Published on March 11, 2013 | by Harriet Mann


Changing advertising will change attitudes

ALN online chief sub editor Harriet Mann [Hildegard Titus]

It would seem that international charity Global Poverty Project is breaking the mould by involving social networking students in their campaign to eliminate polio.

Although it seems fresh and new, charities have been aboard the technology train for quite a while.

For quite a few years I was one of those pesky ‘chuggers’ – charity muggers or street fundraisers – and saw it evolve from getting contact details to an initial one-off text donation.

This worked largely because the public love helping those who need it, especially if it is in the form of a so-called one-off donation. But the UK also loves donating on a long term basis.

In 2012, 55 per cent of adults donated on average £10 a month to charities, with the organisations supporting medical research, hospitals and children – the largest receiver of public donations.

Overseas charities supporting development received 14 per cent of the overall donations whilst religious charities have the largest average donation.

Despite over half of all adults in the UK donating to a charity last year, the organisations received £9.3 billion; £2.3bn less than the year before.

There are a lot of factors contributing to the drop in donations; the largest probably down to a lack of disposable income.

But another is because the advertising approach used by charities largely feeds misconceptions and is out-dated, which means the public is largely desensitised by the cause.

Good advertising

WWF – the animal charity not the wrestling – stands apart from the crowd when it comes to its advertising.

I worked on many campaigns like Earth Hour, where the world turns its lights off for one hour, Bear in the Square, where an ice polar bear was left to melt. Unfortunately it was a very cold week so it didn’t melt quite as quickly as many thought – and the many, many adverts which actually make you think twice.

However, for overseas charities that aid development in Africa, for example, the advert will go a little bit like this:

Anybody would be forgiven for thinking that Africa as a continent is made up of either those in extreme poverty, war lords or corruption.

There is a dark image, sad music and after a couple of seconds a somber, slow voice speaks out to you. A mother and/or child will be wandering around a shanty town or in the middle of nowhere in search of food or water.

Both are emancipated. They look sad because they are helpless. But wait, this charity is here and they are helping.

The music picks up and the images become brighter. The voice rings of hope as the children play and drink water or eat food and laugh. They are laughing because they have an education or they have food and water or medical supplies.

The parents are smiling and laughing because their children are saved. They have a purpose. They can enjoy their life, and it’s all down to you at home. For only such and such a month, you can save her/his/their life.


Now, before you think otherwise, I believe in equality and not just basic human rights. I believe that everyone should have water, food, a safe place to live, education, medical supplies, I could go on. But I also believe that every country should have what we have in the UK.

The bone I have to pick with these adverts is that they feed the inequality in the way so-called developed countries think about and behave towards so-called developing countries – making equality less likely to happen in the near future.

Anybody would be forgiven for thinking that Africa as a continent is made up of either those in extreme poverty, war lords or corruption, because that it all that is reported on.

At an event at the Frontline Club that looked at how charities and the media cover poverty in an indifferent world, the panel discussed how hard it is to convey poverty in countries where there is also large financial growth just down the road.


The typical aid charity adverts that are shown today contain elements of post-colonial theorist Edward Said’s ideas of Orientalism.

Said argues that both before and after colonialism, the west portrays the east as in need of western intervention, helpless, devoid of reason and inferior – the Other.

Hopefully real equality will happen in the not-so-distant future.

By showing just one side of a country that has both poverty and financial growth, for example, a whole country is generalised and the separation between developed and developing countries grows.

As a chugger, I had many people coming up to me saying they had donated for years but nothing had changed and even more saying the familiar phrase “charity begins at home”.

Positive news

But there has been change. Taking Africa as an example again, there are many emerging economies from the continent, most notably South Africa which is part of the BRICS group.

Did you know that the UK is ranked joint 57th in the world for the number of female government members it has? It is joint with Pakistan, with 22.5 per cent. Above the UK is South Sudan with 26.5 per cent, South Africa with 42.3 per cent and Rwanda tops the list with 56.3 per cent.

Charities need to change the way that they advertise their aid campaigns but siding the negatives with the positives. The public’s opinion on these countries that do need aid will change and this same public will probably be more inclined to donate.

These countries that need aid aren’t inferior to the west and donating should not feed the ideological view that the UK is superior to those it is helping.

If the misconceptions about these continents is squashed, maybe more money would be donated, helping more people. But also, hopefully real equality will happen in the not-so-distant future.



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Back to Top ↑