Nothing is stupid about this

Stupid ads

Fundraising for a food bank during a recession is only marginally more difficult than falling off a log — when you do it right.

I guess that’s just too boring for some people. Like the creative agency that sunk its claws into the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

These guys came up with a way to “brand” hunger by pointing out that the hungry have nothing to eat. The centerpiece of the campaign is empty cans, labeled “Nothing,” that people can buy for $2.99.

So far, so good, and if they’d stopped there, they might have had an interesting alternative acquisition and awareness effort. But we’re talking ad agency, so the approach quickly went off the rails. Here’s how the Nothing.org website explains it:

Nothingcan

Each day, thousands of hungry Rhode Islanders eat nothing. By turning nothing into a product you can buy, we’re going to change that.

If you’re noticing a heavy odor of self-reference in the above sentence, you’ve found the problem.

These guys were so impressed with their clever packaging of hunger, they couldn’t stop talking about it. A spokesperson from the typically clueless agency explained the work this way:

[People in their 30s] can afford to donate, but they prefer to make donations to solve finite problems: to build a wing for a hospital, a playground for a school. Things like a cure for cancer to an end to hunger are intangible.

Good point. That’s not just people in their 30s; that’s everyone. But the real question somebody should have asked was If you realize people prefer to give to tangible causes, why did you create an abstraction about hunger?

Because that’s exactly what this campaign is: Rather than talk about people who are hungry and the food they need — which is a very powerful and proven way to motivate people to give to food banks — they created a “product” that symbolizes the issue of hunger.

And then, in typical ad agency fashion, they fumbled in several other key ways that nobody who does fundraising would ever do: The “give” link on the Nothing.org website is hard to find. The giving form has some kind of programming error that renders it unusable. And, as if they’re allergic to actually asking for a gift, here’s what the ask itself looks like:

Nothing-ask

There are more design and writing problems with that than we have room to uncover here.

Finally, there’s this goofy use of outdoor advertising for the campaign. Billboards say:

Nothing can end hunger in Rhode Island.

Okay, a well-built double-meaning can sometimes add resonance and memorability to a slogan or call to action. But when the second meaning is the exact opposite of what you’re saying, it isn’t working.

There are some cool things about the campaign.

Selling the empty cans of “Nothing” at grocery stores may generate revenue. And if the cans themselves include compelling copy and response options, they may even bring in donors. (I have a sneaking suspicion that this was neglected.) And some of the videos are very touching.

In what I’m sure is the campaign’s greatest triumph, it was written up in the New York Times: Campaign Offer Plenty of ‘Nothing’.

More Stupid Nonprofit Ads.


Comments

18 responses to “Nothing is stupid about this”

  1. I really wonder if you are making this stuff up sometimes Jeff. Sheesh. How hard is it, with a little extra creativity, to get people to buy CANS OF FOOD which clearly solves the problem instead of CANS OF NOTHING, which is just odd. This is like a college group project gone awry.

  2. I really wonder if you are making this stuff up sometimes Jeff. Sheesh. How hard is it, with a little extra creativity, to get people to buy CANS OF FOOD which clearly solves the problem instead of CANS OF NOTHING, which is just odd. This is like a college group project gone awry.

  3. Dying to know what is actually IN the cans.
    Kivi’s comment is spot on. How about offering cans of real food that can be bought and placed in a box for RI’s food pantries.
    Any idea what agency created this?

  4. Dying to know what is actually IN the cans.
    Kivi’s comment is spot on. How about offering cans of real food that can be bought and placed in a box for RI’s food pantries.
    Any idea what agency created this?

  5. Nevermind my last question. Campaign was created by NAIL: http://www.nail.cc/

  6. Nevermind my last question. Campaign was created by NAIL: http://www.nail.cc/

  7. Hmmm very odd on many levels

  8. Hmmm very odd on many levels

  9. And the cans are “piggy bank” type cans. Will they really ever return them to the agency and be tracked as a donor? How? Seems impossible to think that someone buys the can, fills it with coins, with good intentions, then returns it to the agency with the money…

  10. And the cans are “piggy bank” type cans. Will they really ever return them to the agency and be tracked as a donor? How? Seems impossible to think that someone buys the can, fills it with coins, with good intentions, then returns it to the agency with the money…

  11. It sounds like a case of people trying to be too creative and losing the message in the process. Those hamburger scented candles have warped everyone’s sense of workability.
    Now, if they had called it “something” and put a mystery item in the can for people to buy for the food bank, they could say: “something can end hunger in Rhode Island.” Put the cans at local food stores at the counter and let people donate them.
    Or if they are in fact money jars rather than empty cans, they could be filled with “something” by the donors. The campaign could be taking people from nothing to something rather than just selling nothing.

  12. It sounds like a case of people trying to be too creative and losing the message in the process. Those hamburger scented candles have warped everyone’s sense of workability.
    Now, if they had called it “something” and put a mystery item in the can for people to buy for the food bank, they could say: “something can end hunger in Rhode Island.” Put the cans at local food stores at the counter and let people donate them.
    Or if they are in fact money jars rather than empty cans, they could be filled with “something” by the donors. The campaign could be taking people from nothing to something rather than just selling nothing.

  13. Kivi, there’s no way I’m smart enough to make up stuff like that!
    Laura, I intended to let the guilty party remain obscure. But I’m not going to second-guess your detective work.

  14. Kivi, there’s no way I’m smart enough to make up stuff like that!
    Laura, I intended to let the guilty party remain obscure. But I’m not going to second-guess your detective work.

  15. And though this is silly, you’re all talking about it. Hmmmm.
    Sounds like successful marketing to me.
    Mazarine
    http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  16. And though this is silly, you’re all talking about it. Hmmmm.
    Sounds like successful marketing to me.
    Mazarine
    http://wildwomanfundraising.com

  17. I think the general consensus is that the ad group and apparently the food bank did not “solve” the problem of hunger by selling cans. They also didn’t clearly communicate with the donors. Who bought the cans? Who is going to fill them and bring them back? How do you get these “filled” cans back to the agency? The monetary goal may be met, (and with the help of a sizable grant)but no real true understanding of the cause and need to get “involved” and I mean that very loosely…did I solve the problem of hunger in the state in my $2.99 purchase, I think not. It’s too superficial.

  18. I think the general consensus is that the ad group and apparently the food bank did not “solve” the problem of hunger by selling cans. They also didn’t clearly communicate with the donors. Who bought the cans? Who is going to fill them and bring them back? How do you get these “filled” cans back to the agency? The monetary goal may be met, (and with the help of a sizable grant)but no real true understanding of the cause and need to get “involved” and I mean that very loosely…did I solve the problem of hunger in the state in my $2.99 purchase, I think not. It’s too superficial.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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