When you wish upon a star

Fundraisers seldom use celebrities and even more rarely use them well, says Andrew Papworth

Written by
Andrew Papworth
Added
May 15, 2014
View original image
This ad has a message that links the celebrity and the cause.

In this celebrity-obsessed age it is extraordinary just how few charities use celebrities in their fundraising advertising. Perhaps they worry that some tabloid scandal will blow up and reflect badly on them.

It’s a fact, though. A recent analysis of 189 assorted ads, loose inserts and mail shots found only six examples in which famous people were used. Two of them are shown here: one is an ad for the Refugee Council starring Colin Firth, with his shirt on for once, and one for the Prostate Cancer Charity with Neil Fox.

They demonstrate very well some of the problems posed by such ads. First, when is a star not a star? Answer: when you don’t know him from Adam. Even this decrepit writer had no difficulty in recognising Colin Firth, but Neil Fox? Who he? Apparently he is a of player of discs on the wireless in the UK and has been a judge on some talent show or other.

On the other hand, at least the prostate ad has the merit of a message that links the person featured to the cause and could conceivably work to some extent, whether you knew – or cared – who Neil Fox was. And there’s no doubting that it’s a pretty striking portrait – with its stark contrast of light and shade and eyes staring straight at the reader – which could attract attention.

View original image
This could have done with a first-person quote.

In contrast, the Colin Firth ad suffers from being just that – a Colin Firth ad. He has just been grafted on to the message with no obvious connection or reason other than his fame. It’s as if somebody said, ‘we’ve got this fantastic star, what the hell do we do with him?’ It would have been better to show the star visiting an asylum centre or being otherwise involved with the charity so that the ad was about something other than Colin Firth – even a first person quote would have helped. The best way of using celebrities is as an add-on endorsement giving reassurance and authority.

In their loose inserts, Plan International consistently get the balance right by concentrating on their core message and adding a celeb on the back page (they’ve used Timothy Spall, Twiggy, Joanne Harris and Fiona Phillips among others) to sprinkle some stardust and it works well.

Flora & Fauna International have used Sir David Attenborough – so close to secular sainthood nothing could possibly go wrong.


Celebrity endorsement deserves to be used more – so long as the celebs are not allowed to become the story.

Notes

© Andrew Papworth 2012

About the author: Andrew Papworth

Andrew Papworth

After a long career in advertising agencies, Andrew Papworth has been freelancing as an advertising and communications planner for about two decades.

Recent Articles

Secrets of direct mail 4: storytelling, fundraising and the dialogue method

How does Siegfried Vögele’s dialogue method work in terms of storytelling? In the final piece in his series on the great man, fundraiser Chris Keating explores how and even asks why storytelling matters in fundraising.

Read more

The A to Z of writing fundraising appeals: T to Z

Words of wisdom, notions of tone and urgency and the central importance of YOU - all are covered in this last entry in Steve Lynch’s A to Z of writing fundraising appeals.

Read more

The A to Z of writing fundraising appeals: M to S

We bring you part three of copywriter Steve Lynch’s superb A to Z, exploring everything from the value of a good slogan to lessons taken from his mother and George Orwell. Stay tuned for T to Z, coming soon.

Read more

SOFII’s July must-reads

Do you know how to properly thank your donors? Does your copywriting need a boost? Do you want to tap into the potential of gaming? Would you like to read an inspirational and emotional piece of storytelling? All these questions and many, many more are addressed in this month’s collection of SOFII must-reads from Pamela Grow and Craig Linton.

Read more

The A to Z of writing fundraising appeals: G to L

From grammar to the length of fundraising copy via important takes on jargon, headlines and even Rudyard Kipling, Bluefrog’s Steve Lynch continues to take a fun and informative linguistic foray through fundraising essentials.

Read more

Also in Categories