Creating Effective Non-profit Ads that Inspire Action and Build Brands

How can non-profit organizations create ads that will be successful over the short-term and long-term?

Non-profit advertisements are an incredibly important part of the media landscape. They help raise awareness and support for worthy causes like cancer research, food security, animal rescue and more. And while many of these ads are effective at yielding a short-term spike in donations, volunteers, petition signatures and other actions by consumers, the non-profit category is consistently one of the worst performers for long-term growth. Across the UK and the United States, 6 in 10 charity direct response television advertisements receive a 1-Star rating among the public.

Why are these ads less effective than for-profit ads? And what can be done to enable non-profits to stay top of mind and a priority for people over the long term? Read on to learn more about this category and tips for effective charity ads.

Knowing What Works – and What Doesn’t – for Non-profits

Charity ads that leverage the following best practices can increase the likelihood of encouraging an immediate response and providing long-term positive impact for organizations:

Evoke happiness.

Many charity ads elicit negative emotions in audiences, including sadness, fear and even disgust. This is often due to the use of upsetting imagery to show the plight of a particular group and create a sense of urgency around helping others. However, this approach often backfires. According to Orlando Wood’s book Lemon, broad and long-term effects are associated with advertising that elicits happiness. Happiness creates positive associations with an organization, which guides consumers the next time they are ready to give or offer support.

Rather than opt for a slow, sad soundtrack and emotional testimonial or voiceover, as is typical with animal rescue ads, the “Rescue is my favourite breed” series from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home puts a positive spin on the cause. This ad uses upbeat and melodic soundtrack paired with clever on-screen text and footage of beloved rescue pets playing and interacting with their owners. Other ads in the series leverage a positive musical track as well as home videos of dogs and cats that Battersea has helped place in homes.

Avoid the sadness trap.

Sadness is a powerful emotion that can enable non-profits to break through apathy, so it’s ok if an ad does create this emotion in viewers. For it to provide positive long-term effects though, these feelings of sadness need to be resolved before the ad concludes.

This American Heart Association ad about a child who is diagnosed with a heart condition is a strong example of how this approach can work. The intense language and visuals of a young baby undergoing heart surgery leads to sadness at the beginning, but showing the child healthy and riding his bike in the second half of the ad allows the sadness to dissipate and happiness to rise. Testing ads provides insights on where sadness traps may exist and how to overcome them.

Carefully consider star power.

Celebrities are often a big investment for brands. Luckily, many famous figures endorse non-profits without expecting or wanting payment in return. In some cases, the right big names can help increase reach and attention. This ad from the NHS, which allays fears about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, took the top spot in our Nation’s Favourite Ad ranking in 2021.

Thanks in part to two familiar and trusted English stars, Elton John and Michael Caine, it achieved 5.6-Stars, which offers exceptional long-term effectiveness. Though the sequence showing Elton auditioning for the PSA and pretending to get the vaccine sees a rise in fear among viewers, the switch to Caine demonstrates how easy and painless the jab is, which results in the negative emotion fading away. The ad also earned a high Spike Rating, which indicates the short-term effect the ad has on viewers. It’s a clear demonstration of how a positive approach can work wonders in a PSA context.

It’s important to remember that celebrities come along with their own baggage – they are more likely to produce short-term, sales activation effects than long-term effects and can entangle brands in their own reputational mishaps. For most non-profits, the focus on the short-term is not usually an issue since they expect to see a boost in donations or other actions following a campaign. However, non-profits need to focus on brand building in order to set themselves up for long-term success. Celebrity involvement should be carefully weighed so that if talent is recruited, it’s the right fit for the organization and the storyline.

Short-term activation is an important goal for charity ads. This is because non-profit organizations rely on consumers’ kindness to provide relief to those who need it most. Ads that resonate with viewers will encourage donations, sign-ups and other actions. But it’s also essential to have a broader view of what advertising can do for non-profits. Brand building is key, and so marketers consider how emotions are applied to creative to drive the best long-term results.

Are you looking to test and improve your non-profit advertisements? Our Test Your Ad platform and expert Creative Guidance can help you maximize the effectiveness of your creative so that your organization can support more people and animals in need.

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