Imperial War Museum: Indra Sinha’s Eric Heaton ad, from 1985

Exhibited by
Carolina Herrera
Added
September 23, 2014
Medium of Communication
Press advertising
Target Audience
Individuals
Type of Charity
Museum
Country of Origin
UK
Date of first appearance
1985

SOFII’s view

This story, told in a fundraising advertisement in 1985, describes the fate of one front line soldier on the first day of the battle of the Somme, a single, terrible day in which more than 57,000 men were killed on the British side alone, the first and worst day of five long months of carnage. When the smoke finally cleared more than 200,000 French and 500,000 German casualties could be added to the British total dead of more than 420,000, in this, the so-called ‘war to end wars’. While we don’t have any direct response data, its writer recalls that it generated good results and a happy client. Though in style, content and call to action it departs markedly from current conventional wisdom, this advertisement might well be worth studying, for thos who believe in the power of emotional storytelling.

SOFII is fully committed to showcasing fine writing for fundraising and to celebrating the writer’s art. Where better to start than with this important advertisement, part of the prolific output of one of the greatest living fundraising writers, Indra Sinha. See below for links to Indra’s other ads on SOFII.

Creator / originator

Indra Sinha

Summary / objectives

To raise money, so that the Museum might improve its facilities and display more similar stories.

Background

At the time the Imperial War Museum was in urgent need of help. Its building leaked, plumbing, wiring, heating and drains all needed replacing. The glass roofs of their main galleries were in urgent need of repair.

Facilities for visitors, particularly for the disabled, were poor. Put simply the Museum was too small to displays its collections properly. So they embarked on a redevelopment programme and set about raising the money to pay for it.

Somewhere in this picture, 2nd Lt Eric Heaton lies dying.

The writer Indra Sinha takes up the story and explains his thinking when crafting this unusual, dramatic, very moving appeal.

‘Sometimes, even when there are no direct pictures for a story, it’s possible to turn this into a strength. ‘There are no pictures’ is itself a telling fact. I used absence of photographic evidence, with strong results, in the ad opposite for the Imperial War Museum – a fundraising ad, and a very successful one. ‘

‘Imagine stumbling over a ploughed field in a thunderstorm, the incessant roar of the guns and flashes as the shells exploded. Multiply all this and you have some idea of the Hell into which we were heading.’

One of Eric Heaton’s comrades, who survived.

‘I was asked to work on this advertisement by Don Arlett, then creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, a lovely man. But his strategy didn’t appeal - it was all about not pushing away these old memories out of sight - my point was they were already out of sight, in cardboard boxes with the odd button off a uniform and some really heartbreaking letters to and from home. The picture of Heaton and the letters and telegram announcing he was missing believed killed were in the cardboard shoebox, but the idea for the ad did not occur until I was researching the picture archives and found an old blurry photograph of the 16th Middlesex retreating from Hawthorn Ridge. The time marked on the photo was 7.45 am, which would have been roughly when Eric Heaton was hit. Holding the picture, an actual print, looking at it, I thought with a real shock, ‘God, somewhere in all this is Eric Heaton dying in the grass, and we can’t even see him.’ So that gave me the headline. The story flowed from there.’

The text tells of one Brigadier General who assured his troops they would not need guns, they could go over the top with walking sticks. A simple, foolish phrase issued in innocence perhaps, but for all of us it conjures up the commonly held view of the British Army at that time – lions, led by donkeys.

Results

Cost per reply information is lost in the mists of time but according to Indra Sinha the ad did well despite the absence of a coupon. He can’t remember how much it raised, but recalls that IWM were very pleased at the time.

Other relevant information

Read the full fundraising advertisement in PDF here.