Today’s blog gets sniffy ahead of Red Nose Day and waffles on in defence of on-brand charity campaigning.

Sagely words from the irrepressible Siobhan Sharpe, Head of Brand in the BBC’s wonderful W1A. In the current trailers for Red Nose Day 2017 the team has been resurrected in order to generate predictably risible fund-raising ideas that include, ‘Brown Nose Day’, ‘Red Toes Day’ and best of all, ‘Secret Selfie’. In doing so they remind us of the skilful writing that made the original series such a success. You can see the trailer here.

But for anyone involved in charity fund-raising or corporate social responsibility the comic trailers also serve as a gentle reminder of how crowded with random entreaties to ‘post yourself’ the social space is becoming.

Time was when the biggest challenge for charities was to articulate why givers should relate to their cause with a judicious appeal to both heart and head. But as donor fatigue set-in givers started to want more for their contributions. Soon a whole generation of donors spotted the opportunity to raise funds for their favourite charity whilst indulging their passions for the great outdoors. Whilst it wasn’t long before everyone rumbled that they were actually just funding exotic holidays for their pals in the guise of ‘mountain challenges’ it did establish the principle that fund-raising could be fun for a much wider audience. Of course not everyone harbours an inner Bear Grylls and thankfully so – at one point the volume of charity abseils in London made the City’s skyline look like a cross between a window-cleaners convention and the storming of the Iranian Embassy.

And then came social media. Whilst in no way inhibiting the weekend warriors it enabled anyone less energetically inclined to support their cause in a highly demonstrative way. The campaign that really set the bar was the Ice Bucket Challenge. Putting aside “who hijacked what” it demonstrated the power of personalised content. The 2014 campaign led to 2.4 million tagged videos circulating Facebook. Weeks after the campaign went viral the nominated charity announced a doubling of donations for the period – some additional $20m. So it’s little wonder that social media was soon awash with caused-based flash mobbing, Harlem-shaking and gangnam galloping.

Which brings us back to the hilarious Secret Selfie of W1A. Of course Siobhan’s social media obsession is just a bit of harmless fun. But if it tickles our funny bone, what does it tell us about charity campaigning today? Social media has become an undeniably powerful and cost effective medium for charities. But if the answer to every charity brief for the foreseeable future is going to be social media, then what is the role of the charity proposition? Surely the next few years will simply continue as a land-grab for social media stunts and gags.


A more optimistic view is that in fact the impact of this social media traffic will be to elevate the brand proposition back to its position of supremacy. For surely in an over-crowded social space it is the charities with most clearly articulated brands that will be able to move quickly and confidently to develop creative ideas and take advantage of the fleeting opportunities that social media offers. One of the better examples of this is still the Salvation Army’s clever piggybacking of #TheDress in order to raise awareness of their own #StopAbuseAgainstWomen campaign. The clarity of thought behind their message made for a clever subversion of the popular meme. And whilst the execution divided opinion there’s no denying the scale of the coverage it received.

So perhaps the future isn’t so bleak after all. And for those charities that can fully harness the power of their brands in the social space, the opportunities would appear huge.

Or in the words of Siobhan, “If you get bandwidth on this you’ve got maple syrup on your waffle from the get-go.”

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