Asking the biggest questions of all

Written by
Andrew Papworth
May 14, 2013

The ad shown below from the British Humanist Association has its heart – if not its soul – in the right place in asking if it’s possible to lead a good and moral life without believing in God. But, unfortunately to those sympathetic to its aims, the execution has been very muddled and poor.

It has an interesting central idea – to combine a questionnaire about readers’ beliefs and attitudes to religion with fundraising. As the body copy says, ‘You can help doing two very simple but extremely important things today.’ The two things are to answer nine questions about belief in God and views about religion, and to give £25 to help BHA’s work.

The troubles with this ad are manifold: first that they appear not to be interested in readers’ views unless they donate. Second that £25 is quite a big ask in the current economic climate and is likely to deter many potential supporters from replying. Third that they ask for £25, £50, or £100 – which adds insult to injury – plus a space for ‘my choice of amount’. But the whole wording of the copy implies that they are not interested in less than £25. (Some wise charities add the words ‘or whatever you can afford’ or some such and express gratitude however small the donation.)

The interesting central idea is lost by the many things not quite right about this ad.
The ancient of days by William Blake.

All this matters because it would have been useful to the BHA to have maximised responses to their questionnaire – even from those not donating or those donating considerably less than £25 – because it would have provided them with a database of sympathisers for future fundraising and campaigning use.

Further weaknesses were the headline – in yellow reversed out of green – which was rather recessive as the eye tended to be drawn first to the slightly larger, rather clearer sub-heading; and the somewhat throwaway use of a quotation of support from Stephen Fry. Perhaps they thought he was too ‘Marmite’ a figure to feature prominently – a national treasure to some but too up-himself for others – in which case why use him at all?

Finally, the ad was all a bit wordy and worthy. Much of the body copy was making points repeated or implied in the questionnaire and could easily have been handled by punchy bullet points. It might also have benefited from a touch of wit or humour. Does lack of belief have to make you po-faced?

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.

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