Sometimes the message is too important

As designers and advertisers it is often all too easy for us to get caught up in being clever. After all, being clever and being able to harness our imagination at will (ahem) is our stock-in-trade.

I don’t think I’m just speaking for myself when I say that upon being given a brief we dive into our stockpiled collection of puns, twists-of-meaning and witty, intelligent nods, nudges and winks.

Charity and ’cause campaigning’ is an example of where clever can get in the way of the message. That’s not to say that there isn’t, or shouldn’t be any extremely creative campaigns out there.


Living in Harmony, for Amnesty International by Grey, Istanbul

This campaign for Amnesty International by Grey in Istanbul could be slated for being ‘obvious’, not being clever or having enough thought put into it. However, the message is clear, even if you haven’t got ‘Ebony and Ivory’ by Paul McCartney and Stevie wonder in your cultural baggage. It’s an important and clear message, with no ambiguity or fuss.

There is no call to action as such, there is no ‘sign up here’, just a link and a simple statement.

I’d also argue that, unlike some of Amnesty’s output, it shows an ideal rather than the reality they constantly face of torture, kidnap and political imprisonment. Sometimes of course, it’s important to confront the viewer (most of us in comfortable western homes) with blunt, hard-hitting messages to jolt us into action. Sometimes though, as demonstrated with this ad, simple and easy communication of your organization’s ideals is just as strong.

Some would say that working on campaigns for charity and good causes is easy, and they’d be right in some respects. I’ve worked for youth charities and yes, it’s easy to buy into an ideological brand that has a strong identity and a common cause.

What’s not so easy is finding the path to ‘selling’ that to a saturated marketplace, full of equally righteous causes, all trying their best to get their message out. Where do you pitch the idea? Do you start with shock and awe, do you show poverty or do you show what happens after intervention and help? You’re not selling a product or service that will make the viewer more comfortable (although it could make them happier), you’re selling something that is as vague as hope.

Homeless charity Depaul auctioned off a spot in the queue for the iphone 6 launch in London. Highlighting, for very little money, that most people sleeping rough do not have the choice. (Photo: Huffington Post)

Then you have the budget. Sure, some of the larger charities have larger budgets. It is important to them to get their message out, but they need to see a return on that. Here, gauging the return is a tricky business. Are you aiming for awareness or donations? If you’re after donations are you wanting a short sharp injection of cash for something urgent, or to build partnerships with long term supporters or donors? With some of the smaller charities though, the awareness that burning money on a campaign budget can, in very real terms, actually be money that could be helping someone off the streets, or out of whatever hole they have found themselves in, can be very restrictive, even of the client is not.

Whatever your political bent, the current economic ideal of building the UK up with business at the core means that there will be a need for more creative campaigns from charities. They have very little funding and need to raise a lot of money themselves. At Seedbed Creative one of our aims is to be able to create work for charities, at a lower rate than our commercial clients. As a creative business we will be pretty well looked after by the current government, as we are one of the UK’s core exports and a valued industry, so we feel passing that on is only a good thing.

If there is a trick to charity campaigns, it has to honesty. Sure, be clever, be coy, be funny, be consoling, be uplifting, be confrontational, but be honest. You can only show what your client believes in, and yes, you have to believe in it too.

It is this honesty, as well as knowing you’ve worked for something you believe in, that makes charity campaigns so appealing to creatives, although as the classic ‘Crazy People’ campaigns for Volvo and Jaguar show though, some of the honesty might be best left to one side for more commercial clients.