The small screen starts to play a bigger role

With restrictions on more traditional channels of communication imminent, charities are becoming more interested in the possibilities of TV advertising, reports Susannah Birkwood

If your charity is thinking of launching a TV campaign, it is not alone. Investment by charities in TV advertising rose by 20 per cent to £123m last year, according to the market research firm Nielsen. Data from the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board shows that about 1.4 million UK adults saw charity TV adverts in April, up from about 1.2 million a year ago.

Friends of the Earth was one of several large charities that continued to invest in television advertising in 2015. Numerous smaller ones, including Tearfund, Coeliac UK and Compassion, have made their TV debuts recently.

It's easy to see why the medium is so popular. Research by the Institute of Fundraising and fast.MAP shows that direct-response television advertising - which asks viewers to respond directly, usually by telephone or online - has the highest engagement rate of all fundraising channels: DRTV is 1.4 times more engaging than the average channel.

Jane Pleace, director of fundraising at Tearfund, says the forthcoming Fundraising Preference Service and new EU data protection laws might have had an influence. "Charities will soon be more restricted, so they are looking round for other options," she says.

But DRTV is expensive. Genevieve Tomkins, client development director at MC&C, a media planning agency that buys slots on TV stations, says first-time charity advertisers typically spend at least £100,000 on their adverts. It is rare for agencies to offer discounts, she says, but charities can keep their costs down by choosing daytime advertising slots, though she admits it is hard to achieve a big impact with a daytime-only campaign.

"On your first attempt, you'd have a multichannel approach in the daytime, with some peak," she says. "You'd have a good mix of reasonably sized stations, then quite a few of the small, more cost-effective ones."

Just as vital is that charities maintain - or, ideally, ramp up - their marketing activity across other channels during the period in which their advert is being broadcast. Lisa Bainbridge, head of campaigns at Coeliac UK, says that when the charity ran its first TV advert last September, it withdrew all of its other advertising for the month so that it could assess the impact of its TV activity in isolation.

Bainbridge says; "In June we'll run the advert again, but we'll use a whole range of other channels at the same time, such as paid-for social media, so we'll see if it increases the impact."

MC&C's Tomkins says it's crucial to undertake activity on other channels, such as social media, to maximise the impact of your TV advert, but adds: "You need to have a really good attribution system in place so that you understand the contribution of each investment to the overall conversion."

She says she would actively discourage charities from advertising on a channel such as ITV on their first outing because the high price tag makes it too risky.

Instead, they should favour channels that are likely to produce a stronger return on investment, she says, such as religious stations, film channels and news outlets.

"The problem then is that saturation occurs quickly," she warns. "Advertisers need to ensure they have lots of exciting creative content to alleviate some of that tire."

This is where people like Maria Phillips, director of TV and film at WPN Chameleon, come in. She says the best way to make her charity clients' adverts stand out is to draw out what sets them apart from other charities. "Finding the unique property of that charity and what it stands for is a really important part of it," she says.

Phillips says charities should keep things simple and be transparent about how their money is spent. "It's quite easy for organisations that go on television to have lots of things they want to say and try to give them equal emphasis," she says. "The key thing is to have a really simply proposition - it's not a complicated medium; it's an emotional one."

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