Breaking and remaking 27 years of DRTV rules

Take a look at the NSPCC’s groundbreaking first-ever DRTV ad from 1991 (directed by David Bailey, no less) and you’ll see the founding of a formula that has been repeated time and again for 27 years.

It looks dated, yes. But also strangely familiar. We recognise the authoritative voiceover, the price-points, the stats, the imagery only too well.

Now that formula is starting to fail, but rather than seeing this as a challenge, it leaves us with an opportunity and the space to think again – to engage new audiences, to break new ground and make new rules.

Think about what’s changed since then and you can start to understand why fundraising film (now including digital and social as well as broadcast TV) is changing.

In 1991 there was more public and social trust in organisations and advertising. Brands’ pronouncements and promises went largely unchallenged. Where now we question more – we want proof not promises. We need our objections to be met and overcome, not ignored.

In 1991, advertising was pretty much the only way brands communicated. Ads were an incredibly powerful and trusted medium, akin to public service announcements. Now we enjoy content – documentaries, inside-track, user-generated films not just ads. Which means that ads don’t have to feel like ads.

In 1991, reality TV hadn’t been invented. Our TV stars were conventional, serious, expert figures. Today David Attenborough is still holding on, but our TV screens are dominated far more by people like us rather than authority figures. Which means we expect to hear from real people, not professionals talking for them.

In 1991, TV  was broadcast, and passive – ‘chewing gum for the eyes’. Today we use our second screens to discuss, search, buy, comment. We engage with TV rather than just consume it – and that means TV is social and digital, not just broadcast.

It’s a brilliant time to make fundraising film because the rules are ripe to be broken. It’s time to think creatively about the timing, the format, the presenter, the narrative, the relevance, the offer, the audience needs.

One thing that hasn’t changed – film is still the most immediate, resonant and emotional way to tell a story. And that’s something it will always offer charities.