‘Sadvertising’ is a trap that many charities fall in to. And for good reason. It is essential to convey the importance and urgency of your cause in order to secure a consistent flow of donations. However, positive marketing can be just as effective. We caught up with Sylvia Lowe, Head of Marketing at Alzheimer’s Society, at a panel event held by Mattr Media, a creative branding content agency, based in London.
Sylvia was at the event to discuss Alzheimer’s Society’s successful video campaign #AskUsAnything, which was launched to promote Dementia Action Week. The campaign’s focus was on opening up discussion around the subject of dementia and breaking down any surrounding stigmas or myths about the condition. Through the use of highly shareable videos, social media takeovers and placing the stories of individuals at the centre of its campaign, Alzheimer’s Society highlighted that people with dementia are STILL people.
FD: Would you be able to talk us through your recent campaign to promote Dementia Action Week?
SL: We changed the name to Dementia Action Week a couple of years ago to deliberately show that it was about more than just raising awareness. This year’s aim was to highlight that too many people with dementia experience loneliness (58 per cent) and isolation (56 per cent) from society. We polled members of the public and found that a significant number feel anxious about striking up a conversation with people who have dementia– 40 per cent said they wouldn’t feel confident about communicating with someone with dementia. We wanted to show that people with dementia are still people; they’re the same people they were before they had their diagnosis and should be embraced as part of society.
Our creative hook for this year was ‘Ask Us Anything’. We wanted to expose the fact that talking about dementia and talking to people with dementia need not be feared. We filmed children interviewing people with the condition as they don’t have the same social awkwardness and anxiety as adults. We created a short film to bring that alive, which became the hero film of our campaign, but beyond that we had over a 1,000 events ran by individuals, community groups and businesses.
As part of the campaign ‘Ask us Anything’, we decided to do a takeover of our social media channels by people affected by dementia, where people could chat and ask questions about the condition. It felt really important to actually get people with dementia behind our social media channels and emphasise the importance of honesty and openness.
FD: That leads nicely onto my next question, you use a lot of individual’s stories on your social media platforms, what are the benefits of interweaving personal narratives into your marketing campaigns?
SL: For us, we are duty bound to represent people with dementia. There’s a real moral imperative for us to authentically represent the voices of these people and personal stories are the best way of doing that.
Dementia is a blanket name for conditions caused by diseases of the brain; there are multiple diseases that create this condition called dementia and Alzheimer’s is the most common one. These different diseases all create very different symptoms and depending on whether you are in the early or late stages, it can affect people very differently. By sharing individual’s stories, we hope to portray the voices of people whilst avoiding slipping into the use of sweeping generalisations. That’s why stories are very central to what we do and we even employ a Stories Manager who puts a lot of effort into collecting, curating and sharing these stories.
Dementia has such a lot of stigma and myth around it that we need to try and help people understand what it might be like to have dementia and one of the ways we do that is to tell their stories. It’s interesting from a storytelling perspective that people often talk about battling with cancer, or battling with other diseases. But no one survives a battle with dementia, as there is currently no cure, so we have a duty to tell those stories.
FD: Alzheimer’s Society subverts the stereotype of ‘sadvertising’ and solely relying on guilt as a trigger. How do you see positive marketing changing the way people respond to the charity?
SL: We have this tension between wanting to show that you can live well with dementia, and also not wanting to sugar-coat the condition. Our Chief Executive is very keen that we also show the reality, that life with dementia can be devastating and incredibly challenging. We have to be able to communicate both messages.
The amount of people living in society with dementia is rapidly increasing, so communities need to become more dementia friendly. People often think of people with dementia as living in a care home, but actually two thirds of the 850,000 people with dementia aren’t living in a care facility, but, live in their local community and that’s set to grow. By 2025, there are likely to be 700,000 people with dementia living in their local community, outside of care homes, and this could be 1.3 million by 2051.
We have to embrace this notion of a dementia friendly society and ensure there are the right conditions for people to live well. We firmly believe this can happen, however, when it comes to fundraising, we do need to communicate a sense of urgency. We can’t avoid the fact that dementia, particularly in the later stages, can devastate lives.
People do need to be supported and they do need to be viewed in that more positive light, but dementia does cost the UK £26 billion a year, an enormous amount of money. Currently, there isn’t a treatment for preventing, or curing dementia, but we do believe that a cure will be found. Sometimes, to trigger donations, you have to communicate the urgency and scale of dementia. If you look across our marketing, you will see how we tailor the message for different audiences and objectives. Ultimately, dementia does have those two sides to it and we need to portray both.
FD: It’s about finding the balance between not just bombarding people with sad stories to make them donate, but also showing the more positive side that people can still live happy lives. Now, looking towards the future, how do you see digital innovation transforming the charity sector within the next couple of years?
SL: The bit that I’m really interested in is how digital technology can help people with dementia live their daily lives, or stay in their own homes for longer. We recently supported and partnered the development of an Alexa Skills app called ‘My Carer’, which demonstrates that voice can be a new interface for helping people with dementia live more independently day to day. The app that we’ve supported effectively acts as a reminder to take medication, or to eat meals. There’s an enormous amount of potential in that kind of technology to help people.
We also supported an app through our Accelerator Fund called ‘How Do I?’ and it basically links video to objects in your home through your smartphone. The idea is that there is a scannable tag attached to objects in the home, like a kettle, and you can scan it with your smartphone and it brings up a video of how you boil a kettle to make a cup of tea. It uses a combination of video and smartphone technology to help people carry out their daily tasks. There’s a lot of potential with this sort of digital innovation to help people with dementia live their lives more independently.
To find out more about Alzheimer’s Society, visit alzheimers.org.uk