06/02/2015 11:19 GMT | Updated 06/02/2015 11:59 GMT

Harrison's Fund Advertising Experiment Suggests We Care More About Dogs Than Children

People would rather give money to help a dog than a dying child, an innovative advertising experiment has suggested.

Charity Harrison's Fund had often struggled to raise funds for the rare condition Duchenne muscular dystrophy, an incurable muscle-wasting disease which gives boys a life expectancy of 20, while donations flood in to animal charities.

To test out its suspicions that people prefer animals to children, it ran two versions of an ad campaign. Both used the words "Would you give £5 to save Harrison from a slow, painful death?"

harrisons fund

One version featured the real Harrison...

harrisons fund

...while the other stared a picture of a dog unrelated to the charity

One ad used a picture of Harrison - a boy who suffers from Duchenne and is the son of Alex Smith who founded Harrison's Fund to try to find a cure for his son's devastating condition.

The other ad featured a picture of a dog which, in his own words, Alex "found on the internet".

The results were definitive.

The advert starring eight-year-old Harrison attracted 111 clicks online, whereas the dog attracted double that amount - 230 clicks.

harrison smith

The real Harrison, who has the terminal condition Duchenne muscular dystrophy

A printed version of the ad that appeared in a newspaper used the dog picture, explaining: "This isn't Harrison by the way, this is a picture of a dog I found on the internet. Harrison is my eight-year-old son. I used this image because people in Britain are more likely to donate to save an animal than a child with Duchenne."

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The newspaper version of the ad


These results didn't surprise Geoff Gower, the executive creative director of advertising agency AIS London which created the ads. "If you look at the amounts donated to the UK's biggest animal charities compared to charities for children's illnesses, much more is given to animal causes," he told The Huffington Post UK. "As far as we know, no-one has tested this out before."

"Personally, I find it extraordinary, I have three young boys which is why we are so committed to working with the charity.

"But what's coming out is that people seem to think that your taxes should pay for health care for kids who are severely disabled or terminally ill. Which is ridiculous as that's not the case, but people think there isn't a system in place for animals."

Harrison's Fund is no stranger to shock tactics: it ran an ad last year showing Harrison with Alex his dad, stating 'I wish my son had cancer', which grabbed media attention for pointing out that cancer charities receive far more funding than rare diseases like DMD.

i wish my son had cancer

The 'I wish my son had cancer' ad sparked controversy in 2014

Alex said the dog experiment aimed to highlight the disparity in the amount given to animal charities verses charities for children.

“The inspiration for this campaign comes from my desperation that money that could save my son is being spent elsewhere," he said. "I'm often asked if I regret placing shocking and controversial adverts to highlight my cause. Not at all.

"In my opinion, being blatant is one of the only ways small charities can gain the same traction and voice that larger organisations do.

“Don’t get me wrong, I am an animal lover too and have pets of my own but when the decision comes down to saving a child’s life or saving an animal’s life, I would always choose the child. But it seems that not everyone in the UK feels that way as the results of our online advert shows - people are twice as likely to give to save a dog than a dying child."

Duchenne is a fatal neuromuscular condition that affects one in 3,500 boys. It is 100% fatal and is caused by the lack of a protein called dystrophin, which leads to progressive muscle weakness.

Boys often need leg braces to walk by the age of 10, and need wheelchairs by the age of 12, ultimately becoming paralysed before dying young.

Alex is running an Iron Man race - a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike ride and a 42.2km run - while carrying eight-year-old Harrison, to raise money to find a cure.