If it works, is it open season?


Oh dear, another post where I’m being less than positive about charity marketing. I apologise in advance.

In my last post I referred to the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s new (but deliberately retro) poster campaign. I’ve since read the creative agency’s justification for it, which pretty much outlines every reason why I think it’s a big backward step.

Peers Carter in The Guardian; “A successful charity campaign has to slightly hurt and include the reader, and this one has one of those magic lines that really gets to you… [the original ad which this ‘updates’ ran on and off for 14 years] every time it came down the fundraising fell.

This doctrine entirely baffles me. I’m a potential donor and I don’t want to be hurt. I want to be inspired, connected with and provoked, but ‘hurt’? And I certainly don’t want disabled people to be objectified for my benefit.

So on to another charity marketing technique that riles me, and that’s our sector’s sometime lack of originality. I don’t think I’m the only person to double-take when I saw the latest Race for Life advert from Cancer Research UK, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Breast Cancer Care’s Ribbon Walks – in iconography, colour and message. The vox pops with women taking part plays on ‘who are you running it for?’ – echoing Breast Cancer Care’s ‘Who will you walk it for?’ There is also more than a loose nod at a ‘ribbon’ motif – as you can see in the imagery in the advert above.

To me, this particular DRTV ad seems to be harnessing the imagery and emotion now widely associated with breast cancer charities, so much so that you would be forgiven for assuming that the money raised from Race for Life goes to designated breast cancer research (the funds are in fact unrestricted and will pay for research into numerous cancers including cervical and bowel). As breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, it will touch many more people’s lives – virtually everyone. A bigger demographic to target for a pink fundraiser? Let me know when I’m being cynical.

Now, I realise the colour pink is not patented, and Cancer Research UK’s website is transparent about how the money will be spent. But I’m also acutely aware that we all look at trends and what we see our competitors doing that works. Now in its 17th year, Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life continues to be the most successful and largest women-only fundraising event across the UK. Is there an argument then for suggesting that the charity could afford to innovate and refresh its marketing? Could Cancer Research UK lead us beyond everything pink = ‘one for the girls’?

In the saturated pink-events market, I’d love to see charities making strides to be ingenious – and inclusive. And this should be the case across the board for all causes, and of charities of all sizes. But sadly, it seems that the tried and tested buttons that shame us, or appeal to (stereo)types are more than often pressed.

“I am not an excel spreadsheet figure…I am a free and independent potential donor…”

7 thoughts on “If it works, is it open season?

  1. There’s a real danger that all the emphasis on pink dilutes the individual identity of each of these charities. I fear that, as far as many donors are aware, Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign are now simply one big pink charity. Perhaps I’m wrong and the recurring pink theme used by each of them strengthens the overall message of good breast health?

  2. Good points Ross. I think on the one hand it affords a strength to breast cancer awareness generally, but I agree that the individual campaigns and events have to become even more bespoke and unique to emerge from the pink cloud.And if other events / campaigns – not specifically championing breast cancer – use pink too, there is a real danger that none will have donor loyalty or identity – but instead participants will just pick to take part in one-off events ‘as and when they fancy it’. Maybe I should have titled this post The Pink Mist…

  3. And then there’s all the LGBT charities that default to pink when the whole rainbow can’t fit on there.

  4. Apols, I was half joking with that last comment. I am facing a similar issue with two LGBT campaigns that have come to me for brand development. Coincidentally, both of their brand colours are practically the same shade of pink so differentiating them aesthetically has been challenging to say the least.Any predictions for what the new pink will be?

  5. Hmm..maybe a rainbow? ; ) It’s tricky isn’t it? Defining identity, brand – a ‘badge’ for supporters to wear. Only so many colours, so many shades. I guess what’s important above all else is what we’re saying, doing and engaging our supporters with. But I’d say we have almost hit pink fatigue… Thanks for commenting 😉

  6. Interesting to consider the link between colour and identity. In a multicultural society we liberally believe that we see beyond people’s colour (by which me might recognise something of their genetic heritage) to their personality and values, and when we hear from the person, how they talk and what that says to us, we can better judge the amount of time we’d like to spend with the person, what we might give and get from a relationship with them. For a brand the colours of the corporate identity can act as simple point for recognition (Red ones: Coke / Virgin, green ones: ASDA, John Lewis, Blue ones: O2… ). The level of investment made to achieve such iconic ownership or even share of a color space is of course immense. Pink is first a badge of youthful femininity (as the mother of a five year old girl I can confirm this), and in a ’cause’ context says ‘breast cancer’. That is the heritage of the colour, borne from an immense investment from commercial and not for profit marketeers. The colour Pink can be a great asset to breast cancer charities as it provides a visual short cut . The charity’s job is then to express its personality and values and the value of its mission in every other aspect of its communications and behaviour so that the short cut can lead the audience to a useful conclusion beyond simply ‘oh yes its for/about breast cancer’. Clear and consistent ‘talk’ will help the audience evaluate the level of relationship they wish to have, and a positive choice based on these deeper insights must surely lead to a longer lasting friendship?

  7. hmm, interesting.

    in order for people to know who you are, your charity should try to be distinctive. making your fundraiser look like an existing successful event may make it more likely to appeal but it won’t differentiate it.

    tis tricky. the same can be said with phrases. from what i hear, the charity i work for used to say ‘together we will win.’ A while later, another charity employed a very similar phrase to a much wider audience…

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