Diana Tickell: Barnardo's had dropped off the map - we had to be cutting edge

Barnardo's director of communications tells Kaye Wiggins how the charity gambled on a controversial web advert

Diana Tickell, director of communications, Barnardo's
Diana Tickell, director of communications, Barnardo's

"It takes a brave organisation to do what we've done," says Diana Tickell, UK director of communications at children's charity Barnardo's, which has reserved its most hard-hitting and controversial campaigns for web TV.

In one sense, this seems an easier option, because web TV falls outside the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority. So when a 90-second film it had made - showing a group of hunters firing shotguns at what viewers initially think are vermin but later turn out to be young people - generated 13 complaints last November, the ASA was unable to consider them.

But there are potentially greater risks to charities than the ASA. "With TV adverts, you have complete control of the message," Tickell says. "But when your video is shown online, especially on YouTube and social networks, viewers can make their own comments about it and you have no control over what they say. You have to be prepared not to be precious about what people think of you."

This gamble paid off with the hunting advert because the balance of comments it attracted was in favour of its message, Tickell says. "We were appalled by some of the comments about young people that had been made on newspaper websites and discussion forums, so we used the same language in the film. Posting the film online and opening it up for comment was the best way to win the argument. We didn't have to tell people they were behaving inappropriately, because other viewers did it for us."

The film launched the charity's Children in Trouble campaign, which also included the controversial Break the Cycle TV advert, which showed a teenage girl being repeatedly slapped on the back of her head. It was produced to start a debate about the perception that children cause crime and about the use of words such as 'feral' to describe young people.

"Barnardo's had dropped off the map," Tickell says. "There was a danger of us falling out of the public mindset, so we had to launch a campaign that was cutting-edge and contemporary. The web video was a great way of doing this."

Tickell says the controversial online film stirred up interest before the launch of the TV adverts. It attracted coverage in national newspapers and on TV, she says, and the number of hits to the charity's website doubled in the six weeks after the film's launch. Research showed the full Children in Trouble campaign attracted more than 400 pieces of national press coverage and public awareness of Barnardo's rose by 33 per cent as a result.

"Like most charities, we have a limited budget so we have to make sure it works as well as it can do," says Tickell. "Web films are cheaper than TV adverts, but there are still costs involved so we have to make sure they are effective."

The hunting film was deliberately provocative, she explains. "I don't think it's shock advertising because it's no more shocking than the content of a lot of TV programmes. The campaign caused controversy because people don't expect a charity to present them with these images, but we felt the script was right for the issue."

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