Ad campaigns for NGOs and charities are cleaning up at creativity awards. Cause-based advertising is winning a disproportionate number of creative awards, here and abroad.
At last year’s Roger Garlick Awards the two most outstanding entries were for worthy causes. The 2013 winner was the KFC ‘Journey of Hope’ campaign, which sought to raise money for starving children in South Africa. And digital agency Gloo won gold for the innovative campaign for Brothers For Life, a collaborative organisation focused on men’s health issues. There was also a strong showing of cause-related creativity at the Loeries.
And it’s not just a local phenomenon: the Cannes Festival of Creativity also displayed many cause-related campaigns. Ad Age magazine noted that “the spike in cause-related work at the [Cannes] festival comes as more and more marketers want to be seen as being ‘purpose driven’ and incorporate social corporate responsibility principles into their day-day business”.
Creatives say it’s no coincidence that these campaigns are well represented at awards. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) come without the baggage of corporate identities that can make for staid advertising, and often favour high impact tactics to get their message across.
Sometimes these campaigns are paid for. Brothers For Life has donor funding and was the biggest advertiser in the corporate social investment (CSI) sector last year: R31 687 674 on almost 1 500 adverts on radio and TV, in the period October 2012 to September 2013. Other organisations aren’t so well funded and are taken on a pro bono basis as part of a creative agency’s social responsibility work. DraftFCB Johannesburg in 2013 donated time and expertise to create a fundraising campaign for the children’s charity, Cotlands. The campaign cost 900 hours and was worth about R720 000, according to the agency.
DraftFCB chief creative officer, Brett Morris, says that work for this sector can afford more flexibility and creativity. “Obviously, non-profits have challenges of their own that are sometimes quite complex… But I wouldn’t say we approach non-profits or NGOs any differently to other clients. They’re also trying to get their message out in as impactful a way as possible.”
He adds, however, that these clients do have smaller budgets and often can only advertise once a year, so “there is an expectation that they want to make as big an impact is possible”.
Cape Town journalist David Le Page, a former copywriter, says creatives actively seek out pro bono briefs because they allow for greater scope than corporate jobs. “Creatives and agencies often chafe against their corporate paymasters. Some clients are a delight, but others are frequently derided behind their backs for being staid and boring, even when boring is actually better for the brand.
“Non-profits are grateful for pro bono creative work and agencies are happy to work for people who are grateful, and not unimaginative and overly demanding like some of their hardcore capitalist clients. It’s a match made in heaven,” says Le Page.
Branding and advertising expert Andy Rice warns of the importance of distinguishing between content-related marketing and pro bono advertising. “Cause-related marketing is a very efficient marketing tactic and it’s not philanthropic. It’s like a straightforward contract: you buy a Weetbix, or whatever, and we’ll donate R2 to save a squirrel… There is a disproportionate showing at awards because the agency has more power over the client and it puts a huge onus of guilt and gratitude on the client. That’s the argument that people are putting forward [to explain the many creative ads at awards]… Everyone wins. The client gets creative they could not otherwise afford and the creative agency gets to have a chance at trophy advertising.”
As well as creative agencies, media owners, media agencies and clients are all involved in some form of social responsibility work. Whether in print, broadcast or out of home, proprietors donate media space and inventory to worthy causes. Sometimes this is on an ad hoc basis, sometimes it’s part of a CSI programme. And clients know that association with worthy endeavours can boost their brand and have far-reaching effects. Agencies leverage their competencies to find free media space for cause-based advertising. The MediaShop, for example, partnered in this way with DraftFCB on the Cotlands campaign.
Broadcast media run public service announcements (PSAs) for free. Jacaranda FM programme manager Naveen Singh says that on this station, PSAs usually get a two weeks’ airtime component. “Public service announcements still play an important role in commercial radio. The key aim for Jacaranda FM is to be connected with the community it serves. From fundraising initiatives to wider health issues, PSAs create the necessary awareness to allow the community to show their support,” says Singh.
But Jacaranda FM goes further than this, with more structured programmes featured on air, says Singh. This shows how creative social responsibility campaigns can also provide content. The weekly Good Morning Angels feature during the breakfast show has been particularly successful. The feature raises money for needy families, individuals and organisations. The station has also raised R1.6 million for rhino conservation during their drive show and are involved with a walk-cum-protest march called Sisters with Blisters.
The key is to put together a programme that speaks to the role of the company in question. CSI consultant Tsholofelo Khoza agrees that CSI has been widely embraced by companies in the corporate sector, but that many companies still need guidance. Khoza heads the CSI portfolio for the consultancy, Creative Consulting and Development Works, which focuses on CSI, evaluation and communications in the development sector.
“A lot of businesses do CSI for branding purposes, but it needs to go beyond this to a well-considered and strategic programme,” says Khoza. “We encourage clients to align their CSI initiatives with their corporate personality and with the challenges our country faces. It’s not just about spending money on educating 150 children, for example. You have to ask, what does this mean to these kids in 10 years’ time, when they are active members of society?”
This can give a company great exposure – but this has a flip side, particularly in an era when public opinion can be so quickly canvassed. “Social media drives a lot of consumer decisions. People want to know what is being done in terms of social and economic development,” says Khoza. Consumers will be very quick to point out any hypocrisy between what a brand says it stands for and what it actually does.
Creative agency MetropolitanRepublic learned this the hard way. Their ‘Project Uganda’ campaign for MTN won three prizes at the Loeries, including the Grand Prix for Media Innovation. The awards entry said that the campaign had been run in newspapers and would benefit children who didn’t have access to books. But the agency was stripped of the awards when it was discovered that the advertising had never been implemented. Outrage at the scandal, widely canvassed on Twitter, was exacerbated by the fact that the campaign had been for a worthy cause. Client MTN never released a statement on the issue.
Consumers like creative philanthropy and they will be loyal to brands that demonstrate it. Good creative can boost a brand’s profile, as well as that of the agency that executes it. But the commitment to a worthy cause should be genuine and well-considered.
This story was first published in the January 2014 issue of The Media magazine.