Charity advertising, opening your wallet or your mind?

Years ago I worked on the RSPCA’s account in our agency. Historically, they had used dreadful images of abused and neglected animals to prompt donations and it had worked.

But it began to lose its impact. As a society, our exposure to shocking visuals has increased in all media. Outrageous pictures are used to tempt us to see a new movie, open a magazine or attend an art exhibition.

There are hundreds of charities that still use images that are meant to appal us and create a desire to fix it with our donation. However, it is just as easy to look away, disengage and quickly forget.

What sticks?
Research shows we are more likely to remember information when we have been asked a question, it makes us engage our own logic and that makes us more likely to ponder both the question and our response beyond the moment of connection.

All three of these charity posters have designed their images to provoke thought. Their goal isn’t to shock us into action but to engage with what we value, and encourage us to think about them after we’ve turned the page or rounded the corner.

Do they work for you?

Drop a note in the comment box below and let us know if any of these charity ads are strong enough to move you to action.


  1. I’ve worked on some charity ads before and the Charities themselves very often want to use their shocking images.
    There is a phrase that I heard somewhere: “charity fatigue” which describes a viewers behaviour – that you can’t keep asking the same people for money. This, combined with the ‘blunt instrument’ of shock images means that the ads are often ignored.
    I much prefer a clever, thought provoking approach – you’re appealing to a viewers intelligence, rather than trying to illicit instant compassion.

    1. Thanks for giving us the inside view on the challenges of Charity Ads, I love the “blunt instrument of shock images” that is the way you feel, hit over the head. Thanks for writing.

  2. I couldn’t agree with Ross more. In the US we have a series of ASPCA ads that run the song “In the Arms of an Angel” from Sarah Mclougin. The ads show horribly abused animals in shelters with copy that reads “why did you hurt me?” and “what did I do wrong.”

    I am a huge animal lover and all of my dogs over the years have come from shelters, but the minute Sarah’s voice comes across my television I do a nose dive for the remote. It’s not enough just to look away, I don’t even want to hear the music! It’s just too much.

    1. Ouch, that makes it seriously personal. It’s a risk to comment on something I haven’t seen, but the copy sounds miss directed – wouldn’t most people react with “I’d never do that” and then tune out? We aren’t a captive audience and haven’t been for a long time. It makes the need to create curiosity about the message a vital componant. Thanks for taking the time to write, Kathy

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