Fundraising News: Case study - Mencap tests the waters with DRTV

Francois Le Goff


Mencap's first direct response TV advert has just ended its run, a year after it was first launched. Although the learning disability charity would like to have raised more money, it gained valuable information on newly recruited donors and a high proportion of them signed up to direct debit.


Mencap's advert kicked off in April last year and ran at intervals until March. This was a test carried out to raise donations through a new medium and to find out which are the best TV channels through which to reach new supporters.

The advert focused on bullying and told the story of Tom, a young boy with Down's syndrome who was bullied by other boys. Mencap claims that nine in 10 people with learning disabilities are bullied every year. "It is an emotive subject," says Michael Naidu, head of direct marketing at Mencap. "Most people can relate to bullying or have some personal experience of it."

How it worked

The campaign proceeded in three stages. Mencap started by testing various cable channels in April 2004. It then ran the advert again in September, but this time only on the four most effective channels.

It also tested a 60-second advert with a 10-second follow-up at the end of the break. No adverts were shown over Christmas, a time of year when the market is saturated.

The advert hit screens again in January for three months. "We wanted to see whether greater impact could be achieved by spreading the ads over a longer period," says a spokesman. But because of the tsunami the charity decided to move most of its January ad slots to February.

Presented by Beth, an actress with Down's syndrome, the advert introduced viewers to Tom, a boy with the same learning disability. In her voiceover, Beth explained how Tom was frequently bullied by other boys when he went to see his grandmother.

At the end she introduced Mencap to viewers and asked them to give £3 a month to the charity.


The appeal raised £5,067 in April and £11,200 in September. Although donations raised in March this year are still being counted, early results suggest that Mencap has so far raised £5,200 during the January-March period. "We would like to have achieved more, but the campaign evolved well through time and we recruited quality donors," says Naidu.

This test also gave Mencap valuable information about the profile of its donors. "We know that they watch serious news or fact-based programmes," says Naidu. "The types of channel that worked for us were educational ones such as the History Channel or news channels such as Sky News."

Naidu acknowledges that Mencap's brand is not as easy to grasp as that of, say, animal or cancer charities. "A lot of people do not fully understand what learning disability is about unless they have experienced it themselves," he says.

"In the future, we would definitely think about doing it again, but we first need to find out whether donors recruited through this medium are going to stay with us in the coming months, because what we want is committed donors and ones that we can challenge."


Alastair Irons, chief executive, TW CAT Within direct marketing fundraising, charity direct responseTV ads fall roughly into two categories.

First, the 'DIY' DRTV approach recently taken up by the RSPCA, in which a 'homespun' commercial is cut from existing film and video footage. This approach allows the charity to be seen to be making the best of existing resources and not 'wasting' donations on something as 'frivolous' as television.

Second, high-quality advertisements such as this first offering from Mencap, which can involve significant extra cost due to the use of actors, film crews and location shooting. This way, charities can better realise their brand value.

However, neither approach will succeed unless you're reaching the right audience with the right proposition. And that's where Mencap has been smart by adopting the mantra 'if you're not testing, you're not direct marketing' and trialling a variety of cable channels prior to rolling out on the most successful one.

Michael Naidu has then been smarter still by going on to test timing too. By the way, I don't share his reservations about the lifetime value of the supporters recruited in this way because our experience shows DRTV donors to be among the most committed of all recruits.

The success of this ad hinges on whether the proposition to fund a 'bullying' helpline for people with learning disabilities is a powerful fundraising prompt for Mencap. The results provide the answer.

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