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November 24, 2011 / Simon Thorne

“One mans death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

Heartbreaking isn’t it? John isn’t the only child affected though; every day 5000 children will die from lack of clean water. That’s 35,000 children a week! Roughly 2 million children a year will die from dirty water and bad sanitation. This number doesn’t include the countless children who will become sick, the affect this will have on the children’s parents. Water is not the only thing that will affect people in the poorest regions of the world. Malaria is also a huge killer. Between 300 and 700 million people will contract malaria in a year, and in the regions where medical care is poor, millions of those will die. Are you uninterested yet? After all, what can you do? Donating a few pounds a month is hardly going to make a difference is it? More interestingly, what were your feelings after the initial video? My bet would be that you were feeling a lot more charitable after the initial advert.

To quote Joseph Stalin “One man’s death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic.” It’s not surprising that you were more moved by the advert rather than my statistics (my ‘statistics’ may not be accurate). This is because it’s a good advert that uses many psychological aspects to make it effective. First of all we have John. This gives us an “identifiable victim”. Small, Lowenstein & Slovic used an appeal for Save The Children to test this theory.Participants were given a few questionnaires to answer and were awarded $5 for their participation. Once the participants had the money they were presented information about hunger problems in Africa and asked if they would like to donate any of their $5 towards the cause. In once condition the participants were given statistical information, much like the introduction to this blog, the other half were given a more personal appeal. In the personal condition they were introduced to a child called Rokia, a 7-year-old girl suffering from starvation. This information was presented with a picture of Rokia.

The results were dramatic. In the personal condition participants on average were willing to donate more than double that of participants in the statistical condition (48% and 23% respectively). So clearly individualizing appeals can bring out the charitable side in all of us. One charity that uses this affect particularly well is Cancer Research UK. Watch the trailer below.

In my opinion, identifiable victim is not the only thing that makes this an effective appeal. Although this is a consistent approach used across most cancer appeals, and to great effect. Each of the people is gives their name creating an identifiable victim therefore we have a greater sense of involvement, hopefully making us more likely to donate to the cause. Another clever approach by this advert is the fast switching between survivors. It helps create a sense of the scale of the problem. In this case, more was definitely more. I believe this is of importance due to the availability & affect heuristics. Which when combined will increase people’s emotional response to the problem (cancer) lending it greater importance to them, but also make the problem easily accessible in people’s minds. Useful as it will make people feel that they are more likely to be affected by cancer and therefore are more likely to contribute.

Back to the original appeal for Water Aid, and why I think it’s a good advert. After giving you the statistical information, you probably felt overwhelmed. As the numbers kept growing, you ability to have any effect on the matter diminished. This is called the Drop-in-the-bucket effect. Halfway through the appeal it starts to focus on ‘you’ the viewer having the choice to help, and by doing so ‘you’ will help solve the problem. It emphasizes ‘your £2 a month’ making it very affective at involving ‘you’ in the solution. The children in the appeal also maintain eye contact with the viewer. Eye contact has been found to induce pro-social behaviour, if charitable giving is a pro-social behaviour this would surely make people more likely to donate.

Rationally speaking we should all be driven by the desire to help the most people possible, therefore charities should aim to emphasize the size of the problems they are working with. As shown above however, this tactic hasn’t proved to be the most effective. We are drawn to the individual approach, and are therefore much more likely to donate. Now if you are feeling at all charitable I would like to use a tactic from the advert, and remind you of John, the poor boy who has to walk miles to fetch water which is so dirty it could kill him.

If you would like to donate to either Water Aid or Cancer Research UK click their names here.



Leave a Comment
  1. psu90b / Dec 1 2011 10:44 pm

    Charity adverts seem to be a topic of debate. I personally find the more shocking adverts to be more effective, which seems to be a problem to the general public. Apparently these shock tactics rack in a lot of complaints, but I struggle to see the problem with them as they are just showing it as it is. There’s no point pussy footing around the matter, people need help and this is what they are going through. If it was all happy and cheery would people be as inclined to help? Despite the huge amount of complaints that come in each year for different charity adverts its seems that its doing the trick. Although some charities lose support because of these hard hitting adverts it seems evident that it gains more support in doing so. It seems an average of around 600 complaints is normal, however the increase in support far out ways this. .
    It does interest me however that Red Nose day is so successful. It’s on every two years and raises massive amounts of money for people in Africa and in the UK. This year alone it managed to raise £102,166,598, that to me is shocking. I didn’t realise it raised so much money. As the show is so long I don’t watch it all but its uses both shocking and happy videos to show the help that is needed and the benefits our money can do. I can’t help myself and have to give a little to the cause as the adverts affect me so much. However I do find that just the general adverts on TV don’t cause me to do anything. Realistically I shouldn’t sign up to charities as there’s no money in my bank, but when I see them I don’t want to as much as I do on red nose day. I think maybe the effect of RND is that there are so many adverts constantly so it hits you harder, but on TV a sad charity advert could be followed by a happy fun advert so the initial sadness you felt is quickly lifted before you get a chance to pick up the phone and donate. So maybe advertisers could do something about this. Make the adverts longer, or show more of them? I also think RND should be on maybe once a year, I think they would do just as well and it’s a fun event to watch on TV.

