A lot of waffle

Not-for-profit marketing

This post represented something of an ethical quandary for me. To date, the communications I’ve critiqued, good or bad, have been straightforward commercial projects. As such, their success or failure can be measured directly by the ROI (return on investment): If an advert costs £X to produce, but brings in revenue worth more than that cost*, it’s a win, anything less is a loss for the company in question.

A full page ad in today’s Metro to promote vegetable consumption on behalf of EU farmers is a bit different. It’s the first not for profit advert I’ve reviewed here, and as such, the message could be considered ‘more valuable’ (or less worthy of criticism?).

The trouble is, the delivery of that message is just awful. And it’s the delivery of such messages that this blog is about.

The advert

EU Agricultural Advert in The Metro 19 July 2011
EU Agricultural Advert in The Metro 19 July 2011

When I first talk to clients, it’s sometimes a struggle to get to the heart of the message they want to promote.

It’s understandable, many have lived and breathed their products or services and are passionate about them. They want to explain every feature. But marketing needs to be a conversation and just as if you want to get to know your customer, you can’t give him your life story as you shake his hand, so too must you drip feed info on your product, best bits first.

So a newspaper advert needs a message. A simple headline to stop the reader in her tracks or a message that can be taken away from the her first look. If it prompts her to look for further information, so much the better. The detail can be housed on the advert so that it doesn’t distract from the main message, or externally, via a website, call centre or even a QR code.

This advert fails in every one of those measures. The headline “What’s on the table this summer? Fruit, vegetables and more vegetables” reads like a mistake. Repetition works well to force a message home, Tony Blair’s three priorities “education, education, education” is a well known example. Why mix it up?

The second half of the page is given over to an almost random mixture of stories and case studies. This muddle has no clear message. I take away from it: 1. people should each more fruit and veg 2. the amount has fallen due to the e.coli disaster 3. the food is safe 4. farmers have thrown away safe food as they couldn’t sell it 5. the EU has given €210 million to help farmers 6. the EC reacted quickly to help farmers 7. the business of one cucumber grower could be over and 8. farmers feel that it wasn’t their fault.

So, do farmers need help or not? Is it too late? Or has the EU already bailed them out? Whose fault was the crisis?

This lack of clarity is exacerbated by the fact that the copy reads rather badly: “We eat less and less vegetables”. It then refers to “we” who eat fewer vegetables and “we” who “know for sure that cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and courgettes had nothing to do with the crisis”. If that is the case, why is the advert necessary?

The advert could be rescued with a clear call-to-action, but there is none. Two website addresses provide no more information or reason for the advert.


This kind of thing frustrates me. Having spent some time analysing the piece, there are clearly some important messages to get across, but they are hidden in over 500 words of copy.

Getting people to eat more fruit and veg and helping farmers are vitally important tasks, this advert will achieve neither.

*Revenue from an advert is more than just direct sales (ie “buy this widget from Acme corp”). The advert might raise brand awareness or encourage positive associations with that brand, which in turn lead to greater sales of gizmos instead of widgets etc.


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