Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Charity regrets hiring political attack ad agency to promote itself

Metro’s largest charity is rethinking its massive tri-state advertising campaign after a public outcry against its latest TV spots.

The Community Foundation of Metro Trust hired the political marketing agency of Dewey, Screwem & Howe to support of their End Homelessness Campaign. Dewey, Screwem & Howe has been involved in more than 100 US political campaigns. The agency convinced the Trust to run constant attack ads on local stations targeting potential donors.

“In hindsight, the ads were a little over the top for a charity like ours,” said Trust CEO Spooley Snidely. “They really pointed a lot of fingers at people who weren’t donating. It kind of offended a lot of people.”

The ads show pictures of typical Metro homeowners and real estate agents with an announcer questioning why they aren’t doing enough to help the End Homelessness Campaign. “What are these people trying to hide?” says one ad. “They know homelessness is a problem and they do nothing. They’d rather have a barbecue than help people on the street. They can’t be trusted. Please give to the End Homelessness Campaign.” Each ad ends with a deep-voiced actor saying
“This message approved by The Community Foundation of Metro Trust” really, really fast.

“I really don’t pay much attention to details, so when the agency told us they wanted to run some hard-hitting TV ads I just nodded,” said Snidely. “It’s somehow the fault of my communications coordinator, I’m sure of it.”

Wendy Dewey, the creative director of Dewey, Screwem & Howe, called the ads “acceptable forms of marketing” and rejected any criticism from local media and community leaders.

“People say they don’t like attack ads, but let me tell you that they watch them. They believe them. And if they don’t like them, that’s okay. They’re either with us or against us. Lines have to be drawn if our candidate…I mean charity…is going to win,” she said.

The campaign also featured an equally hard-hitting website that contained articles on how people who don’t give to the campaign are untrustworthy, connected to Wall Street greed, made questionable tax filings and would rather see convicted killers go free than put one deserving kid through high school. It also featured a “Donor Fact Checker” section designed to counter any opposing attack ads and “set the record straight” about the campaign.

“We got these non-donors dead-to-rights,” said Dewey. “There’s no place where they can hide where we can’t lay bare all of their dirty little secrets. They’re toast.”

The Trust was flooded with calls  the morning after the TV ads began running on Metro stations round the clock last week. Most were very negative. Despite the reaction and the condemnation of the Trust by civic leaders, Snidely says that Dewey, Screwem & Howe says they should stay the course.

“They said all this negative publicity is just what we needed,” said Snidely. “They say their polling numbers show that the Trust’s name is on the lips of nearly everyone in town and that if there were an election held today, we’d be voted the most popular charity.”