LIVE ISSUE/CHARITY ADVERTISING: Charities snub shock tactics for subtle approach - It is no longer enough for agencies just to upset the public, Jade Garrett writes

Disembowelled animals, bruised children and forgotten pensioners.

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

abdominal injuries.

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


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