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The Ad Made Me Do It


I’m a sucker for good print advertising. The kind that makes you stop and take a closer look before turning the page.  Even ones so good you can’t wait to show someone.  Of course, the really best ones are those that get you to do more than look and sing their praises. Really good and compelling advertising makes you take action.

That’s why thumbing through the recent issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly, I found myself looking at some powerful print ads that were designed to make you sit up, take notice and then act. Maybe get involved. Make a donation.  Or get a prostate exam!

The ads appeared in an article titled, “Visual Rhetoric: The Powerful Design of Nonprofit Campaigns,” which featured a Q/A interview with Jonathan Cleveland and Peleg Top, authors of Designing for the Greater Good.

Reading the interview, conducted by editor Ruth McCambridge and webmaster James Morgan, I was reminded of a book many of us are familiar with, written some years ago by Andy Goodman, Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes.

While Goodman’s book cataloged all the things that make nonprofit ads ineffective, Cleveland and Top’s book is about what can go right when smart, creative people take the time to learn the organization, its cause, the people they’re trying to reach, and think carefully about what will move them to action, and then turn that knowledge into powerful advertising.

According to Top, a successful ad happens when there’s “an emotional connection that almost puts the audience in the place of the people that they’re trying to help. That creates a very powerful emotional connection to a cause.”

Or as his co-author, Cleveland, adds, effective advertising “is firsthand and makes it real to you…as opposed to simply providing an observation or watching experience.”

Not surprisingly, Top and Peng, when they work on a nonprofit campaign start at the end, not the beginning. In other words, says Top, when they meet to discuss a campaign with a nonprofit, the question they ask is: “What are your goals here?”

Those of us used to storytelling in traditional narrative form, whether in print or video, also might appreciate knowing that that stories can also be told effectively in advertising

According to Top, “a lot of marketing and design is a form of storytelling, and what we do as creative experts and designers is help take that big story and everything that it represents from the organization to the cause and distill it down to a message that can connect with people. That’s when it’s effective. That’s when it’s powerful: when somebody who has never heard of this cause sees their ad and gets what they are all about. They see a logo and they get it. There’s an emotional, visceral connection to that cause and that organization that created it. It’s beautiful. It’s magic when it happens. That’s what every organization wants.”

I could go on and say a lot more. But by taking a look at the sample portfolio NPQ has assembled and reading the stories behind them, you’ll see the bigger picture.

–Bruce Trachtenberg

Photo Credit: Utah Cancer Action Network. Love Communications, Salt Lake City, Utah

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