Why the Ad Council’s Generous Nation Campaign Doesn’t Inspire Generosity

My high school English teacher, Mrs. Hunter, despised double negatives. She insisted that anything nearing a double negative failed to communicate a writer’s meaning, and annoyed the heck out of the reader by requiring her to struggle to find that meaning. And when Mrs. Hunter despised something — in her most vocal, dramatic way — you remembered it forever.

Nothing proves her right more than the Ad Council‘s new Generous Nation campaign, heralded by the "Don’t almost give" tagline. Here’s why:

  • The campaign construct
    • Almost giving happens when good thought and intentions don’t turn into actions.
    • Don’t almost give. Give.
  • The problem
    • Huh?
    • Almost, in my book, nears "not" — and so the double negative classification. What are they talking about?

However you classify it, I think this is just a weak campaign. The Ad Council is striving to engage donors and volunteers despite the lack of a current crisis. They are right on target on acknowledging the difficulty of keeping folks active during this down time in an unbelievably crisis-packed few years, and in wanting to engage novice donors and volunteers who were stirred by recent crises to pitch in. But there’s got to be a more powerful way to do so.

When I see that message, "don’t almost give" — I don’t even get it. It takes me several minutes, plus a review of the campaign website to place the phrase in a meaningful context. It’s only when I spend several minutes to review a few of the campaign TV ads that I get it. And that’s much far too much time and effort to expect from target audiences.

Frankly, I’m surprised. The Ad Council has a tremendous record of success in the impact it generates via its public-service oriented ad campaigns. And why not, since the folks who donate their creative skills to campaign development are the best and the brightest in the ad industry.

But they’ve missed the mark with this latest campaign. Television, print, radio and Internet ads launched this week. I’ll be interested in seeing  what results.

But the Ad Council does triumph with some of the engaging features incorporated into the campaign website, including the voiceover that runs during a very effective black-and-white slideshow of opportunities to help. I’m moved by these photos, and the simple verbs than are projected on these images — feed, prevent, help, support…  Maybe sometimes less is more?

Another effective component is that audiences can easily take action immediately, through the site, to:

  • Get involved with charities that align with their interests
  • Find local volunteering opportunities via zip code search
  • Donate to more than one million charities.

Almost there, but not quite, Ad Council. Remember that your campaigns will have the greatest impact if they are concrete, clear and generate an immediate emotional reaction. Don’t almost make it easy for your audiences. Make it easy.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this campaign. Just make a comment below.

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Nancy Schwartz on September 29, 2006 in Advertising, Case Studies, Don'ts, Fundraising: Innovations & Research, Nonprofit Communications, Taglines | 6 comments

  • kris olsen

    Nancy – Ordinarily, I would agree with your disdain for poor grammar. On the other hand, the advertiser may have had a specific objective.
    I don’t think it was inadvertant – it was purposeful. You lingered over the phrase as do most who will read it because it has a uncomfortable feel to it. That is gold to a marketer – the campaign left a memorable impression.

  • Nancy E. Schwartz

    Thanks for your very thoughtful comments. I appreciate your perspective.
    But can’t the Ad Council find a way to engage audiences — in just the time-halting way you describe — without confusing them?

  • christine

    Nancy– I just came upon your blog. You have some interesting posts. Thank you.
    I would have to agree with Kris on this. I often find advertising flooded with tooo straightforward messaging. After a while, they all sound the same. When something stands out and makes you think for a second, the phrase is bound to linger just long enough to make you remember it. I know I “almost give” and participate in a lot of things, and this tagline really hits home with me. I get it right away.
    I think my biggest complaint about PSAs in general is that they need to spend their money in new and emerging channels. It is hard to engage people these day, especially young people. For example, on the “almost give” site, wouldn’t it have been nice to allow people to post video messages?
    Taglines and messages are only the tip of the iceberg…how to engage your audience is the question that need to be asked.

  • Jeff Brooks

    Here’s another problem with the campaign’s tagline: it’s about as rhythmically awkward as you could contrive it to be. I mean, look at it:
    / / _ _. /.
    Considering all the metrical beauty you can pull forth in English, this just hurts the ear.

  • David

    I Agree. The slogan makes perfect sense to me. I think that picking at it for no reason is pointless. I also think that anyone who says they had to search through the site to figure out what it was saying is greatly exaggerating what really happened.

  • SM

    Actually the very first time I saw the “Don’t almost give” psa on television I immediately got it. It made me think about the fact that so many people almost do but fall short of actually doing in real life. It also madE me sad, so I think that the ad was rather clear and effective. Of course action is the goal here but as far as inspiring the feelings neccessary for action, it works.
    I do agree with Jeff’s observation about the rhythmn though, it really sounds poor. And honeslty when I saw the tagline onscreen it was awkward to look at and kind of awkward to say. But I guess that’s beside the point?

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