charities will always be tempted to opt for the ’short-sharp-shock’
because budgets are limited and the work sometimes only gets one chance
to make an impression.
But the message from agencies seems to be that while shock tactics still
have their place, it is no longer acceptable just to plug away using the
same-old graphic images to which the public are becoming increasingly