An Ad is for Life… Not Just for Christmas

This is the story of two dogs at Christmas.

The first dog was called Henry. He was an animated drawing, and he starred in an ad for the Guide Dogs charity. It was a story of how he wanted to help Santa guide his sleigh. But it wasn’t a sleigh Henry had to guide, it was a person. In the end, Henry became a real dog, who viewers could sponsor.

The second dog never had a name. He was made out of cork, and frolicked excitedly across a Christmas dinner table, to the delight of all the guests. But at the end of the party, he was swept away into the rubbish. This dog was in an advert too, for Dogs Trust, pointing out that this sad fate awaits all too many of the puppies who get given as gifts at Christmas.

Two dogs, two charity ads, two very different approaches. But which one will have helped its brand more?

We tested both as part of our Christmas Ad Ratings project, testing every Xmas ad we could find. On Spike, our short term measure, both the Guide Dogs and Dogs Trust ad performed strongly. We’d expect both ads to be a success in terms of driving short-term donations to their good causes.

And isn’t that the point? Of course. But it’s not the whole point.

A charity is a brand like any other. To grow it needs awareness – Fame; positive emotion – Feeling; and recognition – Fluency. A charity needs those things just as much as a car or cereal brand, so that it can grow long term, and donations now can become more donations in future.

On our Star Rating, which predicts long-term growth, the ads performed very differently.

The Guide Dogs ad with Henry helping Santa scored a strong 4-Stars. The nameless cork puppy only managed 1-Star. The difference is all in emotional response – Henry’s happy ending uplifted viewers; the cork dog’s sad fate depressed them.

While we’d predict both ads performing well at driving donations over Christmas, it’s the Guide Dogs approach which puts its brand on a stronger footing in the long-term. Nobody is doubting the craft, execution and imagination in the Dogs Trust spot – but it leaves its audience in a bleak place.

One of the big myths about charity advertising is that it needs to be sombre or shocking, because it deals with such serious subjects – death, illness, abuse. But even for charity brands, leaving positive impressions is one of the keys to long term growth, and advertising – which can tell the brand’s story so clearly – is the best way to do this.

Another myth is that if you take a more positive approach, and show the good outcomes of charity work, your short-term impact will suffer. But the two dog ads show that isn’t true – Guide Dogs and Dogs Trust were within the same, very strong, band on our short-term Spike measure.

You can drive donations and help your brand in the long term. Treating your ad as a short-term investment isn’t cruel like treating a puppy that way is, but it is misguided. An ad can be for life too. Ultimately, most charities are about creating positive outcomes. The best thing they can do in their marketing is show that.

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