Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Urgent Appeal for Two BMWs

I’m writing this on the train. Right in front of me are two advertising posters. Both of them are by cancer charities. Both are trying to raise money.

The headline on the first reads: “Urgent Appeal for Macmillan Nurses”.

The headline on the second reads: “Win £40,000 or two BMWs”.

The picture on the first is of a nurse in uniform.

The picture on the second is of the aforementioned cars, some cash, and a photo of a beach holiday.

It’s genuinely difficult to know what to think about these two posters.

It’s certainly rare that you come across an advert that is so crass and poorly done as the second of the two. I’d be interested to find out which was more successful at raising money. I mean supporting nurses is nice but two BMWs are hard to resist.

It’s just such a strange study in contrasts. One is a thoughtful, targeted appeal to help a charity support patients. The other, as far as you can tell from the ad, is essentially a raffle which happens to be going to a cancer charity. Except the ad is clearly from the charity itself.

The cynics might suggest this is pure advertising – that this is what you get when you trust advertisers with a sensitive subject like cancer. Crass, self-interested, superficial.

I disagree.

The first poster is the one which is a product of good advertising. An agency probably had a hand in it. There is a thought process involved. The second is the product of people who have no idea about what advertising is about.

If you couldn’t tell that from their respective production values (and you can), you can certainly tell it from their differing outlooks.

The second poster treats its audience as though it thinks they are selfish – that you can only be persuaded to help the sick through the chance for personal gain. That the passengers on this train are all vain robots, with nary a shred of interest to be had unless you dangle a picture of the Bahamas in front of them.

Sure, in my case that’s true, but I’d like to think that I’m the exception.

Joking aside, that second poster does seem like an aberration, a strange outlier of advertising. And it is the point I made before that I think is significant. Both of these ads are for a noble cause: raising money for people suffering from cancer. And yet that isn’t enough by itself to make their case. One side clearly determined that they needed to make a call to people’s emotions. The other, that it was all about money. I think most of us would agree which is the more appropriate, and the most effective.

But it is the work of advertising to make these things happen. If you think you can market your ideas on your own, you are welcome to do so. But the odds are that you aren’t a natural advertiser. Get help from the experts.

Because even the best of causes needs to be communicated properly.

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