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Five charity branding trends for 2019

11 January 2019

The charity sector is investing more in brand than ever before.

But the competition is also steeper, from the market leaders with bigger budgets, to commercial brands with social purpose, and B corporations – a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit – all competing. Which is why it’s essential to keep up to speed. Here are some of the trends to look out for – or even leapfrog.

1. Human authenticity

Expect more brands to draw upon authentic real-life stories.

Using human psychology has become increasingly popular in brand and advertising. More brands are asking what emotions they want to provoke to inspire action, drawing on the work of Jaak Panskepp and Paul Ekman, the foremost psychologist in emotional theory. Ekman proved Darwin’s hypothesis that facial expressions of the basic emotions are universal, across cultures, ethnicities, and even species. His work is now used by brands across sectors worldwide, from the US Military and CIA, to Apple and Google.

Charities have traditionally drawn upon the core emotions of sadness and fear for direct marketing purposes, but in recent years we’ve seen a shift towards anger. This has led to tons, and tons, of charity brands adopting a fighting tone, led by Cancer Research UK with cancer as the enemy and their supporter base as the collective army.

In the need for differentiation some brands are now wisely choosing to swim against the collective tide. British Heart Foundation has replaced its “Fight for every heart beat” strapline with the more emotive “Beat heartbreak forever”, emphasising the beating heart at the core of their brand.

Bowel Cancer UK have also created a new brand with the personality Heroes of Hope, with the values of Community, Action, Hope and Authenticity; carefully crafted to counteract all the fighting-talk. Find out more by catching my session at the upcoming conference on creating authentic human stories.

Bowel Cancer UK

2. Empowerment

Expect more brands to dial up the active side of their branding and shift from support to empowerment.

Brand development in 2018 for RNIB and National Autistic Society saw them shift to using the term empowerment. Versus Arthritis, the new brand formed by the merger of Arthritis Research UK and Arthritis Care did the same. As Chief Executive, Liam O’Toole, said:

What’s different is that we will be much braver – we want to push back and have a louder voice for people with arthritis and empower them to demand more for themselves.

3. Inclusivity

Expect more brands to refresh their identities with a focus on accessibility.

 It is amazing how many charity brands weren’t designed for the digital age or with accessibility in mind.

One of the most transformational rebrands of last year were Disability Gamechangers, Scope. Scope’s new identity, developed in collaboration with The Team, uses accessible design in every aspect of its brand toolkit.

Scope believe accessible design should be commonplace. They don’t see accessibility as a barrier to creativity. Instead they have tested the limits to push its boundaries, in the ambition of inspiring a movement for inclusive design, including a free poster on key aspects of inclusive design from colour to typography.


4. Partnership

Expect more long-term, mission-led, brand partnerships

As more corporate and commercial brands define their social purpose beyond profit, they are looking for long-term, mission-led, charity partnerships to help them deliver good.

One of the more recent is Tesco, who is standing alongside WWF to fight for our world. In this exciting new four-year partnership, they’ve come together to address one of the biggest causes of wildlife loss: our food system.

As global fast-moving-consumer-goods giants, like Tesco, now have a purpose to make sustainable living commonplace, WWF also need commercial brands on-board to change our consumption habits in favour of the environment; to make affordable, healthy, sustainable food available to everyone. The fact that both parties needs cross over when it comes to sustainability goals means their partnership can potentially help them both achieve their goals.

5. Entertainment

Expect more charity brands to entertain us through events and quizzes.

People increasingly want something back in return for supporting a charity – whether empowerment, an experience or entertainment.

O2 and NSPCC, another great example of a strategic brand partnership, are currently working on a campaign to keep kids safe online. To kids, online life is real life, but how much do their parents know about their digital world? To boost brand engagement, they have created a quick test to put parents knowledge to the test. Find out more at the next Brand Breakfast on brand and digital innovation.

I also thought it was telling that Comic Relief is going back to its stand-up roots by bringing together some of the biggest names in comedy for the first time ever, for an epic night of laughs at The SSE Arena, Wembley. One night, one stage, eight comedy giants, Comic Relief’s Spectacular will be taking to the stage on 28th February 2019.

Finally, from an audience perspective, we have also seen a rise in the experience economy with audiences prepared to pay more for shared experiences, so expect more charities to create a similar splash with ticketed events. After all, strong charity brands are made up of supporters with shared beliefs and values, so what better way to bring people together for your cause.


Dan Dufour

brand strategist, Red Stone

Dan is one of the sector’s leading brand strategists. He has worked on brand development across all sectors including Rightmove, London 2012 and Cancer Research UK. He's best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the charity sector, from Shelter and Parkinson’s UK to RSPB and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfast, proudly supported by Red Stone. He is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated campaigns.