The poster shown above was used by the Salvation Army in the UK. The first version of the poster was exactly the same as shown above, except that the word “CARE” after the words, “For God’s sake” was omitted. This first version was very successful in raising a lot of money. Then they added the word “CARE” as shown above, and donations dropped precipitously. How did the addition of this one word ruin a great ad?
The image of the small child who looks very confused and in need of help is probably what first meets the eye for most people, eliciting a theme of need and a response of caring.
But the words are important, too, including the words on the top of the poster eliciting sympathy for the child. The statement that the child could run faster backward than forward is particularly unique and evocative. Elegant.
The typography is also relevant. Using letters of different fonts, irregularly placed, looks like whoever made the poster was also quite needy. (Imagine the same poster, but with slick, nicely aligned typography, and notice the difference in your response.) And the blotchy look of the photo and the poster as a whole echoes this.
“Nice child” adds an amplification; not only has the child suffered, but it is a nice child, who surely doesn’t deserve such treatment.
“Who cares?” is an rhetorical question that is covertly directed at the reader, and which most people will respond to—either consciously or un—with feeling caring or empathy, and an inner “I do”—a very graceful amplification of what the reader is already feeling in response to the previous image and words. Everything at the top and middle of the poster is congruent in expressing need and eliciting caring.
“For God’s sake, give us a quid,” is a simple command, and again the whole focus is on the needy child, congruent with the words at the top of the page, and the neediness implied by the haphazard typography, etc. So the whole message is very direct and congruent, focused solely on the child’s need. Very elegant.
However, when the last sentence was changed to “For God’s sake, CARE, give us a quid,” that one word changes the focus, diverting attention from the congruent message that has been so artfully established. Now it is two separate commands, directing the reader’s attention in two different ways:
“For God’s sake, CARE,” commands the reader to CARE, directing attention to the reader’s feelings, a shift AWAY from attention to the child’s need.
Then “Give us a quid,” directs attention to the child’s need again; but it is too late; the carefully woven spell has been broken. How? Not only by the interruption of “For God’s sake, CARE,” but because this command has an uncomplimentary implication—that the reader doesn’t already care.
If the poster assumed that the reader was already caring, there would be no need to command the reader to care. If we assume that the reader is a caring person who has been responding congruently to the poster’s multiple eloquent pleas, the command to CARE (CARE emphasized by CAPITAL letters, which is a bit crude or rude in itself) is something of an insult, and not likely to induce them to give. And it didn’t.
–by Steve Andreas