They say laughter is the best medicine.

For charities, humour isn’t the most obvious tactic, with the majority using emotive and affecting advertising to convey urgency and brand purpose.

When it comes to serious or hard-to-stomach topics, however, a bit of humour can also be highly effective, helping to catch the public’s attention and drive online engagement (as well as donations).

So, which charities have succeeded with a funny and light-hearted tone in recent years? Here’s a run-down of some of the best, and the reasons why they work.

World Down Syndrome Day

To mark World Down Syndrome Day in 2017, Down Syndrome International released a PSA jokily explaining why the term ‘special needs’ does not make sense in relation to people with the condition.

Starring Glee actress, Lauren Potter, the ad brings to life what a number of ‘special needs’ might actually be, such as eating dinosaur eggs or being woken up by a celebrity each morning. But in reality, while they might need a little extra assistance in some areas, people with downs syndrome simply have the same needs – including love, friendship, and a career – as everyone else.

Touching and funny – the campaign is effective at using humour to break down common preconceptions. It also highlight’s the charity’s initiatives, encouraging people to visit its campaign website in order to find out more about the real lives of people with down syndrome.

UNICEF #kidstakeover chatbot

According to Unicef, being childish is not such a bad thing. In celebration of last year’s World Children’s Day, the charity launched the #KidsTakeOver campaign – based on the idea that kids around the world are taking over to fight for their own rights and to deliver their own message.

Part of the campaign was a Facebook Messenger chatbot, which asked participants to get involved in a whole host of fun (and child-like) activities. The premise was that the bot ‘kidified’ users, giving them the option to receive a quiz, a dare, or to donate to the cause.

A Marketer’s Guide to Chatbots

As well as Unicef’s own activity, kid-friendly brand LEGO also got involved, inviting a group of children to assume the key responsibilities of the LEGO CMO and Chairman to direct a stop-motion advert of the power of play.

The result was a humorous video that showcased the unique and creative vision of young children today, nicely tying in to Unicef’s overall campaign message.

Balls to Cancer & Volkswagen’s ‘Working with you’

The aim of the charity Balls to Cancer is to ‘fight testicular cancer with fun’. It speaks about the topic of testicular cancer in a decidedly jokey way, mainly to appeal to men who might be embarrassed or shy away from the subject.

This year, it has teamed up with Volkswagen to raise awareness during Male Cancer Awareness Month, creating an ad to urge people to take care of their health as much as they do their vans. The awkwardly comedic ad sees a man getting his van fixed, before dropping his trousers in hopes that the mechanic might take a look at something also in need of checking. “I just do vans”, is the reply, along with a prompt to see a GP if worried.

Highlighting the personal struggles that could easily prevent the disease, it’s a subtle and amusing way to raise awareness of cancer, without tugging on the heart-strings too much.

NSPCC’s ‘Kids vs Parents’ quiz

As part of NSPCC’s mission to prevent abuse of all kinds, the charity strives to educate families about online safety. Part of this means encouraging parents to talk openly with their kids about the dangers of the internet, as well as to find out what they’re doing online.

In a survey, however, the charity found that language can be a big barrier, with 48% of parents with children aged between eight and 13 years feeling confused about the language younger people use.

With the aim of bringing families closer together (and to help open up channels of communication), NSPCC created the ‘Kids vs Parents’ quiz in partnership with O2. The quiz, which participants could access through Amazon Alexa devices, encouraged parents and kids to spend time together while interacting in a fun and expressive way.

With NSPCC typically creating hard-hitting and often non-child friendly marketing, this more cheerful and interactive campaign made a refreshing change.

Movember’s Comedic Genuises

Movember is a charity that raises funds and awareness for a range of issues affecting modern men, including testicular cancer and mental health. Since 2003, it’s become well known for promoting these issues in the context of comedy, using the ever-amusing moustache as the basis for its marketing.

There have been a number of standout campaigns over the years, but Comedic Geniuses is probably the most overt example of humour as a tool to drive engagement.

Suggesting that “without a moustache, you’re 60% less likely to be funny”, the video nods to the male propensity to use humour to hide emotion (and to encourage them to get involved in the month-long event).

The Red Nose National News Network

Red Nose Day is perhaps the most obvious example of a humour and entertainment-driven charity endeavour. Indeed, the event has been occurring every two years since way back in 1988.

Apart from Red Nose Day itself, which also launched in the US in 2015, Comic Relief (the charity behind it) typically begins marketing activity in the run up to the event, enhancing visibility and encouraging people to get involved.

In 2017, Ben Stiller acted as the anchor for ‘Red Nose News National News Network’, telling people what they can do to raise funds. He offered amusing suggestions such as sponsoring a bake sale with items at ‘slightly inflated prices’, or simply ‘dressing up weird for a day’.

That year, the US raised $38 million, adding to an impressive $60 million before that. With its clever combination of big name stars and comedy-driven marketing, Comic Relief has successfully managed to get America on board.

Coppafeel

Coppafeel talks about breasts in the same way Balls to Cancer talks about testicles. Essentially, it aims to empower women by talking about a serious topic in a light-hearted and unexpectedly fun way.

Informing viewers that ‘touching your boobs could save your life’, its 2017 ad explained the various ways people can check themselves, illustrated with a variety of objects and food items designed to look like breasts.

 

With its tongue-in-cheek tone of voice, Coppafeel’s campaign is a great example of how to use cheeky humour to resonate with an audience. Side note: its Instagram account is also worth checking out for content in a similar vein.