Eye-catching ad aids Oxfam

One small newspaper ad has stimulated more than $200,000 in donations to help Oxfam Canada's relief efforts in Rwanda.What started as a simple appeal for badly needed funds for refugees made homeless by the recent civil war ended up making news...

One small newspaper ad has stimulated more than $200,000 in donations to help Oxfam Canada’s relief efforts in Rwanda.

What started as a simple appeal for badly needed funds for refugees made homeless by the recent civil war ended up making news itself because of the deft way the advertising put life into perspective for many Canadians.

A private donor contributed $4,100 to pay for a small-space newspaper ad, and Gee Jeffery & Partners, the Toronto agency that handles Oxfam Canada on a pro-bono basis, used its connection with client Sporting Life to get a bigger ad for the same amount of money.

The ad appeared July 16 in the national edition of The Globe and Mail.

Its large-print headline, ‘O.J. Simpson Limited To Ten Visitors A Day,’ caught readers’ attention, while the small type that followed delivered the real message, ‘In other news: 500,000 Rwandans slaughtered. Another half million fighting for their lives in refugee camps.’

Brett Channer, vice-president associate creative director at Gee Jeffery and copywriter for the ad says the challenge was ‘to diffuse the apathy people had towards a problem that was building by the hour.

‘The way we did it was by having them reflect on what they’ve been focussing on, versus what they should have been focussing on,’ Channer says.

‘The strategy became real easy, and the ad became even easier,’ he says.

‘It was just a matter of looking through newspapers and seeing with Oxfam’s help how little press this situation was getting.’

Roger Musselman, fundraising officer for Oxfam Canada, says the organization was prepared for some negative response but was amazed to get only positive feedback.

‘What we got was not only an outpouring of donations, but also an outpouring of people who just wanted to congratulate us on the ad,’ Musselman says.

‘People were sitting at home getting angrier and angrier about our news priorities, and, suddenly, here was this ad in the newspaper that mirrored what they thought was wrong,’ he says.

In the week and a half after the ad was placed, Oxfam got roughly $70,000 in credit card donations over the phone, with the balance of the $200,000 received through the mail.

The news value of the ad has brought additional publicity to Oxfam, which Musselman says the organization could never have afforded on its own.

The ad has been the focus of news stories on national tv news broadcasts in Canada, on cbs tv in the u.s., and in the Saturday newspaper in Mexico City.

Oxfam fundraising officers have been interviewed on several live radio programs, including one New York radio station whose news department clipped the ad and posted it on the wall to remind staff what the news business was really all about.

A second generation of the ad, which appeared in Toronto’s free arts and entertainment weekly, Now magazine on July 28, is the last time Oxfam will juxtapose Rwanda with O.J. Simpson.

It used newspaper clippings for headline copy, ‘O.J. Simpson trying to get out for Halloween,’ and, in small print, ’2,000,000 Rwandan refugees trying to make it to tomorrow.’

Channer says the agency is now working on a tv spot for Oxfam and a ‘good news, bad news’ print campaign.