In the fast-paced lives we lead, where daily concerns often overshadow budding civic awareness, advocacy advertising shines as the key.
By simply making people more aware, most of the work in gathering active and loyal supporters is done.
But how do you do that in a way that is compassionate and unintrusive?
Advocacy advertising is the answer to spreading the word to people who are willing to help or understand your cause, whose only barrier is lack of awareness. It’s a great way to engage with the audience and inspire them to take action.
What is advocacy advertising?
Advocacy advertising is a form of communication aimed at influencing public opinion and promoting a particular cause or point of view. It is the art of persuading, motivating, and mobilizing people to support a specific issue, idea, or candidate.
While it may sound similar to commercial advertising, it has distinct characteristics that set it apart.
Advocacy advertising examples
Let’s look at a couple of real-world examples that illustrate the impact advocacy advertising can have.
Example 1: ‘Victims are People Just Like You and Me’ by ACAT Switzerland
Source: Bored Panda
In August 2009, Advico Y&R, a Swiss creative agency, launched a thought-provoking advocacy advertising campaign for ACAT Switzerland in Zurich. The campaign involved placing advertisements on public transport, specifically on the back of seats, where tied arms were depicted, creating a striking visual impact.
This campaign aimed to confront passengers with a powerful message: “Torture Victims Are People Just Like You And Me.” The intention was to remind people in their daily routines that the person in the adjacent seat might have been a torture victim, emphasizing the grim reality of torture that often goes unnoticed in our busy lives.
Given that crime rates in Switzerland in 2009 were relatively higher than in recent times, it is plausible to assume that Advico’s campaign sought to promote kindness and empathy and to reduce crime rates in the region.
In terms of effectiveness, this advocacy advertising campaign is hard to misinterpret due to its direct and vivid imagery. The main limitation lies in the extent of coverage across public transport vehicles and the number of seats in the advertisement.
Nevertheless, Advico Y&R succeeded in delivering a compelling message to their target audience while maintaining a clear and impactful narrative.
Example 2: ‘Street Smart Safety Campaign’ in Metropolitan Washington
Source: Street Smart on ‘X’
Metropolitan Washington has witnessed increased investment in pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, such as sidewalks and bike lanes, promoting walking and bicycling. However, with pedestrians and bicyclists comprising over a quarter of total traffic fatalities in the region, safety became a paramount concern.
The ‘Street Smart Safety Campaign‘ is a dedicated effort to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities in the region.
The campaign collaborates with local law enforcement agencies and employs creative social media, radio, and television advertisements in English and Spanish to target drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Additionally, outdoor and transit advertising, including bus shelter and bus side displays, play a pivotal role in conveying the safety message.
Types of advocacy advertising
Issue advocacy advertising
Issue advocacy advertising, also known as interest advocacy advertising, involves reaching out to the public to raise awareness about a particular issue. This is done without explicitly asking individuals to take any specific action, such as voting for a candidate at the polls.
Issue advocacy is crucial for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, which are restricted from engaging in political activities. To maintain their tax-exempt status, these nonprofits must ensure that their advertising does not encourage partisan political actions, such as endorsing a specific candidate.
Instead, their focus is on spreading general awareness about issues and problems, as well as driving Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) and voter registration efforts.
Express advocacy advertising
In contrast to issue advocacy, express advocacy advertising refers to political advertisements that explicitly voice support for a political side in an election.
These ads use words that unequivocally express support or opposition, such as
- vote against
- vote for
These advertisements are typically commissioned by a candidate’s campaign or political action committees and play a significant role in influencing election outcomes.
Corporate advocacy advertising
Corporations, too, engage in advocacy advertising to express their views on contentious social or political issues.
In fact, a report by Edelman titled the “2021 Edelman Trust Barometer” highlights the increasing expectation for businesses to take a stand on societal issues. It reveals that 86% of respondents believe that CEOs should publicly speak out on contentious issues.
Corporations aim to foster stronger connections with their audience and demonstrate a sense of purpose beyond their products or services by addressing critical issues, including issues related to customer success. Advocacy advertising allows companies to
- Align themselves with specific causes,
- Convey their commitment to social responsibility, and
- Connect with their customer base, employees, investors, and business partners on shared values and concerns.
What is one role of issue advocacy advertising?
One of the primary roles of issue advocacy advertising is to raise public awareness and foster understanding of critical societal issues, thereby inspiring informed civic engagement.
Example: “It Can Wait” campaign by AT&T
The “It Can Wait” campaign, initiated by telecommunications giant AT&T, illustrates the role of issue advocacy advertising. This campaign focuses on the dangers of texting while driving, a critical public safety concern.
