Putting a new spin on an old public-service theme

July 11, 2012

By TRAY creative

In the world of nonprofit and public-service marketing, there are some standard visual devices and emotional cues that have been around forever. For anti-hunger organizations, it’s gut-wrenching images of suffering children. For environmental organizations, it’s polar bears wandering forlornly on melting ice caps. While these themes have their intended effect among some in the target audience, they run the risk of alienating just as many who might feel emotionally manipulated.

Is it possible to take a more offbeat approach to a serious social issue, and still have it deliver the kind of emotional impact that drives people to take action?

Public service without the sad

That’s the idea behind an outdoor advertising campaign TRAY has created for the Seattle Animal Shelter. Over the course of three separate billboards appearing around Seattle, we’re taking on three separate issues (spay/neuter, pet adoption, and pet licensing) without resorting to the kind of heartbreaking imagery—frightened-looking animals in cages, anyone?—that unfortunately runs rampant in animal-related public service announcements.

For the Spay/Neuter billboard, we decided to take the POV of a mama cat who screams, “Not again!” when she discovers (via “Purregnancy Test”) that she’s preggers one more time. (Insider secret: She’s really just yawning, not yelling, in the photo. Don’t tell anyone.)

For the Adoption billboard, we capitalized on the tech and social media savvy of Seattle audiences (along with the idea that adopted pets offer unconditional love) by taking the POV of a pair of cute cat and dog pals, framed inside a tablet device, telling the viewer that they’ll “never un-friend you.”

Billboard #3 features a proud, medal-winning dog asking pet owners to license their pets.

So far, the reaction has been great, we’re proud to say. The “Not Again” billboard won an award at the Humane Society International conference and got a shout-out in the blog of The Stranger. Plus, the creative is being requested for use by other animal shelters around the country.

Got any good examples of nonprofit or public-service marketing that hits the mark without resorting to cliché? Share them here.