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
‘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
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.’