Print ad unplugs a flood of nonprofit stupidity

Stupid ads

Leave it to an ad agency to make sure nobody knows what you’re talking about, even when you’re talking about something everybody knows about.

You only need look at the agency’s homepage to see that abstract, incompetent messaging was inevitable for this project.

The winner they came up with is a nearly full-page newspaper print ad done for the Canadian Red Cross.

Canadian-Red-Cross-Flood-Pakistan

It’s true that many fundraisers have struggled to communicate the crushing scope of the flooding in Pakistan. (There are some unfortunately predictable reasons for this; read about them here.)

But the main reason donors aren’t pouring our charity into Pakistan like they did with Haiti, is the disaster there seems less real.

You might think a solution to that problem would be to find a way to make it more real, wouldn’t you? Well, the ad agency that fleeced Canadian Red Cross this time took a rather different approach: Make it less real.

Yep, the Geniuses of Abstraction felt the best way to use nearly a full newspaper page of space wasn’t a heart-wrenching photo, wasn’t a headline that captured the pain and urgency of the crisis, wasn’t copy that pulled the reader viscerally into the situation. Their solution was a cute visual pun.

Actually, I’m not sure it even rises to the level of a pun. In what way does letters falling down the page recall a catastrophic flood that devastated the lives of something like a third of one of Earth’s most populous nations? The little red cross acting as an umbrella? Isn’t that kind of like illustrating the Haiti earthquake by showing a picture of maracas?

And if all that weren’t bad enough, the tiny bit of copy makes several basic rookie copywriting mistakes:

Don’t let hope get washed away. We are on the ground, providing aid to flood victims in Pakistan. And we need your support.

An abstract slogan, followed by two look-at-us sentences. Not how you motivate giving. It’s never worked before, and it’s not going to work this time.

I understand the frustration. This was a big disaster. Not nearly enough funds were raised. Sadly, given the circumstances, even a well-constructed ad wouldn’t have performed the way it should.

But no matter how frustrated you get, don’t call in the abstract fairy dust that the ad agencies sell. It’s just going to waste time, money, and good will.

Update: This ad has won an award! So it has accomplished its purpose. Too bad that’s about all it will ever do.

Thanks to Osocio for the tip.

More stupid nonprofit ads.


Comments

16 responses to “Print ad unplugs a flood of nonprofit stupidity”

  1. I like the ad, visually. But I have to agree, unless you put human faces to this tragedy you wont provide the stimulus to potential cash/resource donors.

  2. I like the ad, visually. But I have to agree, unless you put human faces to this tragedy you wont provide the stimulus to potential cash/resource donors.

  3. And who was the fund raising expert that signed the Ad off?

  4. And who was the fund raising expert that signed the Ad off?

  5. This reminds me of the Oxfam ‘Hope’ piece from couple of months ago. This is what happens when you get ineffective fundraisers combined with no or ineffective brand police.
    I no fan of brand police, but when we put out stuff like this, you can see why they exist.
    Although I do suspect it is another case of an agency offering to do work for free, so there was no brief and the agency thought that because it was free they didn’t have to respect the organisation’s brand. I bet they win an award.

  6. This reminds me of the Oxfam ‘Hope’ piece from couple of months ago. This is what happens when you get ineffective fundraisers combined with no or ineffective brand police.
    I no fan of brand police, but when we put out stuff like this, you can see why they exist.
    Although I do suspect it is another case of an agency offering to do work for free, so there was no brief and the agency thought that because it was free they didn’t have to respect the organisation’s brand. I bet they win an award.

  7. So JB, do you think the inherent mistrust of Asian and Muslim countries pervading in certain parts of the world right now has anything to do with why the Pakistan Flood appeal hasn’t raised as much money as for Haiti…?
    I doubt it’s all because of poor advertising.
    And I agree with most of the comments here. Fundraisers signed this off and it is a bit too abstract for a mass audience (but may well appeal to or have been targeted at a wealthier, more intellectual audience?)
    I suppose the results will tell all so please do publish them if you get access.

  8. So JB, do you think the inherent mistrust of Asian and Muslim countries pervading in certain parts of the world right now has anything to do with why the Pakistan Flood appeal hasn’t raised as much money as for Haiti…?
    I doubt it’s all because of poor advertising.
    And I agree with most of the comments here. Fundraisers signed this off and it is a bit too abstract for a mass audience (but may well appeal to or have been targeted at a wealthier, more intellectual audience?)
    I suppose the results will tell all so please do publish them if you get access.

  9. Hi Kevin B
    No I don’t think so. We have seen significant fundraising responses for disasters like the Bam earthquake in Iran in 2003, Pakistan earthquake in 2005, the tsunami, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (Burma)in 2008 amongst others all of which are, of course, in Muslim or Asian countries. No there is not a racial element in people’s response. I do think at the moment that Pakistan has some of its own particular challanges, but I think the most significant factor is the nature of the disaster itself. The disasters I mentioned above all had significant death tolls which is sometimes connected with media coverage and drives perception of need. The other common characteristic of the other disasters is that they are all defined by a single significant event at a moment in time.
    The lower response to Pakistan than Haiti is also not driven by bad fundraising. There was plenty of that during Haiti as well (and plenty of very good fundraising). But the challanges that face the sector with the Pakistan floods will not be met with increasingly abstract concepts.
    It almost seems that the more diffculty there is with getting a messge through, the sector response is to make the message more conceptual.

