There are moments in life when you experience a profound culture clash. I can still remember the one that told me working in the charity sector was going to be ‘different’.
It was my first week at a sector-specific agency, and I was getting acquainted with a client’s existing work – a well-known animal welfare charity. Someone showed me their upgrade mailing and I was stunned into silence.
I reached under the desk to find my portfolio, opened it, and pulled out an upgrade mailing I’d worked on a couple of years previously for an international development charity. It was exactly the same. Not similar. The same. Where I’d written ‘children’, the animal charity had substituted ‘animals’. Apart from that, the copy was word-for-word the same. The format was the same. The design was the same (just swapping the colours, logo and imagery).
I’d just come from a world where this kind of thing would have caused a major scandal. In mainstream creative agencies, originality is prized above all else. Not only would you never copy anyone else’s idea, you’d reject work you’d arrived at that was similar to someone else’s. Any agency or individual seen as a plagiarist would do serious and lasting damage to their reputation.
The question is, should charities behave the same way? Well, as the example above shows, clearly they don’t.
And perhaps with good reason.
Direct marketing science says, to achieve the best results, duplicate something that’s worked previously. Would donors rather the charity spent its hard-earned funds on coming up with new ideas, or on marketing that raises the most money for the least expenditure?
Freud says dreams are underlying content sparked into life by topical events – and the topical event in this case is the YMCA room sponsorship press ad that is a very close homage to Centrepoint’s (many of which have been produced by this agency, including this very successful and award-winning example).
Fair enough? Good practise in action? I’d like to know your thoughts.
Before you comment, however , it’s worth considering the irony that Centrepoint and the YMCA both have ‘room sponsorship’ schemes, and that YMCA claim theirs was first. What price originality?