BRAND HEALTH CHECK: Barnardo's - Have Barnardo's shock ads alienated donors?

After years of running disquieting press ads, Barnardo's has had its latest effort banned by the ASA. Will this ban damage its reputation and cost it donations? Sam Solley reports.

Barnardo's has been walking the advertising tightrope for some years, but has managed to avoid any major disputes.

Until last week, that is, when the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned the children's charity's latest campaign, describing it as "shocking, offensive and unduly distressing".

The three 'Silver spoons' press ads created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty showed newborn babies with a cockroach, a syringe and a meths bottle in their mouths. With 467 complaints, they were the most complained about ads of 2003.

According to Barnardo's, the work highlights the plight of many children and illustrates that not all babies are born with the same opportunities.

It admits using the arresting images to ensure maximum awareness.

While the ASA acknowledged the serious message of the ads in its report, it ruled that the pictures were likely to cause serious and widespread offence.

Founded in 1866, Barnardo's has always moved with the times. It has changed its name twice, from Dr Barnardo's Homes to Dr Barnardo's in 1966, before dropping the Dr from its name in 1988 to reflect the break from its Victorian past. It last ran homes for orphans more than 30 years ago.

The charity has pushed the boundaries with its advertising before, but while a previous BBH campaign which depicted young children injecting drugs and committing suicide received complaints, it also reaped rewards.

Charities have to get maximum exposure with the most meagre of budgets, but has the organisation gone too far this time and risked turning the public against it?

We asked Paul Kitcatt, creative partner of KitCatt Nohr Alexander Shaw, which works with the NSPCC and a host of other charities, including Amnesty International, and Tony Granger, executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, which created the 'Full Stop' campaign for the NSPCC, for their opinions on the right strategy.

VITAL SIGNS

Barnardo's revenue (pounds m) 2003 2002 2001

Donations, legacies and other fundraising 49.2 46.3 47.0

Trading income (including shops) 22.5 21.8 20.7

Total incoming resources 122.9 106.5 100.4

Charitable expenditure 133.4 117.8 111.9

Source: Barnardo's

DIAGNOSIS

Paul Kitcatt

I first saw the recent ads for Barnardo's the very day the midwife handed me my baby daughter.

Since I was feeling that elated relief you get when you've counted all the fingers and toes, I was certainly ready to give to a charity for children.

But of course, the ads weren't designed to make me give. They were designed to appal me. Job done. I was appalled as a parent and as someone who has done creative for charities, including Barnardo's.

This often happens when an old-fashioned ad agency mesmerises a charity.

At best you get sentimental rubbish (sentimental being defined as the working-up of bogus emotion); at worst you get something that creates a media ruckus.

Hey presto - you've got awareness in spades.

Certainly far more than you've paid for (in money, anyway).

But try turning that awareness back into money. You can't. You have failed to make people appalled by the problem you address, because instead you have appalled them with your cack-handedness.

This campaign wanted to be something like Britart. But in the end it was just advertising.

Tony Granger

With clients including the NSPCC, St Mungo's and the MS Society, we at Saatchi & Saatchi know that charity ads can be challenging because of the political sensitivities and the intense emotional subject.

Over the years, Barnardo's has been able to modernise the brand and stand out among its competitors.

Its past creative work has generated a considerable amount of public dialogue, but the most recent executions are not taking the brand forward as well as they should.

Although the images are striking, and have gained considerable public attention, the 'Silver spoons' ads run the risk of shocking for shock's sake.

Barnardo's ads should be hard-hitting and meaningful, not gratuitous.

People are bombarded by many harsh images in the media everyday, and as a result, become less receptive to them. Although the ASA has banned the ads for the shocking images, the most important issue is that the ads are not building a relationship with the audience.

The 'Silver spoons' executions lack the creative impact to change peoples' minds and convince them to reach into their pockets. The idea must build an emotional connection.

TREATMENT

- Tell people what Barnardo's does. Make it real and true.

- Show potential supporters that they can make a difference.

- Check whether Barnardo's brand values include revolting people; if so, discard it.

- Forget about awareness of advertising as a measure of success. It's not.

- Write to all supporters and explain why you spent their donations like this.

- Barnardo's has generated brand awareness, but now it needs to define its single-minded proposition in the charity sector.

- It needs to balance shocking creative with intelligent and meaningful communication across all media.

- It must bolster existing efforts in communicating to key stakeholders through public relations, public affairs and research.

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