Does charity start at home?

Public service advertising produces some of the best work to come out of the Middle East, but Richard Abbott asks if agencies are doing enough for charities and good causes

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By  Richard Abbott Published  March 5, 2006

Does charity start at home?|~|Abebe-,-Jordana200.jpg|~|Jordana Abebe, direct marketing manager for Medecins sans Frontieres |~|A bruised baby stares out from the page of a glossy magazine. The child’s damaged head stops you in your tracks, creating a jarring effect. Something is wrong. It is an advert for a children’s welfare charity. And it is a classic example of the power of public service advertising. On another page, a starving African child — his stomach bloated by the effects of malnutrition — appears alongside an appeal for financial help. It is uncomfortable viewing. In the recent Campaign Awards, the judges reviewed dozens of entries like this from advertising agencies working on behalf of good causes, from international aid charities to anti-smoking initiatives. And one even made it on to the podium, with JWT Dubai’s outdoor campaign for Dubai Autism Centre clinching a bronze award. The ad uses missing person signs, fixed to lampposts and telegraph poles to illustrate how autistic children are ‘lost’. The idea of being lost refers to the state of a mind affected by autism. Roy Haddad, CEO of JWT in the Middle East and North Africa, says it is the duty of advertising agencies to produce campaigns like this. “We believe that every corporation has a role to play in society,” he says. “Our area of expertise is communication. We are ready to support any social action that requires our services and our services are available to these people. It is not just about taking in, it is also about giving out.” There are two main ways in which advertising can be used to promote good causes. Public service advertising usually involves agencies donating their time and resources to help a charity raise its awareness. Cause-related marketing usually has a commercial edge to it. Businesses that want to be viewed as good corporate citizens might advertise the fact that they are donating a percentage of their revenues to a good cause. The idea of cause-related marketing is believed to have originated from a campaign run by American Express in the US in 1983. American Express made a one cent donation to the Statue of Liberty restoration fund every time someone used its charge card. The campaign saw new card holders grow by 45% and card usage increase by 28%. Creative directors like public service ads because it enables them to work outside the confines of an FMCG brief, for example. Client servicing directors like it because it puts the agency’s work in the shop window. The creative challenge is that they demand something that will move the consumer emotionally to a level where they want to take action. “It gives you an opportunity to spread your wings a bit,” says Tom Callaghan, creative director at Publicis Graphics in Dubai. “Most creatives like doing it because it is a change from the regular stuff and it is something that people are more interested in.” Charbel Bousraih, executive creative director at Enjaz, agrees: “We drool over it because charity work is where you get your creative freedom.” And Dani Richa, chief creative officer for Impact BBDO in the Middle East, says: “For a creative team, it is very exciting to work on these projects. You are giving something back to society. It is an opportunity to flex your creative muscle. “Sometimes we do cigarette and alcohol ads, and this is one way of paying back society. Suddenly we are not just talking to a specific target audience, you are changing the way that people feel, or do, or behave.” Ed Jones, regional creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi — who edited a book of his agency’s cause-related campaigns from across the world — says it should be possible to create powerful advertising for good causes because there is no direct sell. “The quality should be judged on the lack of limitations,” he says. “It should by rights be more powerful than an ad for soap powder.” Media owners play their part too. The Khaleej Times, for example, makes pages available to agencies to run public service advertisements. For smaller agencies, this is a valuable opportunity to put their work in the wider public domain. But public service marketing is not a money earner, so agencies must work within the parameters of a tight budget. “They have always got no money, which is a creative challenge in itself,” says Callaghan. Bousraih adds: “There is no money involved. We are donating our time. Everyone comes together to produce the ad.” There are so many deserving causes that agencies have to be selective over who they work for. Haddad explains: “We ask: are they serious? Is there a real benefit to the society? If the cause is worthwhile, if the cause is right and transparent, then we are ready to support.” The creative used to advertise charities must be hard hitting, but creatives are split on the use of shock value to drive support for a charity. For agencies looking for dramatic impact, there is a danger that they might go too far, turning the consumer away from the cause, or, worse still, disturbing them or causing offence. Richa says the problem lies in the fact that charity ads often only get one exposure, meaning that the message has to hit home immediately. “Unlike commercial campaigns, you don’t get several bursts for a month each time. You have to have sudden impact, shocking images, to get people’s attention,” he says. “People have a tendency to very quickly turn the page. But if you are too shocking, you are making them turn the page too quickly. “There is a fine line between shocking people into action and giving them a shock they don’t like.” Callaghan argues that “compassion ||**||Does charity start at home?|~|Jones,-Ed2001.jpg|~|Ed Jones, regional creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi|~|fatigue” means that consumers are becoming more blasé about charity ads. The upshot is that creatives have to work even harder to drive the message home. “I have seen pictures of starving babies for 40 years and nothing seems to change,” he says. “The challenge is to make it more dramatic.” Jones agrees. “You can use a weeping kid, but everyone has seen it before and you have to ask if it actually works,” he says. “The best stuff is the unexpected.” Bousraih agrees that the image of a malnourished child has become something of an advertising cliché. He believes that the shock treatment employed in many cause-related campaigns is being replaced by simple, clever executions that are just as effective. He is impressed by the Medecins sans Frontieres campaign created by Tonic, which was nominated for the Campaign Awards. The ad uses a stark, black and white photograph of a starving child but the power comes from the accompanying text: “To help this child gain weight, eat more popcorn.” The ad promotes an initiative involving Cinestar