OPINION: MILLS ON ... EMOTIONAL-BLACKMAIL MARKETING

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 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

child abuse.



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

household average.



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

a disservice.



Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).