Stupid cartoons fail to make the point or anything else

Stupid ads

It’s common for nonprofits to get so caught up in the symbolism around their cause that they can’t communicate clearly outside their circle. They think it’s more important to get potential donors in philosophical lock-step than it is to just ask for donations from people who may or may not “get it.”

They end up neither getting donations nor changing the way people think.

Here’s a case from French charity CCFD-Terre Solidaire:

Stereotypes

See more about the campaign here (website in French).

The copy is oddly stilted and unclear. I think it reads a little better in French: Le Sud mérite mieux que nos clichés. And is “back local initiatives” some form of jargon meaning “donate”? Not sure. (Hmmm. Copy in English, for no apparent reason. I wonder what that means?)

But bad copy isn’t the real problem. There’s no logical or emotional connection between the assertion of the headline and making a donation — or any other type of involvement. It’s just pointlessly hectoring an imaginary audience about an issue only insiders are aware of.

I get the point. The poor that many charities ask us to help are not just one-dimensional victims. They hold more of the solution to their poverty than donors do.

But it’s just false to say a poor African is not a poor African. The fact that he’s an entrepreneur doesn’t exclude him also being something else, like a good soccer player, a jazz lover, or a poor African. Thing is, donors will give to help poor African, but there’s really no reason to give to help an entrepreneur.

The distinction between poor African and empowered entrepreneur matters operationally — but not in fundraising or marketing. If the organization’s technical staff in Africa think of their clients as victims or subjects, they’re going to do a lousy job. But there’s no real payoff in changing the conceptual framework of the general public or even the donating public. Not that this ad series or any other ad series could accomplish such a thing.

But what really lifts this series from lame marketing to a truly Stupid Nonprofit Ad is this: It undercuts its own premise. The people in the ads aren’t real people. They don’t have names; they don’t have stories; they’re just cartoony drawings. Seriously, how does anyone expect loose sketches of imaginary people to help us see real people as more real?

If you want to change the way people think, you’re just going to have to get involved in real life. Concepts and abstractions won’t move people’s hearts. And they won’t raise funds.

Thanks to Creative Advertisements for NGO for the tip. Also see many more images from this campaign there.

More Stupid Nonprofit Ads.

Update (5 p.m. Pacific Time, 27 April)

I thought it looked familiar.

MagrittePipe

Thanks to alert commenters Eva and Christine for pointing out that these ads are a direct tribute to The Treachery of Images by Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

That makes the ads a little less random. But it makes the point they’re trying to make even murkier.


Comments

8 responses to “Stupid cartoons fail to make the point or anything else”

  1. The copy (or font) and the riff is from a Magritte painting entitled ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’…or this is not a pipe. This is actually clever to a degree…but to your point, clever doesn’t always beget bucks….emotional resonnance does.

  2. The copy (or font) and the riff is from a Magritte painting entitled ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’…or this is not a pipe. This is actually clever to a degree…but to your point, clever doesn’t always beget bucks….emotional resonnance does.

  3. Christine H Avatar
    Christine H

    To Eva’s point: Magritte’s painting includes the cursive legend “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” directly under the depiction of a pipe. Idea was to make the viewer stop and think about the difference between a pipe and a painting of a pipe. IMO, this ad campaign *could* have been very successful with a Magritte-knowledgeable audience (i.e. Francophones tuned into their cultural heritage) if the copy were better composed to draw an emotional response and call to action.

  4. Christine H Avatar
    Christine H

    To Eva’s point: Magritte’s painting includes the cursive legend “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” directly under the depiction of a pipe. Idea was to make the viewer stop and think about the difference between a pipe and a painting of a pipe. IMO, this ad campaign *could* have been very successful with a Magritte-knowledgeable audience (i.e. Francophones tuned into their cultural heritage) if the copy were better composed to draw an emotional response and call to action.

  5. I disagree. It seems to me that the rationale of this campaign is that many people in the developed world think that Africans are perpetual beggars in need of help, and thus that sending money to help them is rather pointless. The campaign wants to counteract this viewpoint: donors may be more willing a prospective poor entrepreneur than to provide more handouts.
    Of course, both points of view (that Africans are perpetual beggars, or that they just need a little capital to get moving) ignores a major factor of African poverty: cronyism and bad management, often by governments backed by developed countries and major corporations.

  6. I disagree. It seems to me that the rationale of this campaign is that many people in the developed world think that Africans are perpetual beggars in need of help, and thus that sending money to help them is rather pointless. The campaign wants to counteract this viewpoint: donors may be more willing a prospective poor entrepreneur than to provide more handouts.
    Of course, both points of view (that Africans are perpetual beggars, or that they just need a little capital to get moving) ignores a major factor of African poverty: cronyism and bad management, often by governments backed by developed countries and major corporations.

  7. F Mischler Avatar
    F Mischler

    Sometime visitor to this site, so not so well versed in the author’s approach, etc., but curious: is there no place for a non-profit to engage in brand marketing or attempts at thought provoking imagery? Not a marketing person, but where any marketing campaign is shown to be effective, say for a car or apparel company, does their profit status somehow exclude nonprofits from similar effectiveness when using the a similar device? Is a nonprofit’s only objective to gain additional or new donors? Donor development is known to be a years long process, at least for major donors. Not every action in that time will be an outright ask for money, right?

  8. F Mischler Avatar
    F Mischler

    Sometime visitor to this site, so not so well versed in the author’s approach, etc., but curious: is there no place for a non-profit to engage in brand marketing or attempts at thought provoking imagery? Not a marketing person, but where any marketing campaign is shown to be effective, say for a car or apparel company, does their profit status somehow exclude nonprofits from similar effectiveness when using the a similar device? Is a nonprofit’s only objective to gain additional or new donors? Donor development is known to be a years long process, at least for major donors. Not every action in that time will be an outright ask for money, right?

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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.