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Suiting Words to Action: Tailoring Advertising to Reinforce a Nonprofit’s Message

2 minute read | January 2015

With competing messages constantly fighting for consumers’ attention, it can be tough for companies to break through the clutter. For the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), the largest humanitarian agency addressing hunger around the world, the challenge was communicating its mission and driving people to action instead of growing sales.

The organization wanted to better understand which messages best conveyed the nature of its work and engaged consumers to help build a world with zero hunger. A research-based approach to crafting its message helped WFP better resonate with its key audience.

To address these challenges, Nielsen tested multiple messaging approaches in the U.S. and the U.K. through static sample print ads that WFP developed to align with the U.N.’s ongoing Zero Hunger Challenge. Consumer neuroscience ad testing allowed Nielsen to identify the factors that conveyed the organization’s messages clearly and inspired viewers to take action.

Using a combination of electroencephalography (EEG) and eye-tracking measurements, the team determined which ads yielded higher levels of memory activation, emotional engagement and action intent. Additionally, testing helped answer key questions like: Is the ad likely to drive behavior? Is it engaging or relatable? Is the ad communicating the key messages?

The results from the testing demonstrated how small changes in wording can make a relatively big difference in effectiveness. For example, including a simple benefit statement allowed viewers to connect how their response would make a tangible impact and consequently was shown to increase action intent. The team also found big differences in the call-to-action messaging in particular. One approach that was more active in nature and involved a personal call-to-action—by putting the viewer in the position of having to take part in something—generated a higher degree of novelty than more general statements, increasing the likelihood of it standing out among other messages.

But maintaining positivity in the messaging was key.

Framing hunger mitigation’s benefits in an upbeat way helped engage viewers and aligns with other research that too much focus on negative issues in charitable appeals may undermine their persuasiveness. Location was also important: The Nielsen team found that action intent was higher in the U.S. sample than in the U.K., a finding attributed to higher emotional engagement and higher memory activation overall.

For WFP, the insights that Nielsen provided were a reminder that data can be used to craft a more powerful message. For a global organization, it’s especially important to tailor messages so they resonate across different cultures. Going forward, WFP plans to incorporate these insights into optimizing its overall approach to messaging.

Pro bono support for WFP was provided through Nielsen’s global corporate social responsibility program, Nielsen Cares.

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