The Guilt Trip

February 26, 2013

Have you ever tried to ignore certain charity workers in Dublin city centre? Put the head down or turned up the volume on your iPod? I have and I still do. It’s not that I don’t have the time to stop and chat or hear about the wonderful things they’re doing, it’s because of how it makes me feel if I do stop. I feel terrible if I listen to their story and don’t donate money. I can’t afford it right now so if I stop, I eventually wind up walking away with my hands firmly stuck in my pockets. If I don’t stop, I still feel bad. A double-edged sword you might say.

I know these guys are out doing a job, probably not getting paid and are doing it to raise money for a very worthy cause. That’s not my issue. My issue is the guilt tripping. And it’s not just from the feet on the street.

The TV ads or “appeals” as they’re sometimes called, not only make me feel guilty about not forking over money, they make me feel uneasy. I’m well aware of what’s going on in impoverished, war-torn countries and I don’t need it thrust in my face. These ads are so sad, depressing and above all else, are all the same. You nearly wonder if your donations are doing anything at all. Where are they going? What are they being spent on and why are we seeing no change?

What’s interesting is it’s not only charities that employ this kind of creative in their ads. Heard about the new plans for cigarette packaging in Ireland? What about the TV ads from the RSA about speeding or drink driving? They’re incredibly negative and try to scare us into doing the opposite, plying us with the potential consequences of our actions. But they don’t work. If you’re like me, you will change the channel as soon as the ad comes on. I don’t want to see a car crash or a cancerous throat. Research has proven that these ads don’t work.

So why don’t they take a look at what the Aussies did in this safe driving campaign called “Slow Down and Enjoy the Ride”:

Since that campaign was run in 2010, speed related crashes are down 10% in Australia. The campaign also won the Grand Effie which is the most coveted advertising award in Australia.

Better yet and closer to home, take a look at what Cancer Research UK have done in their latest TV ad from December 2012:

Finally, here’s another great example of a safe driving campaign run in America. I heard about this one from a TED talk by Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Group

Drivers were originally shown how fast they were travelling, which they swiftly ignored. So the speed figure was done away with and replaced with either a sad face if you were over the speed limit or a happy face if you were under it. The result? The display cost 90% less than running a normal speed camera and prevented twice as many accidents. Nothing scary about this one; just a 🙂 or a :(.


(If you want to see the whole talk just click here and fast forward to 5:55 for the speed awareness campaign).

Do you know what’s remarkable about these ads? They’re not scary, they’re beautiful, positive and as a result, keep you engaged. I don’t want to switch off when I see them, I want to keep watching and I want to see them again. The positivity flowing from these ads is incredible, and, effective.

So from me to the charities and the Irish government alike, why can’t you learn from the successes of the past instead of replicating it’s failures? Your ads don’t work but I know a few that do. And hey, if you need a media agency to come up with a few ideas, I know a pretty good one of those too.

–          Mark



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