Bhopal Med­ical Appeal: press advertisements

Exhibited by
Indra Sinha
May 22, 2014
Medium of Communication
Press Advertising.
Target Audience
Awareness, individuals, regular gift, single gift.
Type of Charity
Public/society benefit.
Country of Origin
India and UK.
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

Though not a fundraiser by profession, copywriter and author Indra Sinha has created some of the most effective and moving advertising campaigns of all time, not just because he’s a great writer but also because he cares passionately about the cause and he’s not afraid to let that passion show. THIS EXHIBIT CONTAINS SOME OF THE FINEST AND MOST EFFECTIVE PRESS ADVERTISEMENTS OF ALL TIME. Please scroll down to see all of them.

Also, when you have read these ads check out here to see one British charity’s response to the Bhopal tragedy, prepared in the hours following the disaster to raise funds for emergency supplies.

Summary / objectives

These eight advertisements are the latest examples of a campaign created to raise money to found and run a free clinic in Bhopal, India, for victims of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster. Today, over 25 years after the gas leak, more than 100,000 people are still chronically ill in the city, while tens of thousands more are drinking water poisoned by chemicals leaking from the abandoned factory. Opened in 1996, the clinic has so far provided free medical care to around 30,000 people. Combining the best of modern medicine with traditional Indian herbal treatments and yoga, it has pioneered new drug free treatments for asthma, diabetes and menstrual problems. In 2002 the clinic won the Margaret Mead award, given to small groups who make a big difference in the world. The advertisements are crucial to the success of the clinic, which depends directly on funds raised off-the-page and on income from newsletters to donors recruited by the advertisements.


The Bhopal Medical Appeal is not just about ‘us’ asking ‘you’ to help ‘them’. To us, fundraising is about all of us together, working to oppose injustice, save lives and ease suffering. These advertisements carry the authentic voice of the Bhopal survivors, allowing us to share directly the indomitable spirit with which they have turned their suffering into struggle, charity and art. We don’t just ask, we also give something back. The Bhopal survivors are among the poorest people in the world, but they return to the rest of us a priceless gift – the knowledge, painfully gained in the living laboratories of their bodies, of how to treat industrially-caused diseases.

That night…

December 3rd, 1984. Shortly after midnight, 27 tonnes of a gas 500 times more deadly than cyanide leaked from Union Carbide’s factory in Bhopal, India. There was no warning, none of the plant's safety systems were working. In the city people were sleeping. They woke in darkness to the sound of screaming, with gas already in their eyes, noses and mouths. They began retching and coughing up froth streaked with blood. Whole neighbourhoods fled in panic, some were trampled, others convulsed and fell dead. People lost control of their bowels and bladders as they ran. Within hours thousands of dead bodies lay in the streets.

More than 25 years later, upwards of 100,000 people are still seriously ill. The drinking water of a further 20,000 has been poisoned by chemicals leaking from the abandoned plant. Ignoring ‘polluter pays’ laws, Union Carbide and its owner Dow Chemical have refused to pay for a clean-up.

Special characteristics

Whole page advertisements using long copy, very detailed editorial style ads focusing on the dramatic, devastating effects of the disaster and its aftermath on the lives of real people.

Influence / impact

These ads were based on the style Indra Sinha had used very successfully some years earlier for Amnesty International UK branch.


All media responses are carefully monitored and ROIs calculated.


Roughly £16K per round of advertising in The Guardian, The Times and The Independent with each ad running once in each publication.


ROI varied between 1.5:1 and 4:1 (average response has produced 150-400 per cent of media and production costs).


In breaking most of the established rules of direct response fundraising, these ads also break most records for response. Listen now to Indra Sinha, creator and writer of all of the Bhopal advertisements, as he explains why this great campaign succeeded and still continues to raise funds cost-effectively for the people of Bhopal.

Other relevant information

The Bhopal Medical Appeal began in Britain as a joint effort of ordinary individuals working with the Bhopal survivors to bring free medical relief to the victims of the gas and water disasters. It now has supporters across the world. At the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal all consultations, treatments, therapies and medicines are completely free. The Appeal has given medical care to around 30,000 people. The Bhopal Medical Appeal is affiliated to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, which seeks to obtain legal redress for the continuing suffering of the survivors. The creator of this campaign has also written for the ICJB. See He is also a novelist whose latest novel, ‘Animal’s People’, set in a fictional Indian city that had suffered a Bhopal-like disaster, was short-listed for the 2007 Booker Prize.

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This ad ran in April 2012 in both the Guardian and Daily Telegraph and achieved a hundred per cent return from both papers. It tells how Dow Chemicals were spying on BMA.
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This latest ad appeared in the UK’s Daily Telegraph and Guardian on Saturday, 8 December 2012 and brought a 230 per cent return from the Guardian and 66 per cent from the Telegraph. Nowadays this is a pretty remarkable result from an off-the-page advertisement, particularly if you remember that the campaign started way back in 1994.
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The ad above appeared in the spring of 2012 and is one a series of advertisements that tell the authentic story of the people of Bhopal and how they have suffered since the fateful night in 1984 when their local Union Carbide factory exploded, sending a cocktail of poisonous gases into the air they breathed.
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This ad appeared in the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph in May 2013. Within two days of publication it had paid for itself in both newspaper.
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'Thousands died in the most hideous ways. As the sun rose on streets full of corpses, Raghu found himself in a stony graveyard where a man was burying his young daughter. The father had covered the tiny body but then, unable to bear parting from her, brushed the earth away for one last look.' This image has become the symbol of a crime that, more than 25 years later, still inflicts unimaginable suffering and still goes unpunished. The Bhopal Medical Appeal campaigns to change this, through its fundraising.