Keep Artsy Creative Directors Away from Your Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns

Drew Barrymore for the United Nations World Food Programme

I can see it now. In the wake of a string of natural disasters and skyrocketing food prices in the Developing World, management at UN World Food Programme (WFP) decide to commence some serious marketing. So they start taking meetings with fancy ad agencies.

Here’s how the successful meeting went:

The senior manager at the agency turned on the charm and created a “reality distortion field” before turning the time over to the creative director, who immediately started to weave a persuasive narrative. “We’ll put actresses like Rachel Weisz and Drew Barrymore in PSAs, in print ads and on Oprah. Imagine stark, beautifully-shot images of Drew feeding darling doe-eyed kids in Kenya in haunting black and white. The images will underscore that issue of hunger in the Developing World is black and white…”

At that point the UN World Food Programme managers should have kicked that agency to the curb.

Unless your cause is the Ansel Adams Black and White Photo Preservation Trust (I just made that up, by the way) your fundraising and cause-related marketing images better be in color. In every test of preferences (outside of the canyons of Manhattan), people say they want to see color images.

The only people that don’t prefer color are me and artsy-fartsy creative directors who can’t set aside their own creative biases long enough to think about what the intended audiences favor.

That isn’t the only problem with this ad from the May 19, 2008 issue of Time magazine.

The agency tried to make up for the lack of color in the photo by adding the red cup. But the red cup is a marketing conceit. The cups the WFP feeds people with aren’t red. Neither is the food the WFP distributes. The WFP doesn’t pass around a red cup when it’s fundraising. Donors don’t get a red cup as a premium when they make some kind of donation.

The red cup is, in the main, a way to introduce color into a campaign that should have had it from the start.

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