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do the ASPCA commercials make you want to hang yourself?

My friend, April, recently posted on Facebook that she always mutes the TV when the ASPCA commercial comes on because it brings her to tears. She asked if anyone else mutes the TV. She got an overwhelming response, and no one said “I always watch them and then call in to donate money.” Responses ranged from “I turn the TV off,” to “I change the channel,” to “I fast forward on my DVR.” I explained that I shut my eyes, plug my ears, and sing “la la la, la la la, la la la…” My conclusion was that not too many people are watching these commercials, and my friend who started the post asked how effective the commercials could be if everyone was turning away.

That got me thinking. Us die-hard animal lovers probably already donate to some sort of animal-saving organization, perhaps local or, in all likelihood, the ASPCA. We know the horrors because we probably think about all the animals we can’t save on a daily basis. We volunteer hours and we open our pocketbooks. We even write blog posts. Most of us can’t bear to watch, and certainly can’t keep the tears at bay when Willie Nelson sings to us about love as the pitiful, sad faces in cages stream across our TVs.

I found the ASPCA commercial that is currently airing with Willie Nelson and Kim Rhodes on iSpot.tv:


When I pulled up the commercial on the computer for the purpose of this post, the littles even had a strong reaction. Campbell, my 4-year-old daughter, said “awww” every time the picture changed, and then declared “we have to save all those animals. I want to get them all.” Yeah, Cam. Me, too.

Porter, my six-year-old son, said “those animals all need our help? When can we get a cat?” Once again, I explained to him why we don’t have a cat.

And, of course, I was crying. These commercials are depressing. Does anyone actually watch them?

iSpot.tv is pretty cool because you can track the statistics on the commercials. Like when it last aired and how many times it’s aired and which programs it interrupts. What you can’t track is how effective it is. In a 2010 blog post, writer Franny Syufy reported that she asked the ASPCA directly about just that and they responded that “the ASPCA measures our success by the number of animals we are able to help and by how efficient we are at raising the money that allows us to help those animals.” They went on to say that they see significant revenue growth surrounding these ad campaigns. Yes, the same ones that are making most people I talk to turn away. So it appears that they do produce enough revenue to justify the cost of advertising. I won’t get into the debate about whether or not the ASPCA is a good organization to donate to because we all have our opinions about whether we should donate to national or local organizations. Suffice it to say that the ASPCA is a highly rated charity. Donating to a legitimate charity is a wonderful thing to do and a personal choice.

So I’m thinking these commercials can’t be targeting people like April and I (and all of her Facebook friends), because we’re just turning them off. We already understand the atrocities and don’t wish to be saddened further. So who do these commercials target? Who knows? But somebody is watching and donating because of them, or the ASPCA wouldn’t keep airing them, right? For those of us who don’t turn away, pulling at our heartstrings is effective.

But why not add a bit of positive into this advertising campaign? April put it perfectly:

I would much rather them show heart-warming stories of animals that have been impacted by the support. Showing them in loving homes, etc. I think that would have a much better impact than sad music, injured animals and stories of them being tortured.

She makes a great point, doesn’t she? I would totally watch a commercial like that!

Whether you’re turning away or opening your pockets, both, or neither, find a cause that you can support wholeheartedly and go for it! Helping animals in need, or anyone or anything in need just makes you feel good, even if the commercials make you want to hang yourself.

21 Comments on “do the ASPCA commercials make you want to hang yourself?”

  1. Great post lady and so honored to have inspired you to address this issue and take the time to blog about it! xoxoxoxoxo

  2. That’s a great idea. Some of the pet food commercials, and other commercials that are trying to sell us random things, are better at showing how great dogs are and how much humans want to spend their time with dogs, and spend their money on dogs too.

  3. Whee know Mummy cannot bring herself to watch the adverts about hoomans in third world countries but the ads about animals are great.

    This isn’t exactly an advert for animals but its really clever and shows the power of positivie advertising. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bx97IwIbc4A

    This advert is one of Mummy’s favourites. If rescues took note and advertised like this whee are sure they would have more of an effect – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaa9kTaqbsQ

    Nutty, Nacho, Buddy & Basil

  4. jank1961 says:

    April does make a great point. I do something with the TV as soon as I hear that music. It’s the same effect when animal advocates post awful photos on Facebook…..I scroll by. I know those bad things happen, but I just can’t take seeing it most days. I’m more apt to stop and look/read if there is a cute dog in need, or a happy story of an adoption.

  5. Emmadog says:

    I guess they must be effective as they are not going away, but we are an animal loving family, we have adopted pets, we have purebred pets, we support some animal groups but there is a limit to how much we can do and we really dislike these commercials. They are so sad and they only replay what we already know. We wish they would stop but if they save lives then let them run and we will run when then come on the TV.

  6. You won’t believe this but mom said almost the same thing about the ASPCA commercial in her blog about their No Puppy Stores Day. The YouTube video they did to promote that is very cute and uplifting. By the way the Sarah McLauchlin ad raked in millions for the ASPCA.

    • well minded says:

      I think most people think of the Sarah McLaughlin ad…it’s become a classic. I’d like to see things take a more positive turn, but I guess they have to stick with what works! Thanks for your comment.

  7. Psychological studies have shown that people respond more strongly to the fear of losing something than to the hope of gaining something. Whether that negative bias translate to sad adoption ads, I’m not sure.

    I do know that even effective negative ads lose their effectiveness over time.

    And just because someone keeps doing something doesn’t mean it’s working. I’m sure we could brainstorm gazillions of bad ideas perpetrated by powerful companies–I’m talking about you, Microsoft. 🙂

    Maybe what we need to remember is that the ASPCA ads aren’t geared toward us. We already understand the importance of rescue and support it with our money, by fostering, and by adopting rescued animals. These ads are geared toward people tempted to get a cute puppy from a pet store or backyard breeder.

  8. Great post! I’m like your friend – I mute the TV and absolutely will NOT look at the TV. I can’t wait to change the tunes of these commercials. I think they’d be more effective when it comes to adoption, especially!

  9. I’ve written by the ASPCA commercials a couple of times and raised the same questions – why not show something that’s more positive? But I agree that these commercials are for me and they must work for a good deal of the public or they wouldn’t waste the budget on them. For me, they inspired me to get involved local rescue, to start blogging abut our dogs, and to do more – in the mean time, I hope to see more success stories.

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