I find myself writing DRTV (direct response TV) scripts for a charity and trying to dodge the weary ‘tried and trusted’ tropes. For we all know how these things are supposed to play out, when we are going to be asked for just £3 a month and to brace ourselves for the money shot of a defenceless large-eyed animal or child.
It is comfortingly familiar to the British public. They don’t like the formula to be messed with. Witness the minor furore in 2013 over the hilarious campaign for the Marmite yeast spread. The TV commercial for this British food institution mocked DRTV conventions and sparked hundreds of complaints to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority. Soon after, Marmite’s parent company Unilever donated £18,000 to the RSPCA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). A small but significant sum compared to the cost of making the advert.
The spoof ad showed a rescue unit’s ‘neglect’ inspectors forcing entry into homes to discover jars of Marmite that had been left in the back of food cupboards. The voiceover, gravely describing these events, was by respected BBC journalist Michael Buerk, whose reporting of the Ethiopian famine in 1984 helped to spark the Band Aid charity. The neglected jars were removed in miniature pet carriers and taken to the Marmite Rehoming Centre. This advert ended with the payoff copy line: Love it. Hate it. Just don’t forget it.
Many viewers were initially taken in, but then felt their finer feelings were being ridiculed when it became clear it was all about a yeast spread and not abused animals.
Meanwhile, a year after everyone else apparently, I have just discovered a fascinating advert for the Pilion Trust, where a brave person walked about the streets of London with a placard saying ‘Fuck the Poor’ and the results secretly filmed. Naturally this was met with outrage. When he swapped over his sandwich board for one that said ‘Help the Poor’, he was roundly ignored by one and all.
The eternal challenge of Charity DRTV is to create enough anxiety to force engagement. The road lies in mixing enough of the ‘Fuck the poor’ element into your ‘Help the poor’ message. Showing how the poor are being fucked, and then offering a route to help. You must watch this if you haven’t seen it.