Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A charity ad that worked

Earlier this week, I made a donation to charity - my first, apart from the odd handful of change tossed into a collecting tin, for some time, I'm ashamed to say. The piece of persuasive writing responsible was one of those annoying loose inserts that fall out of newspapers when you pick them up. On the cover, it showed two small children huddled together, with the line:

"We're sleeping in your newspaper because we're cold."

What was it about this that prompted me to pick up the phone when so many other charitable appeals had left me unmoved? Firstly, I was feeling guilty; conscious that, over the previous few months, I'd given virtually nothing to charity. Secondly, the insert spoke to the parent in me. The idea of children suffering distresses me a thousand times more than the thought of cruelty to animals - or even, I have to admit, old people living in poverty. Thirdly, it arrived in my newspaper on the day after I'd returned from Glastonbury, which made it easy for me to imagine the reality of trying to sleep somewhere cold and miserable.

So far, then, so fortuitous. None of these three factors involved any skill on the part of the writer. But the fourth, and most important, certainly did. That introductory line I quoted above reached out and grabbed me by the lapels. By the apparently contrived device of making the children talk to me directly from inside my newspaper, the writer left me nowhere to hide. The distance between their cold hillside in Afghanistan and my warm kitchen in the south west of England was, momentarily, obliterated.

Of course, on another day, I might well have ignored the same appeal. If I'd been in a bigger hurry, or had just received an enormous gas bill, it's perfectly possible that I would have chucked it straight in the recycling bin, with barely a second thought.

But, on this particular day, a very good piece of persuasive writing demonstrated how the right words can turn response (compassion) into result (cash).