cinemas, whereby one UAE dirham is donated to MSF for every movie ticket sold — enough to feed a child for a day. Impact BBDO recently produced a campaign for Brave Heart, a Lebanese charity that aims to help children who are born with congenital heart disease. The creative, which ran either side of Valentine’s Day, showed a drawn picture of a cartoon-style broken heart next to a photograph of a genuine ‘broken’ heart. The accompanying message reads: “Some broken hearts are easier to mend.” Public service ads can also court controversy. Callaghan worked on an ad for Cultural Survival, the organisation that fights for the rights of indigenous people, which was shown globally but was banned by UK channel ITV, which was cautious of the political ramifications. Saatchi & Saatchi recently produced a campaign to appear in Time Out Dubai aimed at encouraging people not to drink and drive. The visually arresting image of a car crash in negative was juxtaposed with a bar receipt, showing the price of a life. Jones says the picture had to be in negative because the colour image was too disturbing to use. “Often the reality of a situation is much more shocking than most media will let you show,” he says. With their power to influence consumers, there is an argument that agencies should be doing more to help good causes communicate their message. After all, these campaigns are a good way of advertising an agency’s creative credentials. It is no secret that charity briefs are often taken on by creatives with one eye on winning an award. But Richa is uncomfortable with the suggestion that agencies use cause-related work simply to win awards. He argues that this does not come into play until after the campaign is completed. “To win awards? No. This is not the primary motivation,” he says. “It can be the cherry on the cake. But it’s not an easy way to win — these categories can be the most difficult ones to win.” The power of PSA has even caught the attention of the region’s online community. The Dubai Consumer Mirror blog recently asked if the region’s ad industry and media owners were doing enough to promote good causes. “It’s a shame that we live at the centre of the region’s advertising industry and [PSA] here is so little, it’s almost non-existent,” said author Moryarti. “[The] advertising and media industry in the region is a disgustingly lucrative multi-billion dollar industry. “I call on those advertising/media tycoons to take a short break from bragging about your palm villas, Austin Martins and Cuban cigars and do something good to your community for a change.” The blog calls for the setup of a PSA Association, with headquarters in Dubai and local chapters across the UAE. This association would force media owners to allocate a certain percentage of their space for PSAs. He also calls for an annual competition for small ad shops on these types of campaigns. Richa agrees: “Both agencies and the media could do a lot more,” he says. “We see a lot of charity campaigns that only appear once. It is a pity that these campaigns don’t go on for longer.” Jones says the finger should not be pointed at the amount of PSA work agencies are doing, rather the wealthy clients who make huge profits. “People should be asking why enormously profitable corporations are not spending a fraction of their money on charitable communications,” he says. Haddad says there is an educational process that needs to take place first. “This is a young market and the understanding of how communications can help these causes is starting to come through,” he says. And there is a suggestion that some businesses in the Middle East are not yet aware of the potential of cause-related marketing. Simon Chapman, managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi Kuwait, says: “I don’t know that many, if any, of the major local companies have sophisticated cause-related marketing programmes in place. “As in other Gulf markets the tendency has been to regard cause-related marketing as charitable giving which they prefer to keep low-profile, rather than as a mutually beneficial partnership.” It is an area that has grown hugely in the US and Europe in the past decade, with companies setting up corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments that aim to position the company as ethically sound and community minded. In a recent article for Campaign, Tareq Ghoseh, corporate and regulatory affairs managers for British American Tobacco, said Middle East companies looking to break on to the global stage can benefit from being perceived as a “good corporate citizen”. But it seems that Middle East firms still have some catching up do before they fully realise the potential of using cause-related marketing as a business tool. For now, agencies will continue to offer their services to good causes for little or no fee. Whether they are doing enough is open to debate.||**||Does charity start at home?|~||~||~|When Medecins Sans Frontieres wants to advertise, it relies heavily on the good will of both agencies and media owners. The aid charity, which has a fund-raising office in the UAE, runs a major campaign each year. This is in addition to branding and awareness work throughout the year. “Advertising is very important to us in the UAE because it is such a dynamic market,” says Jordana Abebe (pictured), direct marketing manager for Medecins sans Frontieres in the UAE. “You constantly have to remind people that you are here, because two years down the line there is a chance that most of these people will be gone.” Malnutrition in Niger has claimed many lives in the past 12 months, so this was selected as the chosen cause for the charity’s advertising campaign in Winter 2005. However, with no funds available for advertising, it had to rely on charity itself. “We don’t really budget for advertising. We do a lot of our stuff in-house because we can’t afford to work with agencies,” she says. The charity was introduced to ad agency Tonic, who volunteered to do the creative work for the campaign. “I would like to look at it as CSR,” says Abebe. “They are an upcoming organisation that has won some impressive awards. They could have gone elsewhere and made more money but I respect them because they took it very seriously and they were very passionate about it.” When it comes to media, the charity deals direct with media owners to save the cost of using an agency. Newspapers, including the Khaleej Times and Al Bayan, help, while out-of-home media firm Emirates Outdoor offered a special deal on its fleet of taxis, where MSF paid for one month, but got three for the same price. Some media owners even offered space in return for nothing more than an appearance in the MSF calendar. “Some of our partners are still generously running the campaign now,” says Abebe. And can MSF measure the success of its advertising campaigns? “It is not just about fund-raising. It is about awareness. When people tell us that they didn’t know Medecins sans Frontieres was in the UAE, we can track that back to the ads.”||**||

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