CHARITIES: Helping brands

HelpAd’s approach to charity offers many opportunities to products. David Teather writes

HelpAd’s approach to charity offers many opportunities to products.

David Teather writes

HelpAd, marketing’s answer to Live Aid, launched to the trade in July

last year in a blaze of publicity.

The revolutionary idea was trumpeted as a ‘win, win, win’ situation for

all involved. Brands would take out advertising space on the packs of

other complementary brands and donate the cash used to buy the space to

the Red Cross.

The theory was that the brand advertising on someone else’s pack gets

prime promotional space at a knock-down price, while the brand carrying

the ad benefits from the goodwill of its association with the charity.

The Red Cross gets money to help pursue its work in 188 countries.

So confident was HelpAd that the scheme would become a genuine

alternative use of ad budgets that, at launch, predictions were made

that it could snatch 1% of the world’s pounds 5bn marketing spend.

But things have quite evidently not gone as smoothly as planned.

The scheduled launch date of the scheme to consumers slipped by last

November as did a rescheduled launch in February this year. In the

meantime, HelpAd also managed to lose Princess Diana as its figurehead

and has stoically replaced her with a string of ‘B-list’ celebrities.

It was only in October - a year after the planned consumer launch - that

the organisation began its pounds 300,000 press campaign to alert

shoppers to the HelpAd logo.

The campaign, through Simons Palmer Clemmow Johnson, highlights that the

first three pairings will not be global or even Europe-wide as at first

hoped, but will be restricted to the UK. The campaign will be repeated

in bursts over the next 12 months as new partnerships are formed.

HelpAd was the brainchild of 47-year-old Irishman, Bob Doyle, a

construction surveyor by profession. He set up a charity,

Interfriendship, aimed at settling the differences between Catholics and

Protestants in the Province.

It was while working for that charity that he hit upon the idea of

HelpAd, inspired by an ad for an Irish brand of tea carried on a milk

bottle - as Kellogg has done in Britain for its Corn Flakes brand. Doyle

felt he needed a global charity brand to make it viable and in 1992 he

approached the Red Cross. He has been a full-time employee of the Red

Cross ever since. ‘What’s great for the Red Cross is that the money is

politically free,’ says Doyle. ‘A lot is given with strings attached or

is gifted on the back of an appeal and money given for Rwanda can’t

subsequently be spent in Bangladesh.’ He calls HelpAd the perfect

antidote for a public that still wants to help but which is tired of

having tins waved in their faces. ‘The public will respond to any

organisation that can find a less intrusive way of asking for help,’ he


‘But the thing about HelpAd is that it also asks for the consumer’s

involvement. Instead of just sticking 5p in a tin they can make an

active choice by changing their brand to one carrying a HelpAd logo.’

HelpAd’s figures suggest that 79% of people actively choose a HelpAd

branded product and 55% would pay more to do so.

Similar statistics are put forward by another charity, NCH Action for

Children, which presented its findings about cause-related marketing

earlier this year. It found that 60% of adults were more likely to buy

products associated with charities, while 67% of children would do the


‘Fifteen years ago, most brand choices were made before a consumer left

the house, but these days that figure is under 20%,’ says Doyle. ‘The

battle for the basket happens at the shelf and an association with

HelpAd can help tilt that balance in a brand’s favour.’ HelpAd now lists

20 companies which have agreed to the idea in principle. Allowing for

the fact that only one brand is allowed from each sector, the list makes

impressive reading: Nestle, American Express, SmithKline Beecham,

Procter & Gamble, Seagrams and Virgin.

Doyle claims to be in discussions with three major grocers with the aim

of making one of them the official retailer of the scheme. But only six

names have put their pack space or their ad budgets where their mouths


‘We underestimated the speed at which people would buy into the idea,’

says chairman of Simons Palmer, Paul Simons, who has been involved from

day one.

‘Everyone we take HelpAd to is always persuaded by the power of the

idea,’ he adds. ‘But the hardest thing to get over is the anxiety which

brand owners have about their brand’s reputations and what they will be

seen on and in what way. The understandable debate is ‘my brand stands

for this and your brand stands for that’. It’s like arranging


Andrew Marsden, former marketing director of HP Foods which has its own

charity link with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to

Children, was approached to join HelpAd and is more prosaic: ‘It’s a

brilliant idea but some of the costings and the size of the donations

the Red Cross expects are unrealistic. Everything has its price.’ The

success of the project lies in the hands of the six brands taking part

and what they tell to their peers.

Silverspoon is carrying ads for Stork, Hovis is bearing ads for Anchor,

and Shredded Wheat for Marmite. And from their comments it seems clear

that their judgements will take shape on the ability of the advertising

to deliver commercially and not from any feelings of philanthropy.

‘It doesn’t do any harm that we are associated with a charity and it

gives me a warm feeling inside, but we also had five million ads on

people’s breakfast tables,’ says marketing manager for Marmite, Amanda


‘Nearly half of all Marmite is used at breakfast time and we have a

number of light users, so the ad was there to remind people of the

brand,’ she says. More importantly, it helped to remind people at the

height of the BSE scare that Marmite is made of yeast and not gelatine.

Anchor is spending pounds 100,000 to feature on 22 million Hovis packs,

as part of a broader pounds 6m campaign to promote its spreadable butter

product. ‘The marketing opportunity was what made us do this,’ says a

spokesman for the company. ‘The charity angle was just a nice spin-off.’

Hovis is evidently pleased with the scheme, as it plans to continue next

year with a new partner, Tropicana.

There is every reason to hope for the success of HelpAd. If nothing

else, it is creating new charity money. It deserves to do well because

it is not only trading on goodwill but has revolutionised charity

marketing by coming up with a new product which has a stand-alone value

to marketers.

The consumer campaign may be the catalyst. ‘Once we can demonstrate to

the marketing community that we are serious about what we are doing then

more will get involved,’ says Simons.

‘We are trying to create a snowball effect and once we can get on a roll

that’s it. There are some mega-brands out there waiting to sign up.’


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