Charities could face a new clampdown on hard-hitting marketing after a study by the ad watchdog revealed many people – including young children – find their ads distressing, and make them feel guilty for not donating.
The findings are revealed in the Advertising Standards Authority’s harm and offence report which gauges public opinion, and which the regulator uses as a guide for its decision-making.
The report read: “Many participants felt that some charity adverts contained offensive content that went too far in seeking to make people feel uncomfortable or guilty, or used imagery that was considered too distressing despite being for a worthwhile cause.”
Some adults believed that charity advertising had purposefully targeted children in order to harness their ‘pester power’ to get parents to donate. Children themselves reported feeling distressed by charity advertising, but also upset due to their inability to help.
However, the issue did polarise public opinion with some people viewing gritty charity advertising as a “necessary evil”.
“In this case participants could at least understand why charities benefit from seeking to encourage an emotional response through their adverts. Indeed, a significant minority supported charities using strong imagery to highlight they cause more effectively,” the report concluded.
Television, online and outdoor ads were perceived to be the biggest culprits of harmful or offensive content, according to the study.
Colin Lloyd, chair of the FRSB, welcomed the report’s findings that many people supported charities’ need to get across the seriousness of their cause.
He said: “It is clear there is a balance to be struck between charities’ needs to build causal awareness and public support with risk to their reputations from the negative impact of advertising that is felt to be distressing.”
Earlier this month, a Charity Commission report revealed that more than two-thirds (67%) of the public are concerned about the methods used by charities to fundraise.
Charity shock tactics put donors off