  10. Hi Kevin B
    No I don’t think so. We have seen significant fundraising responses for disasters like the Bam earthquake in Iran in 2003, Pakistan earthquake in 2005, the tsunami, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (Burma)in 2008 amongst others all of which are, of course, in Muslim or Asian countries. No there is not a racial element in people’s response. I do think at the moment that Pakistan has some of its own particular challanges, but I think the most significant factor is the nature of the disaster itself. The disasters I mentioned above all had significant death tolls which is sometimes connected with media coverage and drives perception of need. The other common characteristic of the other disasters is that they are all defined by a single significant event at a moment in time.
    The lower response to Pakistan than Haiti is also not driven by bad fundraising. There was plenty of that during Haiti as well (and plenty of very good fundraising). But the challanges that face the sector with the Pakistan floods will not be met with increasingly abstract concepts.
    It almost seems that the more diffculty there is with getting a messge through, the sector response is to make the message more conceptual.

  11. Jake Hadlee Avatar
    Jake Hadlee

    On what basis are you measuring the stupidity of this advert? Do you have access to the data on the response it generated? If not, it’s simply conjecture on your part.
    It’s hardly a work of creative genius, but you can’t possibly judge it’s effectiveness simply on your personal response to it.
    John B – unfortunately, there is an antipathy towards Pakistan, not based on the fact it is a Muslim country, but that it is a Muslim country which has been stereotyped as being particularly associated with terrorism. It’s the elephant in the room when discussing the poor response to this disaster.
    Personally, I think that using an abstract image that evokes positive images of the caring West, as opposed to yet more images of unhappy people in a foreign country, is actually an understandable approach – albeit that it is very unfortunate that this approach has to be taken due to prejudice and ignorance.

  12. Jake Hadlee Avatar
    Jake Hadlee

    On what basis are you measuring the stupidity of this advert? Do you have access to the data on the response it generated? If not, it’s simply conjecture on your part.
    It’s hardly a work of creative genius, but you can’t possibly judge it’s effectiveness simply on your personal response to it.
    John B – unfortunately, there is an antipathy towards Pakistan, not based on the fact it is a Muslim country, but that it is a Muslim country which has been stereotyped as being particularly associated with terrorism. It’s the elephant in the room when discussing the poor response to this disaster.
    Personally, I think that using an abstract image that evokes positive images of the caring West, as opposed to yet more images of unhappy people in a foreign country, is actually an understandable approach – albeit that it is very unfortunate that this approach has to be taken due to prejudice and ignorance.

  13. Jake – your right that it is is conjecture that leads Jeff to claim this ad is ineffective, but it is conjecture based on fundraising experience.
    Only for the very inexperienced fundraiser is it ‘an understandable approach’ to go abstract rather than show ‘yet more images of unhappy people in a foreign country’ – anyone who has done any direct marketing fundraising will tell you, abstract doesn’t raise income – reality does.

  14. Jake – your right that it is is conjecture that leads Jeff to claim this ad is ineffective, but it is conjecture based on fundraising experience.
    Only for the very inexperienced fundraiser is it ‘an understandable approach’ to go abstract rather than show ‘yet more images of unhappy people in a foreign country’ – anyone who has done any direct marketing fundraising will tell you, abstract doesn’t raise income – reality does.

  15. Jake Hadlee Avatar
    Jake Hadlee

    Ed – the trouble is, in this case reality isn’t raising income.
    I agree in principle that abstract doesn’t usually work – but here, where there is a fundamental problem in engagement caused by a prejudiced perception of the actual people being helped at a time when people are balancing up the “worthiness” of this cause against others, then reality is maybe not the answer.
    Sometimes the rules have to be broken, and maybe this is a case where that applies – I don’t know, as I also don’t have access to the response figures for this ad.
    But where a fundraising push has very particular issues that don’t apply to other superficially similar campaigns, then you can’t necessarily apply the things that worked in those other campaigns and expect them to work in this one. This is borne out by that fact that best practice has been followed by a lot of the organisations involved in fundraising for Pakistan, and it simply hasn’t worked.
    If there were a simple set of rules that always worked in every fundraising case, then life would be a hell of a lot easier. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.

  16. Jake Hadlee Avatar
    Jake Hadlee

    Ed – the trouble is, in this case reality isn’t raising income.
    I agree in principle that abstract doesn’t usually work – but here, where there is a fundamental problem in engagement caused by a prejudiced perception of the actual people being helped at a time when people are balancing up the “worthiness” of this cause against others, then reality is maybe not the answer.
    Sometimes the rules have to be broken, and maybe this is a case where that applies – I don’t know, as I also don’t have access to the response figures for this ad.
    But where a fundraising push has very particular issues that don’t apply to other superficially similar campaigns, then you can’t necessarily apply the things that worked in those other campaigns and expect them to work in this one. This is borne out by that fact that best practice has been followed by a lot of the organisations involved in fundraising for Pakistan, and it simply hasn’t worked.
    If there were a simple set of rules that always worked in every fundraising case, then life would be a hell of a lot easier. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.

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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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