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Getting emotional: how billboard advertising helps charities tell stories

Billboard advertisement for charity St Peter's Hospice

While charities vary hugely in size, scope and sector, charity advertising is remarkable similar. Two principles apply almost every time. Firstly – it’s crucial that you create an emotional connection. Secondly – the call to action must be extremely clear, and is almost always a request for a donation.

In turn, this makes Out of Home billboard advertising a fantastic opportunity for charities. Firstly, their scale and punch (audiences see them repeatedly, perhaps on their daily commute, or each time they visit a particular shop) a great format for emotive content. Secondly, contactless payment technologies and near field communications (NFC) mean that donations can be collected from billboard advertising more easily than ever before. Equally, think of the brand exposure your charity might enjoy at large fundraiser sporting events relevant to the local area.

Telling a story

Some charities work in very clearly defined, well-understood spaces that impact on a large number of people – take one of our customers, Cancer Research UK. They’re easy to position because most audiences are already aware of the charity’s role and significance, which allows for big, bold billboards with little surrounding explanation.

However, we also love working direct with smaller charities, where the challenges are a little different. One of our direct advertising customers is Feed the Minds, a charity that focuses on various initiatives to improve literacy rates among Sudanese women. Here, with more complex issues to explain, the ability of the charity’s advertising to tell a story becomes hugely important.

Enter billboard advertising, where it’s possible to create a series of adverts building up a clear narrative. Each billboard individually communicates a clear message, but they also work together to explain a more complex, multi-faceted campaign around adult literacy. The billboards are also specifically positioned in locations linked to education, where it is easiest to generate connections to issues of literacy. In turn, the campaign gradually builds up an emotive case for making a donation.

A picture paints a thousand words

Most charities have a fantastic ‘image bank’ of really strong photography available, and it’s our role at Clear Channel to help turn those images into truly engaging advertising. There’s certainly a place for quirky creativity in charities’ billboard advertising, but anything too abstract and disconnected from the charity’s work simply won’t compel someone to donate. The majority of effective advertising in this sector makes use of photography directly depicting the charity’s work.

Not ‘nicey nicey’

All this talk of emotions might imply that billboard advertising with charities is more about feelings than cold hard statistics – but that’s not the case. Charities are rightly careful about tracking the ROI of their advertising campaigns to the letter.

This is why NFC technologies can be so valuable for charities taking up billboard advertising, because the donations, sign-ups or event registrations secured by a particular advert can be tracked.

And the possibilities of digital for charity Out of Home advertising don’t stop there. Award-winning digital work has been carried out by the likes of Missing People and Women’s Aid, who created an interactive billboard with facial recognition technology allowing passers-by to ‘heal’ a woman’s bruises. This combination of digital innovation, clever creativity and stark emotion is at the core of successful Out of Home advertising for charities.


  • Create an emotional connection to your audience with strong imagery and billboard locations that link directly to your charity’s work.
  • Investigate contactless payments and NFC technologies to make direct donations quick and easy.
  • Invest time in careful cost/benefit forecasts and ROI analysis.

If you’d like to learn more about how Out of Home advertising can help your charity increase donations, get in touch with a member of the Clear Channel Direct team today.

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