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Legacies and laughter

Everyone loves to laugh. But can you really use humour when asking the public to consider leaving a gift to charity in their Will?

Some charities have made a great success of developing humorous campaigns that really capture people’s attention, but the challenge is of course that humour is not always predictable. It’s subjective. The things that make us laugh differ widely from person to person, day to day and during different phases of life.

Add to that the potentially taboo topics of death and money, and it can seem to be a risky strategy to incorporate humour in legacy campaigns. Without a doubt, nobody wants to upset or offend potential legators or other valued supporters, and that may explain why there are relatively few examples. And yet, when it’s done well, it can be a great way to engage the public.

Laughter draws people in. It helps people feel connected to the cause, it engenders warmth and positivity, opens up conversation; all key factors in a successful legacy marketing programme.

So, which charities have successfully combined humour with a legacy ask and what can we learn from them?

Give a dog a smile

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The campaign may be one from the archives, back when Dogs Trust was the National Canine Defence League or NCDL, but it’s a great example of how imagery alone can make you smile. Blending a dog and owner’s face builds on the age-old adage that a dog resembles its owner. It conveys the close connection between them, and between supporters and beneficiaries. The image was used on posters and press adverts promoting the charity’s canine care scheme, which enables people to ensure that their beloved pet will be looked after if they pass on.

It may not feature a straight up legacy ask, but the campaign has inspired many to leave a gift in their Will. Why? The Canine Care Card (still used today) connects the charity with those who are thinking about what might happen long after they are gone. The campaign enables the charity to meet its mission and supports the legacy drive, and the bold imagery was a great way to get dog-lovers to sit up and take notice.

Spoof TV cop drama investigates species extinction

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A more recent comedy favourite is this short film from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust; a spoof TV cop drama starring Midsomer Murders legend John Nettles. Investigating missing species, Nettles’ distinctive discourse with his colleague exposes the need for a publicity drive fronted by ‘someone very famous’ who will inspire people to leave a gift in their Will. He even makes fun at himself as an ageing actor near the end of his career.

Echoing the style and script of a typical Midsomer Murders episode, featuring a well-matched local celebrity and cause, the video is funny and extremely effective in communicating the power of gifts in Wills.

The Greenpeace Beer Mat

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Dating back to the 1990s, Greenpeace Australia’s beer mats have since achieved almost legendary status in the legacy world. The mats followed a poster campaign, all bearing the slogan ‘when you come back as a whale, you’ll be bloody glad you put Greenpeace in your will’. A few years later, an almost identical campaign was run by Greenpeace Canada, excluding the word ‘bloody’, which hadn’t tested well with the national audience.

At a time where legacy giving was a particularly sensitive topic and the challenge was to open up conversation, the beer mat would certainly have got my attention and made me want to turn it over to find out more. The slogan itself, devised by Alex France (now of Vitamin X) is simple, strong and unashamedly direct – fitting with Greenpeace’s tone of voice – and a powerful way of achieving cut through. Sure enough, although the campaign is almost thirty years old, the message seems even more relevant now amid escalating concerns around the climate crisis.

Strength in numbers

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At Remember A Charity, we’ve long used humour to capture the attention of our audience and normalise legacy conversation. Back in 2013, our ‘Take A Moment’ campaign (pictured above) asked the public to consider leaving a gift in their Will, while stressing the importance of picking the right moment. The campaign video featured a man on bended knee deep in thought, when his partner mistakes his contemplative pose for that of a proposal.

This year, we launched a parody video series ‘Points of You’ that tackled legacy giving myths, giving charities a tool to build understanding among their supporter base during Remember A Charity Week and beyond. Humour has been one of our most effective campaign strategies and, in our first week alone, the video series attracted more than 500,000 views.

Of course, being a collaborative campaign is different. We can be a little bolder with our messaging than charities working individually. In fact, with a mission of inspiring behaviour change, some say that it’s our duty to be bold, to disrupt. Still, it’s no less important to get the balance right and so we continually test, monitor and adapt campaigns to see what evokes the best response.

The bottom line is that it feels good to laugh. Humour won’t be the right approach for every charity or campaign, but neither should we shy away from it entirely. If we can leave the public not only inspired to give, but feeling happier and more deeply connected to the charity, then that is a wonderful thing.

Rob Cope is director of Remember A Charity – the consortium of 200 charities working to normalise legacy giving across the UK.

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