High production values. Good art direction. Great visual effects. It seems everyone is falling all over themselves to praise The Salvation Army in Canada's new ad campaign.
The ads feature suffering people in urban settings. But these people are just outlines. You can't quite see them. (It's a cool effect, really.) The point is that The Salvation Army can see them, even though nobody else can. Here's the copy from the print ads:
WE SEE WHAT MOST DON'T
We see the heartbreaking effects of poverty, homelessness, abuse and addiction every day. And most importantly, we see the people who desperately need support and compassion. For us it's impossible to turn a blind eye to suffering. Last year in Canada, The Salvation Army served 2.5 million meals to the hungry, helped 10,000 people with addictions and provided one third of all shelter beds each night. This Christmas we ask you to open your eyes and your heart. And give.
These ads are terrible.
The proper donor response to them falls somewhere between That's nice and So what?
Because they fall into the same trap the so much nonprofit marketing suffers from: It's about the organization. Not the donor. Why should anyone care about The Salvation Army's superhuman level of compassion? What's it got to do with her? This message is all boasting and chest-beating. And -- oh, by the way, maybe you can open your eyes and be a little bit more like us.
Don't get me wrong: I love The Salvation Army. Their dedication and capacity to help suffering people is truly far beyond normal. The world would be a much worse place without them. If these ads merely exist to point out that fact, then they may be a success.
But I know a little bit about The Salvation Army -- enough to know that self-aggrandizement is not at all what they're about. They're much more interested in doing good works. And in motivating more donors to join them so they can help more people and do more good. And on that count, this campaign is an abject failure.
Do you want to move donors to help the poor? Do you want to stir them to higher levels of involvement? Then tell their story. Show them how giving to you satisfies their aspirations. Persuade them that you have a way for them to change the world in the way they want to do so. Let them know that you are on their team.
Take the focus off yourself and put it on your donor.
The Salvation Army has by far the world's best nonprofit brand. Arguably, they have the world's best brand, period.
They shouldn't squander it with clever braggadocio.