  2. chinmaytamhaney / Dec 2 2011 12:44 am

    Charity advertisements and ‘nudging’ people to donate money is something very special to me, because my Intervention assignment was related to this.
    Research in the field of anthropomorphism, suggests that people tend to attribute traits and human characteristics to inanimate objects. Advertisements try to make viewers associate the product with positive attributes and traits.
    In a similar way, I think charity advertisements try to trigger an emotional response within the viewer thereby nudging him or her to donate money.
    Based on my research on charity advertisements, there are conflicting views on whether text-based appeals or image-based appeals are better. In an experiment by Perrine and Heather (2000) four different types of appeals were tested; appeals containing,
    (a) Picture – no phrase
    (b) Phrase – no picture,
    (c) Picture – phrase and
    (d) No picture – no phrase.
    It was found that more money was donated when the boxes displayed a picture. However, research by Chang and Lee (2009) suggests that the valence of an image used in charity advertisements will be enhanced when the image is congruent with the framed message used in the advertisement.

    Chang, C.T. and Lee, Y.K. (2009), Framing Charity Advertising: Influences of Message Framing, Image Valence, and Temporal Framing on a Charitable Appeal. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39: 2910–2935 available at

    Perrine, M.R. and Heather, S. (2000) Effects Of Picture And Even-A-Penny-Will-Help Appeals On Anonymous Donations To Charity. Psychological Reports, 86 , pp. 551-559.
    Available at:

  3. chinmaytamhaney / Dec 2 2011 12:45 am

    Please approve the comment I posted above.


    • Simon Thorne / Dec 2 2011 10:32 am

      Done, don’t know why some comments require approving and others don’t :S

  4. jolleys / Dec 2 2011 2:31 pm

    Personally, I think that one of the best ways to raise money for charities is to make a person almost experience what the needy are going through. One of the most effective things I have watched was part of the BBC Red Nose Day campaign, and was called famous, rich and in the slums ( unfortunately, you can’t watch it (legally, ahem) but it really put people’s lives into perspectives – and I broke down watching it. I feel it was particularly effective for myself as at the time we were raising money within the department for Comic Relief – so it made all our efforts seem worth while (check the board out by our lecture theatre).

    However, sometimes I do find the adverts to be almost pushy in their nature. I understand that I am one of the lucky ones in the world, and I do donate to charities of my choice. But that is my point , I donate to these charities as I don’t feel I have to or that I have been pressured into it, it’s just something I want to do.

    • Simon Thorne / Dec 2 2011 5:41 pm

      Do you think RND and Comic relief could be improved? Maybe they could split the funds that we are donating to. The money gets spread around alot anyway, maybe by saying this is for housing, this is for water supply etc and you donate to a specific ’cause’ it could increase how much people would donate. People may think well I want to help education and housing so ill donate to those two, instead of just a flat donation. Maybe it could lead to more donations? Could be interesting to try…

  5. the mADman / Dec 2 2011 4:50 pm

    Hi! Great blog! Wow, those adverts really put things into perspective. Personally, I agree that hearing about an individual “hits” you more than hearing a statistic. Furthermore, I find that statistics overwhelm me and make me feel as though I am completely helpless to the situation. I’m just going to step on my metaphoric soap box before I continue with my comment. It really frustrates me when you watch these “Comic Relief” and “Children in Need” style programmes. This is not because they don’t have an emotional impact on me, but surely if these celebrities who are presenting the show delved into their pockets, then perhaps there might be less children in need. I mean they could at least contribute a good few thousand each! I’m not saying that none of them do but you never seem to hear about a group of celebrities giving a large sum of money to these charities. Right, sorry about that rant! Plus correct me if I’m wrong.

    I think that certain adverts though, as sad as they are to watch, do not have the same impact on me. The cancer adverts always affect me and they make me want to do something to help those people. This is because I associate the advert with the feelings I felt when I lost my grandma through cancer. Therefore it feels as if it is closer to home and it could affect my life again at any point (hopefully not though). Whereas the water advert makes me feel very sad, but because I cannot relate to it or even possibly comprehend how terrible that must be, it does not impact me in the same way that the cancer research advert does. Perhaps if there was a way of me knowing that I was directly helping that person, my desire to donate would be stronger. I really hope that we as a world can improve the standard of living for as many people as possible. The tactics used in these adverts do go a long way to doing this.

  6. Simon Thorne / Dec 2 2011 5:47 pm

    Thank you, I almost felt bad talking about ‘tactics’ when it comes to donating money. But people aren’t as good as we think so maybe a little nudge is what most people need. I think making people ‘see’ there contribution at work is a great idea. Its too easy to sit back and think that somebody else will help (By-stander effect).

    I was reading in Kahneman’s latest book about an experiment where a stooge would pretend to have a heart attack and the amount of people that went to help was minimal. Whats more is that people still like to think others are helping even when theyre not. New participants were shown the original experiment and told that only 20% (or so) of participants went to the stooges aid. Following this they watched a series of interviews with participants and then predicted whether they would have helped or not. Low and behold the new participants who had seen the interviews still thought that those people had helped… We like to think somebody else is dealing stuff even in denial.

    So i guess its ok to use these tactics to get donations. Do you think its ethical?

  7. consumersciencedigest / Dec 16 2011 1:32 am

    I think the reason why charity ads are not as effective as they should be is because of the same depressing tone a lot of them have. No one wants to think of starving children in third world countries on a Sunday afternoon. It makes them feel guilty. Some charity based adverts that I have seen recently change the tone a bit to a more happy one at the end. For example this pampers commercial:

    I like how the sad tone grabs your attention and then the mood is uplifting as a result from buying pampers.

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