‘Oh bloody hell! Not another one…’ or ‘ what do they want now?’ are some of the typical responses when we are bombarded by the ever-increasing number of charity adverts around us. The general purpose of many charity advertisements, although for a good cause, is to appeal for more money. However, as the needs of many charities are becoming increasingly desperate, so are the means of getting these donations. That, in turn, necessitates that we – as a nation, are to receive increased images of emaciated children, neglected animals and malnourished communities; the question is ‘Have we become so de-sensitised by the mass media, shocking us is the only way to get through?’
Since the first charity organisations were set up, people have been asked to part with their money. For many people today, as it has always been, money is not an exhaustible commodity and individuals are not likely to donate it unless they feel it is for a ‘noble and worthy’ cause. This means that charities are sometimes in competition with one and another for the publics’ money. I have deconstructed a shocking and non-shocking advert by reference to structure, layout, language and graphics, in order to analyse how the advertisements manipulate or persuade the reader to sympathise with the particular issue or cause.
Trachoma is a disease, which affects the eyes and causes immense pain to the victim. Sight Savers, among other charities, has been set up to help sufferers of this disease and others in third world countries. One of the adverts produced by Sight Savers provokes a powerful and emotional response.
The amount of text used in the advert is quite substantial, as it offers a vast amount of information for the reader, but to attract and capture the person’s attention, there needs to be an emotive or interesting picture used. Here, the picture used, is of a child whose eyelashes have been replaced with barbed wire. At first glance, it seems quite unusual and strange, however because of this intrigue it has already managed to captivate the reader’s attention. The close juxtaposing of the main heading also adds to this sense of interest, as it reads ‘Blinking Hell’, which is a common colloquial speech used to express shock or surprise at something, however in this context the meaning of the phrase is taken literally because of the adjoining picture: every time you blink with the barbed wire eyelashes it is intense pain; ‘Blinking Hell’. This heading would help to draw your attention to the graphic as it makes the reader ask the question ‘Why are the eyelashes replaced with barbed wire?’
Having seen both the picture and heading, the reader would then probably skim read the text and then the most obvious things, which are emphasised, are the logo, coupon and the text boxes with the highlighted line. The first word used in the text box, is ‘you’, a personal pronoun that is used to address the reader directly and is an effective technique that brings the plight of the victim closer to the reader. The coupon is also near the bottom of the page and by making that clearly stand out, they make harder for the reader to refuse to give a donation as they have made it so easy; simply sign your name and send it off.
The advert also uses the example of a child, which makes the reader more sympathetic than if it were an adult, as children are seen as innocent and vulnerable. For this reason, when we are told of them ‘poking around’ and poking their eyes with ‘grubby fingers’, they are seen as blameless because this is what we usually expect a child to do. The use of the word ‘it’ used at first to describe the disease also helps to intrigue the reader as they want to find what ‘it’ is exactly; making them read on.
From this very euphemistic language, the phraseology immediately switches to a much more graphic and explicit tone. The use of the verb ‘strike’ to illustrate the recurrence of the disease also conjures up very violent imagery; when a snake ‘strikes’. The antithesis of ideas about the disease; from being ‘bearable’ to ‘intense pain’, has more impact on the reader because of the sudden change of language makes it seem as though the disease has struck. The use of these very emotive words, ‘intense pain’ or ‘agonisingly slowly’, also helps very much in invoking sympathy from the reader and thereby making them want to help.
The language then changes from this very graphic imagery to a much more informative and medical tone. Once the reader has sympathised, the advert then goes on to talk about how you can help. When describing the cost of the treatment, they use words such as ‘just’ and ‘only’ which make the amount of money seem even more trivial and minor to us, an affluent western society, but to them the amount of money could be the difference between able to see or going blind. By the time the reader has finally reached the end of the text, from feeling shock, horror and sympathy they have now been fully ‘conditioned’ to become willing enough to give the money to the charity.
The usual difference between a shocking and non-shocking advert is usually the way in which they portray the subject.
The non-shocking advert I have chosen is from the Macmillan cancer relief charity. In this advert the largest and most obvious part, is the picture. The picture is of a smiling young woman, looking eminently delighted – dancing freely on a beach. The actual picture in itself is not extremely interesting, however the actual size is what makes it more eye-catching; from the already large A3 size of paper, the photograph takes up more than 70% of the space. The actual picture is of a smiling and happy young woman. Again, in itself, the picture would not provoke a particularly emotional response and as is the case with many of the non-shocking adverts, because the picture is not extra-ordinary or unusual in any way, the reader might just ignore it.
In spite of this, to help capture the reader’s attention they have inserted a small text-box. The text box is only 0.5cm wide and the length of a sentence, but as it is put on a stark white background, it sticks out and becomes clearer. The sentence reads – “Today she doesn’t have cancer”. A first impression could be either, she does not have cancer today, but she will or the person does have it but she is so happy she has forgotten about it. However, the use of the word ‘cancer’ would provoke a response because it is a particularly emotive word that has a lot of different responses and feelings attached to it: many of the general public are aware of the disease and know that it is at present incurable and know of the effects it can have on people – not only physically, but also emotionally.
There are three paragraphs underneath the picture along with the logo. A sentence reads
‘Annie, with the help of her nurse is now moving on with her life’,
the use of the name for the woman in the picture is also an effective device as by giving her a name, they have ‘humanised’ or made her seem more real. This would also help the reader feel more sympathetic towards her as she is seen as ‘real’ woman.
As a caption and a simple picture, the cancer advert is effective, although I do not think that it is as successful as the Trachoma advert, again for the simple reason that it is not eye-catching enough to capture the attention and provoke a response from the reader – a money donation. I believe that, for an advert to be successful and provoke interest it needs to be out of the ordinary for the simple reason that we bombarded continually by so many different charities for money, if we were to have an emotional response or to be affected by each of the plights of the various problems we would become near enough depressed and would be feeling continuously guilty. This means that as with the mass media in general, we have to become ‘de-sensitised’ to a certain degree. However, I do not believe that we as a nation are ‘cold’ or ‘inhumane’ towards the plight of others; we are not de-sensitised to the actual issues or problems, but to the advertisements themselves.
In the 16-17th century, the plague was wiping out millions across Europe and poverty engulfed more than 70% of the British population. This carried on until the Victorian times until the first societies began to accept these problems and tried to combat them. The charities were set up by different people to address particular issues at that time i.e. Marie Stopes set up an organisation to help promote birth control and sexual health among couples, nevertheless none of this work was funded by either the government or the general public and was just certain individuals that were funded from trusts or donations from the aristocrats and wealthy people.
Today, the government has donated millions of pounds in aid to the third world countries. Tax-relief is now being given to the vast amount of charities being set-up and on the donations from the general public; the figures for the total amount of money given to people on the streets is estimated at least 70,000,000.