WORKSHOP: Case Study - RSPB makes a quiet return to TV ads

JOHN PLUMMER

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Background In September, the RSPB piloted its first TV advertising campaign for five years.

Technological advancements had convinced the charity the time was right to make a comeback.

Previously, anyone wanting to pledge money on TV had to dial for a form that had to be returned with their bank details. The introduction of paperless direct debit removed a layer of administration by ensuring donations could be completed in one call.

"The old way had become uneconomical," said Sam O'Sullivan, the charity's head of individual giving. "We needed to capture them on the first call." But although the process had been simplified, no one knew how successfully it would be executed or how popular it would be.

Aims For an organisation the size of the RSPB, the ad carried a modest recruitment target of 1,000. But the response was just one aspect of what was effectively a trial of all aspects of TV advertising: the creative, the channel and the technological process.

When the ad broadcast, O'Sullivan said: "It is a first for us in many ways: first TV ad for five years, first paperless direct debit, a new agency. If it doesn't work fantastically well, we will have to look at all these elements and consider how we can change things. If it works well, we will do something much bigger."

Clark McKay & Walpole was hired to create the advertisement, which broadcast during late night intervals on selected Channel 4 regions and satellite TV. A call centre was hired to log details of each pledge onto the RSPCA's internal web site.

How it worked Clark McKay & Walpole wanted to emotionally involve the viewer in the theme of loss. Achieving this visually proved difficult so they played heavily on sound and graphics.

Group account director Martin Nieri explains: "Trying to get across the decline of birds on screen is difficult because they always look so healthy.

Bird song is part of the natural background and we wanted to show what a different kind of world it would be without it."

The 60-second advert opens with a pleasing cacophony of bird noise and activity. The sound and colour then gradually ebbs away to offer a glimpse of a world without birds.

Their gradual decline is accompanied on screen by the use of TV graphics similar to those that appear on TV when colour and volume are turned down.

Confronted by silence, the viewer is urged to pledge cash to prevent this scenario.

Results The ad failed to reach its 1,000 target but the experiment was successful enough in other areas to convince the RSPB to repeat it in January. Of the callers, 94 per cent became direct debit donors of which 73 per cent used gift aid. The ad's clever conservation message was praised and the creative will be repeated, as will the call centre technology.

O'Sullivan says: "We were disappointed with the response from some channels, particularly Channel 4. But we are pleased with the way it worked and the process of catching the data. We want TV to be part of our activity mix but it's still in the testing phase."

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