Guide Dogs Show Charity Ads The Right Path

Guide Dogs Show Charity Ads The Right Path


Guide Dogs For The Blind is one of the UK’s bestl -regarded charities, but to keep on doing its good work it still needs to translate that impressive name recognition to donations. TV advertising is one way of doing that, and Guide Dogs run regular campaigns (generally with in-house agencies) including Christmas ads. This ad, starring guide dog Bolt and his owner Paul, first ran in 2020 but has returned to screens recently.

It’s a good opportunity to look at the pitfalls charity ads face, and how to avoid them. Charity ads work like any other kind – you want to generate positive emotion to reinforce mental availability and create positive long-term memory structures. And you also need to create intense emotion and strong brand recognition to drive sales – or in this case donations – in the short term.

For non-charity ads this combination doesn’t necessarily cause problems. Ads can drive short-term activation and long-term brand building at the same time, even if our Test Your Ad database is filled with ones that don’t manage either goal well. But for charity ads, there’s often a temptation to go the sob story route – creating intense sadness or anger which generates donations but doesn’t build positive associations in the long term. If you tell positive stories, though, you risk creating the impression that the problem you’re trying to solve isn’t so urgent.

In other words, the problem most narrative ads face – how to balance negative and positive emotions – is particularly acute for charity work. Guide Dogs have some real advantages here, though. Their core brand story – training dogs to help people – is one which lends itself to positive stories. And, of course, they have license to feature as many adorable dogs as an ad can hold.

Even so they, like most charities, have run a few pieces which go too far over the line from inspiring to tear-jerking. “Bolt”, though, is not one of them. It’s one of the strongest charity ads of last year, getting within a whisker of the maximum 5-Star score and smashing it on Brand Fluency and short-term Spike Rating. It’s an ad tailor made to drive donations and build the Guide Dog brand.

Looking at the viewers’ emotional journey shows that the ad doesn’t shy away from negative feeling – Paul speaks candidly about how difficult he found initially losing his vision. But thanks to Bolt he now feels like he can do anything. Paul and Bolt’s story is strong enough for the ad to spend a lot of time near the end to make sure the call to action is clear without losing much if any positive feeling.

Not every charity has stories as feelgood as Guide Dogs to tell, but all of them can learn from how Guide Dogs does it – keeping it personal and simple, and dwelling on success while not playing down the problems.

Creative agency credit: MC&C