Some of you may have seen my recent interview in the Telegraph about the charity's latest advert so I thought I'd explain my reasonings behind it on here.
Last year when the Manchester dog's home went up in flames I was watching the television and my first thought was how proud I felt that the UK was such a generous nation of animal lovers. However this was swiftly followed by my second, which was, how can we possibly justify raising of £2million for animals when there are children like my eight-year-old son, Harrison, dying every day from fatal illnesses.
Harrison has Duchenne, a disease that means he probably won't live to see his 20th birthday. In 2011 I founded Harrison's Fund to raise money to fund research to develop a cure.
You would think that raising money to save dying children would be relatively easy, right? Well bizarrely in the UK many people choose to give their hard earned money to charities caring for animals, so I began to wonder if it would actually be easier to raise money for Harrison if he were a dog?
A few years back the charity was lucky enough to be selected by creative agency Ais London as their chosen charity. So I went to them with this request. "I will do anything to try and save my son and if I have to pretend he's a dog to get people to care, I'll do that in heartbeat."
We started the creative process and came up with 'I wish my son was a dog'. The crux of the message was that whilst no one wants to see animals suffer there are still children in the UK dying in the cruelest way imaginable and there is an argument to say that we should prioritise them.
There are 1,541 animal charities in the UK compared to just eight Duchenne charities. The RSPCA is the top UK animal charity and yes they do excellent work, but their 2014 income was £132million more than Harrison's Fund. An unfair comparison I am sure you'll say looking into the size difference and longevity of the charities, so we decided to run our own experiment.
We made two very simple digital ads, identical in every way bar the image. One featured Harrison, the other a picture of dog we found on the Internet and ran them on the same UK media network with the same weighting. They both asked 'would you give £5 to help save Harrison from a slow and painful death'? Two million impressions later, the results were what we suspected, irritatingly but unsurprisingly the dog advert was clicked on twice as much as the one featuring my beautiful son. Of the 350,757 impressions, Harrison's advert received 111 clicks compared to the 230 of the dog advert.
I received this email through almost straight away: "I am curious as to why you are using a picture of a sad looking dog for this advert. I clicked on it believing it was a dog charity or similar. I was misled.
Why are you misleading people?"
It's hard to understand why certain causes resonate with the UK public more than others. But what I do know, or hope at least, is that in the real world, few of us would actually choose to save a dog over a dying child. Which is what frustrates me the most.
We also ran a similar advert in the Evening Standard, but this time explained that the image of the dog wasn't Harrison but that he is my son who has been diagnosed with Duchenne. The vast majority of responses so far have been positive with a few people questioning our motives because they felt tricked but the support we've received overall has been overwhelming:
Brilliant ad from @HarrisonsFund in the Evening Standard on my train home. #MakeTime
@dwilliamson931 :@HarrisonsFund @AntAnstead We pay taxes to help humans with medical issues. Animals don't benefit from these taxes
"First of all I do congratulate you on the impact of your advertisement for fundraising on behalf of your organisation. It has had (presumably, the desired effect) of making me want to explore your message. Whilst you advertisement may have the impact of drawing attention I personally find that it has the opposite result. To compare yourself with other charities seeking aid is in my opinion disgraceful." (via email)
I love it too..... so true... people would rather save the dog than a little boy... I hope it gets as much of a reaction as the last ad
I recognise that to some our new advert is controversial, but I'm pretty confident that it won't adversely affect donations to animals' charities. However, it might just stop and make someone think about where they donate their money next time and who really needs it. I have hope I have reached at least a few people out there as I received the following email along with a small donation after the advert ran: "I feel ashamed that I read your add because of the picture of the dog. I would have moved on if it had actually been a picture of Harrison."
The awful truth is that my son is dying and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to save him.