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Give to the Salvation Army

In a sales circular that landed in my mailbox on Monday, Dec. 8, Wal-Mart gave three-quarters of a page to the venerable Salvation Army. Too bad it couldn’t have been much less useful.

In 45 swift words the page mentions that need will be great this year, that the Salvation Army will again provide a backstop for the nation’s neediest and that Wal-Mart encourages support of this worthy cause this season, all in a much too-short, unhelpful ad.

MIA is any call to action, like ‘support the bell-ringers with your donations.’ Or, go online to make a donation to the Sally Ann’s virtual red kettle. In this ad, the Salvation Army comes off like a Christmastime charity, as though it was just Toys for Tots for adults or families. Where’s mention of the Salvation Army’s 100-year history (in the States) of extraordinary work on behalf of the poor, the destitute, and the dispossessed?

Wal-Mart and the Salvation Army have been together for more than two decades, where’s a real sense of partnership in this ad?

Whether or not you follow the Salvation Army’s brand of Christianity, I can’t think of any charity that is more worthy of your respect. In the United States, the Salvation Army is pound for pound the most effective and efficient national charity with the homeless and the poor that I know of. The Salvation Army is staid and earnest and committed to the core. And they get my donations every year.

In 2007 some $32 million was collected in Wal-Mart doorways, about 15 percent of the total donated through all the Salvation Army kettles. In the Wal-Mart giving universe that puts the Salvation Army right about the same place as Children’s Miracle Network and several million dollars higher than their contributions to The United Way.

Now, to make that comparison fair, Wal-Mart doesn’t do much for the Sally Ann except provide space for the bell ringers. In 2008 they also seeded the kettle campaign with $1.25 million.

The money raised for Children’s Miracle Network is overwhelmingly raised in-store through their paper icon campaign called Miracle Balloons, which takes place each spring. The United Way comes year-round through employee payroll deduction.

To me this ad has the appearance of something that got fobbed off on a junior designer and approved by someone not much higher. To me it suggests that while Wal-Mart talks a good game about partnering with the Salvation Army, not many in food chain there actually believe it.


edenni1 said…
There has been a lot of research that suggests that people do not respond to ads that focus on the need which can be depressing and a "downer" - so it's all too easy to skip over the content itself and make a visually and tonally pleasing, if empty, advert about what's happening in the store. You would do better, in my opinion, though, to focus on suggestions to improve or examples of how it could work than to always poke at the people who try to do something.
Hi edenni1:

I agree with you in large measure.

There's little value in spelling out the Salvation Army's mission and programs, which are frankly too complicated to easily describe.

But people don't need to know all the ins and outs of the Sally Ann to support it. I think on the U.S. side of the pond, the average American trusts the Salvation Army, even if they don't understand it.

Put another way, the Salvation Army doesn't need an image campaign this time a year. Especially a bad one. But ads like this nonetheless do need a call to action.

Just encouraging people to drop some money into the kettle would be imperfect, but enough.

Thanks for your comment.


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