For a long time, DRTV for charities felt like it was trapped in a timewarp. The 90 second need-solution-need arc. The powerful but familiar footage. The earnest (always male) voiceover bringing emotion and authority.

But TV itself has changed out of all recognition in the last decade. Reality TV is mainstream. Ordinary people are celebrities, and celebrities behave like ordinary people. User-generated film and live-streaming are at the top of our social feeds. Films have got shorter (we recently made a 10 second ad for Instagram) and longer (people spend hours watching Twitch, or whole nights watching box sets).

And the charity landscape has changed too. Shifting trust has meant that the organisational voice is less authoritative, less trusted, and frankly, less important. Supporters feel more powerful, more in control and want to be part of the story — not a passive, arms-length ‘donor’. And, perhaps most importantly, supporters have recognised when they’re being sold to. They’re less receptive to overt sales tactics redolent of QVC, and more demanding of respect.

All of which means DRTV has undergone something of a revolution in the last few months. Trusted formulas are being twisted, turned upside down and tested out of existence.

So how can your DRTV adapt? Here are some practical things we’re helping our clients make work:

Change the voice. WaterAid had tried celebrity after celebrity, voiceover after voiceover, and all with degrees of success. But it was the real voice of Mike, their preferred cameraman that cut through and helped them deliver with a new authenticity. Who could be your new, unexpected voice?

Change the audience. A natively digital and social audience has new expectations. Like being part of a growing movement. Instant impact. And a sense of reward and recognition. Our Tap to Tap ad, again for WaterAid, ‘tapped’ into this new zeitgeist (sorry) to bring in a whole new audience. Change the ask. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, traditional regular giving is shrinking. Time to try value exchange, cash, SMS, membership… or something completely new. Change the channel. Social could be a completely new channel for what was ‘DRTV’ — and it’s certainly an opportunity to test new creatives, and extend the reach and life of your ad. Time to try new lengths, new formats, etc — and integrate TV and social in ways that have never been tried before. Change the focus. Above all, the ‘new DRTV’ now recognises that power has shifted. We’re no longer inviting viewers into ‘our world’. We’re trying to be part of theirs. We’re breaking assumptions of trust and authority and opening up what we do — being more honest, more immediate and more real.

After years of relentlessly optimising the same hard-working formula, it’s exciting to think that DRTV has a whole new future ahead of it. A future where rules are made to be broken and new creative directions are ripe for testing.

Looking to enter the market? Want to revive your approach?

Let’s chat.