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Integration and chance-taking: ActionAid UK’s What a Feeling campaign

21 January 2011

As I hauled my grumbling body into work on Monday 17 Jan, after the morning's media soberly informed me it was considered "the most depressing day of the year", I was struck by an unusual set of adverts on the tube that seemed precisely timed to lift my heavy spirits.

Upbeat messaging? Check. Colourful and eye-grabbing? Check. Image of smiling person? Check. Charity brand? Check. However, most notably, there was no mention of the nature of the work nor the beneficiaries of this vibrant-looking non-profit.

The organisation in question is ActionAid UK, and this is their intriguing new marketing campaign, dubbed What a Feeling. It  focuses almost exclusively on the experience of the volunteer / fundraiser,  demonstrating the personal growth and satisfaction of getting stuck in for a charity.

It resonates with a few themes without being clichéd about it – New Year’s resolutions, doing something new – and even nudges elements that Cameron's Big Society hasn't managed to clinch yet, ie what's in it for the volunteer on a personal level?

I then began to notice the other elements of What a Feeling. As well as above-the-line transport and newspaper adverts, it included:

  • An online questionnaire that encourages you to define what makes you feel good and leads to a Twibbon to wear on online profiles.
  • A campaign-branded video on the landing page of the website, featuring some of the work of ActionAid, and volunteers and fundraisers looking happy and empowered.
  • A "Blue Monday" survey of the public, with the news release timed for the dreaded 17 Jan date.
  • And – nice stunt – a one day only "happy bubble" residing in Finsbury Park Avenue Square in London, inviting the public to enter it from 7am to 7pm and embrace their happiness.

I really believe that for a campaign to be as effective as possible there has to be a combination of offline and online action, and ActionAid UK seem to be ticking most of the boxes

Intrigued, I spoke to Richard Turner, Director of Fundraising at ActionAid who told me the initial campaign idea actually came from a meeting with the charity’s supporters:

[we realised] that they are passionate about supporting ActionAid and they get something from giving. It seems we have caught it at the right moment with all the talk about Big Society!

It seemed there was an element of serendipity in ActionAid's change in tack, and so I asked how long had it been in the planning – and how much investment it had needed as lifesized people-bubbles aren’t cheap these days!

We came up with the concept of using supporters to front the campaign in September, but we hit on the insight that ActionAid inspires people (both here and overseas) over a year ago. Blue Monday seemed a good hook to launch the campaign.

In terms of cost we are ensuring that our marketing is more integrated and coordinated so it re-enforces each other. So we aren’t spending more we're just spending more effectively to make sure we get noticed. We want to attract (pull) people to us who will genuinely want to do something and so are more likely to do more and stay supporting us for some time.

Richard’s right, the very visible campaign caught my attention, and caused a smile. I also think it's brave, as I know what ActionAid UK does but the marketing doesn’t assume I do; it aims squarely at inviting me to investigate why Barbara and Silvia (the two, female, middle-aged protagonists of the adverts) are feeling so good.

I’ll be checking in to see if the campaign solicits the volunteers and fundraisers it seeks. I’m also interested to see – as it evolves – if the faces in the marketing become younger, less white, or change gender.

Overall, I think it’s a ripe time to test a change in direction. By leading with Western middle-Englanders – as opposed to images of children and families in developing countries, or depicting poverty – ActionAid UK could be masterly capturing the illusive incentive to a Big Society. If charity is fatigued, perhaps the future of fundraising will be driven by who gives the best supporter care and delivers the best ‘experience’.

Visit ActionAid UK’s campaign at

Rob Dyson

public relations & online engagement manager, Whizz-Kidz

In his day job, Rob leads on all public relations for young people’s charity Whizz-Kidz, including corporate fundraising partnerships, youth campaigning, NHS partnerships and parliamentary work and most notably social media: building conversational, community engagement in Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Flickr. Rob blogs on third sector issues, Big Society, and digital comms and founded the Third Sector PR & Communications Network on Facebook.