Shanelle Newton-Clapham on creating and testing brave marketing messages for women’s rights organisation ActionAid.

Bold messaging charity campaignsI’m a marketeer, so I love nothing more than clever copy and an ad or message that gets straight into the heart of the target audience.

So, when ActionAid asked me to “go harder” with bolder language that stepped (a bit) outside their brand voice, I was thrilled.

Over the years, I’ve learnt that if I show examples of other organisations that have done something similar, such as be bold, then my [less conventional] concept is more likely to get approved. So, before I started putting together the bolder ad creative for ActionAid, I went searching for feminist, and in general bold, charity campaigns from around the world.

And OMG did I love finding all these amazing charity campaigns with creative, fun, smart, interesting and bold messages, which you will see in my blog about the best bold charity campaigns across three different sectors.

But right now, I want to tell you about the ActionAid message test that brought this all about.

At its very core, ActionAid is a feminist organisation

For those of you who don’t know ActionAid, they are a women’s rights organisation whose charitable work is focused on giving women on the frontlines of climate change the tools they need to survive. ActionAid provides safe zones for women when natural or humanitarian disasters hit; they teach women sustainable farming techniques so they can adapt to their changing climate; ActionAid builds up and empowers women to lead their community when disaster strikes.

To date, most of their messaging to activists and donors has been about climate action and climate justice. Women in low-income countries fighting to survive climate change.

In my opinion, no one organisation in Australia really owns the ‘women’s rights’ cause. Sure, Good Shepherd work for women’s rights around safety and independence. IWDA work in this space in the Pacific. YWCA call themselves a feminist organisation. Plan International Australia has made a big shift over the last few years to zero in on girls, arguably White Ribbon worked for women’s rights in a back to front way. But when I poll my mates about who they think of as a feminist organisation, none of them can name a single one. When I question my colleagues in nonprofit land, most of you struggle to give me an org that is straight up women’s rights. Sure, lots of aid and poverty orgs focus on women, but it’s not their core mission or brand.

I think ActionAid is a front runner to take the moniker of Australia’s Feminist Organisation.

And I wanted to test how this female-focused messaging would perform against ‘climate action’.

ActionAid said “Be Bolder + Be More Feminist”

Now that we had our directive and our inspiration, I began to craft the creative to see how bold and feminist ActionAid’s appetite really was.

It’s important to say that ActionAid’s audience does skew to middle-aged women, but this messaging was going to be used for a donor acquisition campaign, where we wanted to potentially find a new, more feminist audience.

I thought I could push that feminist envelope with bold messages such as the one one mocked-up below – sometimes to include men, other times to slam the patriarchy. Some taglines were colloquial or borrowed from urban slang “The future is female” and “Damn the Man”. Other calls to action were truisms that I felt would resonate with women who were looking for an organisation they felt represented their values and more importantly their interests.


Bold messaging charity campaignsI’ll be honest, I was running on enthusiasm and personal values. I was learning the correct feminist terminology and inclusive language as I went. I learned that it had to be about gender, not sex.

I wanted to use the phrase “Fundamentally Female First” but I was told that we couldn’t make it about sex, only gender. This was quite a mind bender to get my head around, as I don’t differentiate the two, because I identify as female.

And thus, the phrase had to be “Fundamentally Women First”, which incidentally was the approved headline for the donation page and turned out to be the best performing Facebook ad for click-through rate, CTR% and lowest CPC$ as well. We did get “Fundamentally Feminist” approved as well, which also had a super high CTR and Facebook really liked the ad, serving it the most impressions of all the creative we tested.

The other phrase that ActionAid liked and approved was “We like to use the F-Word A Lot” and “Feminism is the new F-word”. This was in the Facebook creative as well as on the donation page.

ActionAid message test: Feminist vs Climate Action

This was a really small test; it was to guide the decision on which language and messaging to use on the RG donation page (for monthly donors) and for the full program roll out. We only ran for seven days and spent $1500 ($750 on each theme: Climate Action vs Women’s Rights).

The purpose of the message test was to understand how people would respond to the stronger, overtly feminist messaging. And were these the same people that support ActionAid’s climate action, or not.

The split test was targeting the same audiences so we could measure this and the results were:

  • The only donations from this one-week message test were for the Climate Action creative.
  • The impressions, clicks and CTR were very close – 1.63% CTR for Climate Action and 1.60% CTR for Women’s Rights – so we can clearly say that the audience is equally interested in both Women’ Rights and Climate Action. Which is great because that is ActionAid’s mission and cause.
  • Costs were 15% lower for Climate Action – $0.87 CPC vs $1.03 CPC for Women’s Rights.
  • The engagement rate (people sharing, commenting on and reacting to the ads) was much higher for Climate Action – 5.4% vs only 3.6% for Women’s Rights.
  • The ‘Donate Now’ button CTA worked better than ‘learn more’ or ‘sign up’ for both Women’s Rights and Climate Action. Women’s Rights was slightly higher, but it didn’t get any conversions.
  • The most interesting results was that we had almost equal clicks from men as from women. And it was cheaper to get men to click $0.86 vs $1.02 for women. We think this is pure curiosity or even to aid trolling, as all the negative comments were from men. We’ll want to delve into this more in future tests.

Bold messaging charity campaignsThe great insights and confirmation here is: Women are responding to strong feminist messaging. They want an organisation to follow.

And ActionAid’s core work and messages about women in low-income communities taking action on climate also resonated really strongly with the best CTR and Lowest CPC for the campaign in the climate ads 06.03 and 06.04 and 06.01, which all represent women of colour fighting climate change.

So, it’s a big YES for stronger feminist messaging. It didn’t push Climate Action aside, it sat directly alongside it.

More testing is needed to see if it will convert to giving, but from an engagement point of view, the hypothesis is correct: women want strong feminist leadership.

Brave marketing messages for charities

I come from the faction that is prepared to name and shame, who believes in transparency and wants brutal honesty where possible. So of course I want to see this type of messaging from the nonprofit organisations that I support and work with. But that’s not the position, strategy or approach for most. That’s why when I come across it, it’s so damn inspiring.

If you want to see a collection of incredible campaigns from orgs that decided to be bold and brave click here and let me delight you.

If not, then boo to you 😉 (girl power strong arm emoji).

Shanelle Newton-Clapham is the Founder and Chief Digital Strategist at Parachute Digital.

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