Now that we have explored the various types of advocacy advertising, let’s take a closer look at the channels through which these messages are disseminated.
Channels of advocacy advertising
Advocacy advertising leverages a range of channels to convey its message and engage with the target audience. Here, we’ll explore both traditional and modern channels and their advantages.
Traditional channels of advocacy advertising
Newspapers have a wide readership, allowing advocacy messages to reach a broad audience. They provide an in-depth platform for detailed content, making them ideal for conveying complex issues. Utilizing newspapers as part of your advocacy marketing campaign can help disseminate in-depth information to a wider audience.
For example, in 1961, lawyer Peter Benenson initiated Amnesty International through compelling newspaper articles, “The Forgotten Prisoners” and “An Appeal for Amnesty,” which prominently featured on the front page of The Observer, a British newspaper.
These articles highlighted the stories of two Portuguese students who toasted to freedom and four individuals imprisoned in various countries due to their beliefs. This demonstrated the influential role newspapers can play in advocating for human rights and social justice.
Magazines offer a niche and targeted approach, as they cater to specific interests and demographics, which means advocacy messages can be customized for the readership.
According to an annual study by Statista, the total number of magazine readers in the United States consistently exceeded 220 million each year from 2016 to 2020 (the growth has been constant since 2012).
Radio allows for auditory engagement and is often consumed while multitasking, making it suitable for conveying succinct advocacy messages.
For example, the “Dumb Ways to Die” campaign, created by Metro Trains in Melbourne, Victoria, is a prominent example of advocacy advertising using the radio medium. Launched in November 2012, this Australian public campaign aimed to promote railway safety.
Television combines visual and auditory elements for powerful storytelling. It has a wide viewership and is effective for emotionally engaging viewers.
According to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report, television remains a dominant platform for media consumption in the United States. In 2020, American adults spent an average of over 4 hours per day watching traditional TV.
Modern channels of advocacy advertising
SMS (Short Message Service)
SMS is an immediate and personal channel for advocacy. Messages can be concise, making it an effective way to deliver urgent alerts and calls to action.
The Obama campaign enhanced its grassroots campaign using text messaging services. On election day, voters who had signed up for alerts in battleground states received at least 3 text messages.
On average, supporters received between 5 to 20 text messages per month, depending on their location and preferences. The campaign’s text messaging program was highly segmented, targeting specific states, regions, and zip codes with tailored messages.
Email is a versatile and cost-effective platform for advocacy. It allows for in-depth content, visuals, and links. Advocacy groups often send newsletters and action alerts to their subscribers, providing information, calls to action, and opportunities to donate.
The presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2012 raised close to $690 million through email appeals.
Social media platforms are dynamic spaces for advocacy campaigns. It offers a wide reach, enabling advocacy messages to go viral.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which gained immense popularity in 2014, stands as a compelling example of advocacy advertising using social media. The challenge encouraged participants to create and share their user-generated content, which included videos of them taking the challenge and challenging others.
The ALS Association reported a remarkable impact following the campaign. Donations from the challenge led to a substantial 187% increase in annual funding for ALS research around the world.
The funds were invested in various facets of the fight against ALS, resulting in
- Significant scientific advancements,
- Expanded care for individuals living with ALS, and
- Increased government funding for disease research.
Search and display ads
Search and display ads provide precision targeting. Advocacy groups can run the targeted search and display advertising campaigns to reach people actively seeking information about specific issues.
Google Ad Grants is a program designed to help qualifying nonprofits maximize their outreach by displaying their messages to individuals searching for nonprofits related to their cause.
Each eligible nonprofit gains access to up to $10,000 per month in search ads, which are prominently displayed on google.com.
A well-crafted website serves as a hub for advocacy advertising efforts, including comprehensive information, campaigns, and resources. It allows organizations to share in-depth information, resources and calls to action.
Amnesty International’s website, for instance, offers extensive content, including reports, petitions, and ways to get involved, making it a vital advocacy platform.
Traditional advocacy advertising
Modern advocacy advertising
Search and display ads Website
Broad, but less specific
Targeted, precise, global reach
Detailed, in-depth information
Diverse multimedia, links, visuals
Interactive, two-way communication
Real-time, immediate impact
No matter how you choose to promote your cause or issue, the messaging and advocacy marketing strategies are the most powerful things you can work on to gather supporters.
Once you’ve decided on that, all that’s left is to create variations of that message to distribute across the channels we’ve mentioned in this article, including social media posts, as part of your advocacy marketing campaigns.
Read this guide, ‘Say The Right Things: How to Use Communication For Advocacy’.
Featured image: Photo by Tara Winstead