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Big Brands and Meaningful Storytelling

Ellie Adamo By Ellie Adamo

If you’re in the fundraising, marketing or comms department at a charity or not-for-profit organisation, you probably have a wealth of inspiring stories to tell. After all, this is one of the most inspiring things about doing what we do. But you have likely seen in recent times big consumer brands increasingly using socially aware content to engage younger audiences in their own ads. So is there anything we can learn from them?

More and more, it seems unashamedly commercial brands are looking for socially aware stories that charities might have once thought they had to themselves. Think of Axa’s ‘Dancer’ campaign, which focused on the astonishing dance floor moves of a young Alaskan woman with a prosthetic leg. Or Smirnoff’s award-winning film about a troupe of deaf dancers learning to groove with the beat. Or this award-winning campaign from Lloyds Bank addressing the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.

Axa justified its campaign by saying that it had always invested in technology to make people’s lives better. Not an obvious brand strength for an insurance company, perhaps. Smirnoff promoted its party brand with a diversity message about all sorts of people coming together. But both these stories arguably, would have found more natural fits with relevant charity brands.

Big consumer brands have discovered that youthful millennials (and even cynical Gen Xers) respond to genuine human-interest stories and brands that have real purpose. The global ad agency Havas has all the relevant stats in its latest ‘meaningful brands’ report. 75% of people surveyed expect brands to make a contribution to society. But only 27% of the brands they use actually do this.

There’s a credibility gap here for commercial brands. But for charity brands there’s a huge opportunity. If you’re working for a charity or not-for-profit organisation, here are three lessons that can be learnt from the meaningful brand trend.

Lesson 1 – Connect with the big brands

Don’t think you have to shy away from a commercial brand if they’re running a campaign which fits with your values. You might be able partner with them and point people to your fundraising page. At the very least, you can jump on their campaign hashtag.

For example, think about what could have been done with the recent Gilette Treo assisted shaving campaign.



Lesson 2 – Dig deep for your own stories

The likes of Axa and Smirnoff have to struggle to find socially aware stories they can tell with a straight face. But this should never be a problem for charities. Our 15 years of working in the charity sector has taught us that there’s always an inspiring, engaging and – above all – relevant story to tell. Though sometimes, we do have to find it.

"I’m always pushing our charity clients for great case studies,” says our Senior Copywriter James Barry. “And often they feel they don’t have any good ones, or anything recent or appropriate. Usually, it only takes a few minutes on the phone for me to find someone client-side who’s actually sitting on a really good story.”

Lesson 3 – Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes

Of course, the big commercial brands have big budgets to spend on the short films that do well at the Tribeca X Awards. But that doesn’t mean you can’t compete with them. Look, for example, at the #passiton video campaign we produced for Breast Cancer Care on a limited budget.

Let us help you tell your stories

If you work in the not-for-profit sector and are looking for ways to tell your stories then please give myself or James a call on (0)20 3397 3816

Ellie Adamo

Ellie Adamo

Account Director

Ellie embodies that covetable combination of razor-sharp strategic skill and an instinctive ability to connect and engage with people. She cut her teeth in commercial advertising, but moved to fundraising agencies when she found charities ignited her passion in a way that banks never would. We’re delighted to benefit from her considerable experience, read more about Ellie here.