#CompellingCopy: Copywriting with a conscience

27 Jan 2021 |

#CompellingCopy: Copywriting with a conscience

By Dominic Oliver

The monthly series in which we take a close look at compelling copy and the secrets to sounding fresh.

At Perq Studio we’re passionate about shaping the world for good. We firmly believe in the power of creative work to grab people’s attention, change mindsets and shape a better future. That’s why we’re so proud of the campaigns we’ve delivered for charities and non-profits such as Shelter, Mike’s Table and Reach.

There are many charities out there with large fundraising budgets. But you can’t buy people’s attention. That’s why this month I’m looking at copy with a conscience: charity copywriting that works in tandem with design to deliver a message so powerful it stops its reader dead in their tracks.

Charity ads can often use shock tactics to get a message across, but I’ve always found smart copy to be more effective than grotesque images. Unlike other forms of copywriting, charity copy is designed to make the audience feel uneasy: to make them change their viewpoints, question their beliefs and feel the weight of those words for the rest of the day.

Here are some charity campaigns that had that indelible effect on me, and a few thoughts on why they work so well. (I’ve also included one that painfully misses the mark, for good measure).

Confront your audience

The killing of George Lloyd by police officers in the US last year was the spark that ignited the world. The most troubling part of the story was how it seemed all too familiar, an anguished echo of racial injustice that’s reverberated through generations.

Across the world, we started to have important conversations about racial inequality, and brands were eager to get in on them. But so much of it seemed disingenuous. Did putting a black square on Instagram for a day really instigate change?

That’s why this campaign from the charity Black Board – which aims to ‘democratise creativity’ in South Africa – is so powerful. ‘Black Lives Don’t Matter’ reads the headline, instantly sparking your sense of outrage. But then the body copy follows on: ‘if they did, our ad industry would be diverse.’

This other ad in their campaign is equally confrontational, aimed at the ‘jury’, i.e. the overwhelmingly white ad industry. The headline is brilliantly evocative: ‘This ad ran once, just so we can enter it for awards.’ In one fell swoop it delivers the campaign message while throwing shade at the bandwagon brands who saw BLM as the trend of the month, rather than an ongoing struggle.

Contrast light and dark

This campaign from Sue Ryder Care – who provide palliative and neurological support – is a beautiful example of copy and design working harmoniously to deliver a powerful message.

The bright, playful graphic of the ice cream is juxtaposed with large text like ‘Dying’ and ‘Being miserable’ ensuring you can’t help but read every single word of the long copy shaping it.

The campaign does some equally powerful work with the graphic of a teacup. If you don’t fancy reading the entire script, the bolded words are powerful enough: ‘It’s funny, I can’t walk, I can’t talk, but I can fly.’

Put your name on the map

Haven’t heard of Ataxia? I hadn’t either, until I saw these poignant ads. As it’s a lesser-known neurological condition, the charity knew it had to deliver some drastic creative to increase its reach.

The design of blurred, distorted faces is powerful enough. But coupled with headlines such as “We wouldn’t wish Ataxia on anyone. Except a famous person perhaps,” and “We’re not one of the big names in diseases. But trust us, we can ruin lives with the best of them,” results in some of the most powerful charity creative I’ve seen (except our own, of course).

Like much charity copywriting, once the surprising headline seizes your attention, you need to dive into the body copy to truly understand where they’re coming from.

One more thing…watch your tone

This campaign from myGP had its heart in the right place. It intended to urge women to attend cervical smear tests by using a bouncy, conversational tone to take the ‘embarrassment’ out of the process.

But as the linked tweet points out, the campaign comes across as ‘infantilising’ rather than warm. Women don’t need to refer to their vulvas as ‘cats’, and as one commenter noted, low attendance to smear tests is more to do with fear, pain and trauma than it is embarrassment.

Ever since brands like innocent smoothies kickstarted the ‘conversational copy’ craze, it seemed every writer in the world wanted to jump on board. But this misfiring campaign is a reminder that, when you’re trying to write copy with a conscience, you need to choose your words – and your tone – carefully.

Need some creative with a conscience? We’ve got vast experience in developing and launching powerful charity campaigns, so if you’re looking to grab your audiences’ attention, get in touch.