2015, the year personal narrative changes charity comms.

Most advertising does not work

Over the festive break I wasn’t alone in feeling that charity campaigning reached new lows of creative differentiation. Not because their cause wasn’t worthy, far from it. The work charities do in the UK and abroad are vitally important. It felt like this year charity campaigning had slipped into a seasonal schedule that us ordinary folk grew quickly familiar with and therefore apathetic about.  Every ad break on TV was littered with charity appeals and I felt myself rolling my eyes and thinking, not another one!

Apathy kills engagement; it attacks relevance and blinds us from awareness.

Too much of anything is bad for you, as the ads for gym membership have been telling us since Boxing Day! December is a time for grateful reflection and family and so it is right that those less emotionally, physically and financially well off than us are in our minds and thoughts too. It started to feel however those charities, like high street retailers, used a creeping barrage of ads on TV, radio and in print that ratcheted up in intensity as every day of December passed, to the point of saturation. I can’t help but think that this would have the polar opposite effect on us that the charities desired. That their marketing, like that of the retailers selling summer holidays the week before Christmas and the shops filling up with Valentine’s Day gifts on Boxing Day had become something to roll our eyes at!

Also, the narrative of the ads, with the exception of The Red Cross appeals from the Ebola affected countries, felt too emotionally distant to be personally relevant and therefore motivating to me. I wrote recently about the impact of Lucy’s Story . That very human story at the heart of Centre Point’s homelessness campaign was unapologetically and painfully personal. It put the people the charity supports front and centre and demanded that we look at what can happen when a human being slips beyond our ability to help.

I feel 2015 must be the year charities embrace personal narrative and importantly make stories locally relevant. Centralised charity marketing functions need to reconnect with the local communities they supports in ways that are more meaningful than curated content. Charities have always been fantastic storytellers, but for too many charities – as the festive ad campaigns revealed – the narrative has become sterile of personal stories and moved towards big shocking statements of statistics. As powerful as those statistics are, they are too big to be relevant to people personally so the power is lost almost immediately. A disconnect exists between communication strategy and the desire for personal localised content.  What a charity wants to say and what we want to hear is clearly disparate in many cases.

It is in the community where the rich seam of personal narrative runs deepest. Collecting and sharing locally relevant content has always been technically and qualitatively difficult and for a long time communications leaders have been wary about relaxing the reins of content creation but relax it they must. Gathering local content is now much easier thanks to mobile technologies and cloud based content management systems and that means more people generating content that the marketing department can put to good use mobilising local communities around messages that resonate with them.

If you want to tell better stories let the people delivering and receiving support tell them.