Positive versus negative

Charities and non-profit organisations (NPOs) have enough difficulties raising funds to further their aims. Things become even more challenging when it comes to gaining awareness for their cause through advertising. First, they don’t have the corporate coffers to cut through the clutter like big companies. Second, not everyone is interested in their cause – they are often being encouraged to give the NPO money for no immediate (or only an altruistic) reward.

One dilemma they face is: should we scream out loud with a negative image, something that grabs people’s attention quickly (and thus efficiently) and makes them realise they should act now, or should we not scare them off with “in your face” ads that put them off the issue.

According to some theory books, more Angst-ridden ads will turn people off. If this is the case, then Saatchi and Saatchi and many campaigns for the UK NSPCC (the national society for the prevention of cruelty to children), are in the wrong:


Image: YouTube

On the other hand, if you show happy smiling people in ads for charities, particularly around Christmas which is a major fund-raising time for such organisations, are you not just plastering more happy faces on the walls – like all the other advertising, promising positive pleasures and nothing but customer satisfaction? Maybe you need to slap people in the face when they’re not listening.

Here are two German posters both snapped at the same time on the local underground:

charity-neg.jpg charity-pos.jpg

Which way would you go? Negative advertising like the poster on the left, to arrest attention, or “here is what you can do” like the poster on the right? Some would say the ad on the right makes it look like the children here have no problem any more – so why contribute to the charity, they’re doing a good job.

This issue has been debated many times on my MBA courses. I’m not an expert in charity advertising and NPOs/NGOs, but there is one thing we can learn from other areas by taking a leaf out of the classic approach taken by Procter and Gamble approach (see also this post on functional and emotional benefits: Timotei).

So how about combining the negative and the positive, as below?


And now let’s take this one step further. Below is my favourite charity ad, sadly in low resolution (anyone got a larger version?). It really takes the Procter & Gamble approach, saying “problem + your help = solution”, the classic before-after sequence:


2004 Tsunami victim. 2005 fisherman

Nice one.

Alex Woodruff

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