Why do so many people find charity advertising upsetting?
Tom de Castella’s latest article on BBC News Magazine is rather revealing. It references a new survey carried out by the ASA on people’s reactions to ads. It turns out that, ‘Many participants felt that some charity adverts contained offensive content that went too far in seeking to make people feel uncomfortable or guilty, or used imagery that was considered too distressing despite being for a worthwhile cause’. Castella goes on to mention that some, ‘…stated their frustration at wanting to help the cause but feeling powerless to do so’ and the ‘…charity areas most commonly cited as generally causing distress were international aid, animal welfare and child protection’. Pretty much all of charity advertising then!
So what do you think?
Is it that the great British public can’t handle the truth? That they resent their social media/Sky TV bubble being popped by the harsh realities of life? Or does their resentment stem from a deeper sense of being manipulated by the advertising itself? Ad or issue? Issue or ad? Well, perhaps obviously, there’s no easy answer… it depends on the ad itself.
Personally I’m only offended by bad advertising. How many times have we seen gong-hungry creatives grabbing hold of a good cause and creating their mini-masterpiece – only to totally miss the underlying humanity and message? In effect, they stick a massive great conceptual boulder between donor and need. Some of the best charity advertising often has a lightness of touch. Allowing the cause to speak, but not getting in its way. A bottle of perfume needs conceptual garnish; child abuse and famine doesn’t.
Yes, certainly there’s the argument for creating cut-through in today’s multi-channel cluttered world. But not always via cheap shock tactics. These are weapons to use sparingly – so as not to blunt their effect. The greatest warning to any creative is not to be seduced by one’s own reaction to the cause. Time and time again we see self-indulgent diatribes in advertising. Ones which wrench every last drop of shocking detail from a cause – but purely as an exercise in voyeurism… rather than pragmatically positing a solution and asking for help.