United Way boosts the guilt factor in ad campaign


The United Way of Central Maryland is betting that guilt will speak louder than words in this year's campaign to raise $34.8 million.

The charity has moved away from its standard advertising method, which built an awareness of the United Way and its programs, and taken a more hard-hitting approach, attempting to stir emotions by featuring abused children, homeless people and the elderly in television ads that began running Aug. 27.

"People need to be convinced thatthere is a greater sense of urgency, especially with government funding for social services being cut back," United Way spokesman Mel Tansill said yesterday. Baltimore's W. B. Doner & Co. created the ads without charging a fee, he said.

One television spot takes place in a ritzy restaurant where friends are gorging themselves on good food, drink and desserts. The scene flashes back and forth from them to black and white shots of elderly people sitting at bare tables.

Another ad features a young girl surrounded by family and friends ather birthday party and flashes to black and white shots of abused children in hospital wards.

"While most children are loved, some are abused," a male voice-over says solemnly, declaring that $11 can provide counseling and support services for 10 abused children for a week. "Please give something back."

The campaign -- which features real homeless and elderly people, but not real abused children -- is the first by United to ask so directly for money. "These ads are more emotional and more direct in asking for the [donation]," said Doner's MarkWesterman.

"For a charity, one would have to say that guilt is a very reasonable emotion to tap on," said Renee H. Frengut, president of Market Insights Inc. in Bronxville, N.Y. The ads "show that you are fortunate, and you are able to eat well, so go out and help people who are not as fortunate as you."

United Way, which raised $31 million last year, says the ads have already made a difference. "A man with AIDS sent in a letter saying he saw the commercials and sent in $10," Mr. Tansill said.

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