5 Controversial Charity Campaigns

Charities often try to make an impact to get their message across, but can sometimes go too far. We’ve found 5 controversial charity campaigns which sparked concern not just for the issues raised, but for the way they were presented.

CONTENT WARNING – some of these adverts contain graphic and disturbing images.

Pancreatic Cancer Action – “I Wish I Had Breast Cancer”

5 Controversial Charity Campaigns - Pancreatic Cancer Action

UK charity Pancreatic Cancer Action ran this multiformat campaign in 2014, attracting over 100 complaints and accusations of poor taste in comparing one type of cancer to another. Chief Executive of the PCA, Ali Stunt, defended the campaign by Team Darwin in a lengthy article in The Guardian, citing the effectiveness of the shock factor: “With a limited budget, it was vital that the advert would stand out and provoke thought and initiate discussion among members of the public, the media and influencers.”

Despite the controversy, this campaign did succeed in raising awareness and driving traffic towards the PCA website and advice service.

Royal British Legion – “Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert 2014”

Xmas adverts are a huge event in the marketing world, and a trend has recently emerged for the campaigns to be affiliated with charities. Supermarket Sainsbury’s paired with The Royal British Legion for a controversial TV ad campaign in 2014 which attracted criticism and hundreds of complaints for being distasteful and using imagery of war for commercial gain.

Crimestoppers – “Break Your Silence”5 Controversial Charity Campaigns - Crimestoppers

Posted in Warwickshire, Rugby, this gruesome advert by independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers was displayed on phone boxes and in train stations briefly before garnering two complaints and being deemed inappropriate for outdoor display by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Explaining their decision, the ASA said: “We considered that some individuals, particularly children, who would not necessarily understand the rationale behind the image, might find the bloody image upsetting because of its graphic nature. While we acknowledged the positive intention behind the campaign and understood that the image had been used to emphasise the serious implications of violent crime, we considered that the image was not directly relevant to crime or the overriding message of the campaign.”

Crimestoppers apologised for the graphic image and any distress that it may have caused.

Feed a Child

South African charity Feed a Child launched this video which sparked complaints of racism with its depiction of a wealthy white woman feeding a black child like a dog. The controversial charity advert’s message of “the average domestic dog eats better than millions of children” was lost amid the outrage, and the video was quickly withdrawn by the charity.

Barnardo’s – “Vicious Cycle”

The message “For thousands of children in the UK the story will keep repeating itself, until someone stops it” was delivered with a stark brutality by this advert by children’s charity Barnardo’s. Depicting a teenage girl in distress and being slapped, over 800 complaints were made to the ASA, but they were rejected on the grounds that the advert “justified the use of such strong imagery,” as “the scene involving the violence, although shocking to watch, showed the violence as unacceptable behaviour and did not encourage or condone it.”

Oliver Connor

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