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Saving the third sector with distinctive and compelling campaigns

28 August 2020

The Bank of England’s governor Andrew Bailey has said the UK’s economic downturn is less severe than first initially feared. I know that the saying ‘things can always be worse’ can always apply to situations like this, but over the last few weeks, the Third Sector has announced over 5,000 roles have been lost. With the challenges facing the sector, the outlook looks pretty severe to me.

Specifically, for us at the British Heart Foundation even though the pandemic has highlighted the importance of medical research, just 3% of charities funding medical research in the UK are eligible for support from the Government. Like many other charities, all 750 of our shops were forced to close and dozens of fundraising events were cancelled. We’ve been losing over £10 million a month and devastatingly, we have to cut our research budget in half this year.

Yet sadly, with the Bank of England warning that one million people could lose their job this year and that it will take longer for the economy to recover, the situation for many charities like the British Heart Foundation may worsen before it gets better.

That’s why there has never been a more critical time for charities to communicate their need for support.

According to advertising agency Ogilvy, some 90% of advertising goes unnoticed. As disheartening as that may seem, to ensure that charity advertising stands out and demands attention, campaigns need to be distinctive. But in such a crowded market, what is the best way to cut through the noise.

I wish there was a definitive ‘one size fits all’ answer. But depending on your audience and the desired outcome, there are several different ways you could approach the challenge. Here are six examples of distinctive campaigns from within and outside of the sector that hopefully will help you think about how you can be distinctive and help you get noticed.

Can actions help you speak louder than words?
CALM – Project 84
Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life. Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) felt that it was unacceptable that so many men were taking their own lives daily, yet nobody was talking about it. Two years ago, they launched Project 84 to encourage people to take a stand against male suicide.

Together with two artists and the family and friends of 84 men who took their own lives, they created sculptures to represent each life lost to place on top of ITV’s Southbank tower. The campaign earned a media reach of 2.1 billion, 170 million impressions on Twitter and a 34% increase in responses to their helpline. Over 400,000 people signed their petition asking the Government to appoint a minister in the UK government to be officially responsible for suicide prevention and bereavement support leading to Theresa May announcing Jackie Doyle-Price, as the first UK minister for suicide prevention on World Mental Health Day.

Can audience data help you tell a story?
Spotify – 2018 Goals
In 2016 Spotify launched their ‘Thanks 2016, It’s been Weird’ campaign using data from their listeners to tell stories about them to great comedic effect. You may remember the poster which read “Dear 3,749 people who streamed ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ the day of the Brexit Vote. Hang in There”. The 2016 campaign’s success saw Spotify run a follow up called ‘2018 Goals’, using their listeners’ trends from 2017 as suggested goals for the coming year.

Can you subvert the message?
RNIB – See differently
I loved the RNIB’s See differently campaign, which challenges misconceptions surrounding blind and partially sighted people. To mark their 150th anniversary, they launched a national advertising campaign. The ad showed Dan, who has diabetic retinopathy hovering at the bottom of the local shopping centre’s escalators. The audience naturally assumes that his partial sightedness causes his apprehension, yet as the story unfolds it becomes clear that Dan’s initial trepidation was not caused by his disability, but instead his ex-girlfriend who he spotted at the top of the escalators. Under the humour is the serious message encouraging people to see the person, not the sight loss.

Can data tell you what customers need?
Direct Line – The Fixer
In 2013 Direct Line was in trouble. They had always prided themselves in dealing with customers directly (hence the name), so they decided not to feature on price comparison websites. To help keep up with a rapidly changing competitive market, Direct Line knew they needed to reposition themselves. In 2013 their research showed that when things go wrong, people want their problems fixed as quickly as possible. This insight led to their ‘Fixer’ campaign, featuring the Winston Wolfe character from Pulp Fiction.

To further reinforce their ‘Fixer’ proposition Direct Line used social data to learn what their audience wanted help fixing and created videos to help them. This is an excellent example of ‘marketing basics’ in action and saw them not only reinforce their fixer credentials but also reversed the decline in revenue – one year ahead of target. So, it’s important to understand your audience and create content for their needs.

Can your friends help you?
ZSL – Don’t let ZSL go extinct
After months of their Zoo’s in London and Whipsnade being closed, The Zoological Society of London needed help in saving their Zoos and protecting wildlife. David Attenborough, Wunderman Thompson UK and Sky Media came to the rescue. Wunderman Thompson UK donated their creative services to repurpose archive footage to create the ‘Don’t let ZSL go extinct’ campaign, which was narrated by David Attenborough. Sky Media donated broadcast slots to help the campaign reach a wider audience. Since the campaign launched in early July, they’ve raised over £836k.

Can you be socially relevant?
Born Free – Creature Discomforts
Drawing parallels between two experiences can be a compelling way to help people emphasise with your cause.
Born Free used recordings that talk about people’s experiences in lockdown to encourage people to help rescue animals from a lifetime of lockdown.

If you are interested in finding out more about the key trends shaping UK campaigning today then take a look at the upcoming CharityComms campaigns seminar.

Photo: Rodolfo Clix on Pexels



Kimberley Ferguson

brand manager, Christian Aid

Kimberley is a brand manager at Christian Aid. She launched the Brand Blog as a space to share her expertise, and that of a network of inspirational people to provide a range of resources and advice for the sector during these unprecedented times.