What makes a Stupid Nonprofit Ad stupid?

Stupid ads

A popular ongoing series on this blog, Stupid Nonprofit Ads, tends to generate a lot of controversy.

More then one commentator has correctly pointed out that I don’t have response data on these ads, and quite properly asked how I can label them “stupid” when I don’t know whether or not they actually worked. If they worked, then calling them stupid would just be, well, stupid.

Yes, I’m going out on a limb when I call these things stupid.

I could be wrong. It’s happened many times.

But in the case of these Stupid Nonprofit Ads, I’m pretty confident I’m right. These ads are stupid, and their stupidity is of the type that will prevent them raising funds.

I’ve been in the fundraising business a long time. I’ve seen thousands of projects from the inside. And every time — yes, every time — a project has used cleverness and abstraction as its platform, it has failed. I’m not talking slight under-performance, but spectacular and utter failure.

The pattern is unambiguous. Talk to anyone with experience and they’ll agree.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in fundraising. Things that should work sometimes don’t. Oddball projects that just don’t look well-built sometimes work. Often, we can’t find a reason for success or failure. If you’ve been in fundraising for a long time, you learn to be pretty agnostic about what’s good and what’s bad.

But ads like these stupid nonprofit ads are different. They look like they’re going to fail, and they fail. Every time.

There are a lot of ways fundraising can be bad. It can be jargon-laden. It can be self-centered. It can be vague. It can be poorly written or designed. All of these things can cause it to do poorly and waste money. But these things won’t get the “Stupid Nonprofit Ad” label from me.

I’m aiming at a certain class of badness in nonprofit marketing: The abstract, glib, usually agency-created sludge that just never seems to go away because ad agencies are good at selling what they do (even when they aren’t good at what they do), and nonprofits are suckers for “glamour.” They are part of the utterly corrupt ad agency award mill that robs billions of marketing dollars from nonprofits and for-profits alike.

I’m on the warpath against this stuff not because I hate it (I mostly don’t), but because it’s a scourge to fundraising, and it needs to be called out for the scam it is. Maybe we can save organizations from falling victim in the future.

If any of these ads motivated even a mediocre response, I will retract my label of “stupid.” I’ll just have to chalk it up to “fundraising can be strange.” If you have inside knowledge of any campaign I’ve called out and can show me that it isn’t actually stupid, I promise I will retract what I’ve said about it.

And if you have any nominations for the Stupid Nonprofit Ads category, send them my way!


Comments

6 responses to “What makes a Stupid Nonprofit Ad stupid?”

  1. Tom Ahern Avatar

    Jeff… As it happens, I’m speaking at a conference in October where I have the “diarrhea” ad people among the class attendees. I plan to ask them how that campaign is going. I suspect, because the video is just part of a larger, integrated push, it’s probably going OK. I will report back.

  2. Tom Ahern Avatar

    Jeff… As it happens, I’m speaking at a conference in October where I have the “diarrhea” ad people among the class attendees. I plan to ask them how that campaign is going. I suspect, because the video is just part of a larger, integrated push, it’s probably going OK. I will report back.

  3. Jeff – keep calling out all things ‘stupid’. Even if something ‘works’ doesn’t mean it’s right – and often it perpetuates the ‘slimy’ notion of fundraising.
    Tom – looking forward to hearing the feedback from the ‘diarrhea people’.

  4. Jeff – keep calling out all things ‘stupid’. Even if something ‘works’ doesn’t mean it’s right – and often it perpetuates the ‘slimy’ notion of fundraising.
    Tom – looking forward to hearing the feedback from the ‘diarrhea people’.

  5. It’s worth cleaning up your fundraising ad act just so you aren’t referred to as “the diarrhea people” 🙂

  6. It’s worth cleaning up your fundraising ad act just so you aren’t referred to as “the diarrhea people” 🙂

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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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About the blogger

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.