The NSPCC’s latest campaign is moving, compelling and by far the
best charity ad since Abbott Mead’s epic for the Queen Elizabeth
Foundation for the Disabled. Even my initial unease that the ad is
’sponsored’ by Microsoft (you didn’t know? Check the discreet on-screen
credit) has been dispelled. As cause-related marketing efforts go, it is
subtle and effective. More to the point, it has the capacity to change
my perceptions of Microsoft -which, of course, is half the point.
The same, alas, cannot be said of the latest NSPCC device to raise
money, which arrived last week in the form of a direct mail shot. ’Aha,’
I thought as I picked up the NSPCC envelope, ’this is obviously the call
to action that follows up the ad.’
Only it wasn’t. Irritation number one was that it was a letter from John
Roberts, the chief executive of a company called Swalec.
Irritation number two was the fact that this was actually a sales
letter, and a pretty blunt one too. Swalec is the South Wales power
utility and, thanks to deregulation, is now allowed to flog gas and
electricity to anyone in the UK - hence the sales letter.
Irritation number three was Mr Roberts’ opening sentence: ’NSPCC and
Swalec,’ it went, ’are helping to end all cruelty to all children.
Forever.’ This is admirable, but a touch presumptuous of Swalec to imply
that it was right there alongside the NSPCC as a doughty battler against
You can, I’m sure, guess the gist of the letter. I give Swalec my
business and they give the NSPCC pounds 15 a year for ’at least five
years’. In return, and I quote from the letter, I ’could’ save pounds 60
a year on my fuel bills - but only if my consumption is above the
Except that, if you read the small print, nothing about this special
offer is quite what it seems. And so to irritation number four. The
small print says that a portion of the pounds 15 will be deducted in
year one to pay for promotional costs, which seems pretty mean to say
the least for a company which reported pounds 44 million profit in the
last six months.
The piece de resistance, however, is the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer sting
in the sign-off (just above all the small-print caveats). ’Remember,’ Mr
Roberts exhorts me, ’as your gas and electricity bills go down, the
NSPCC’s income will go up. What better reason could there be to switch
to Swalec?’ Need I answer?
Of course, it’s easy to be snide about such exercises in cause-related
marketing. Surely, people will say, you wouldn’t want to deprive the
NSPCC of pounds 75 (minus the promotional costs etc). Well, no, I
wouldn’t. But nor do I wish to be emotionally blackmailed by a company
of which I have absolutely no knowledge, the ’body language’ of whose
communication with me suggests it is more interested in itself than the
NSPCC and which fails to demonstrate any previous or long-term
commitment to the cause. At its best, this sort of marketing ties a
brand into a relevant cause for mutual benefit. At its worst, as here,
it’s the greedy taking advantage of the needy and does the whole sector