Christmas advertising blitzkrieg begins, charities rail against crap gifts once again

‘Tis the season to embarrass yourself at the workplace Christmas party. ‘Tis also the season to think about presents for your loved—or, if Secret Santa’s on offer, unloved—ones. And while it’s tempting to get everyone you know a life size cardboard of yourself, charities are making their annual call for us to resist our childish, consumerist urges and instead be more grown up in our approach to giving.

With the pro-bono help of DraftFCB, Unicef New Zealand is leading the way with an engaging Christmas campaign calling on us to Say No to Naff gifts like socks, soap, satin boxer shorts, or smellies that scare away the talent. Instead, Unicef has a selection of alternative gifts you can give on someone’s behalf to people living a third world country.

A mozzie net to protect people from malaria, 100 Polio vaccinations for children, five story books, 500 colour pencils or 1000 water purification tablets can all be purchased for less than $30 each.

This is only the third year Unicef has run an alternative gift giving campaign for the Christmas season and Unicef New Zealand chief executive Dennis McKinlay says the ROI “was not good” in the first two years.

“We didn’t make huge progress,” he says. But this year the campaign has had an “very substantial increase of interest” compared to the previous years.

Youtube VideoHe puts this down to a better use of social media, which includes a nifty video on YouTube and a popular Facebook page that allows people to receive good gifts as well as send (it’s DraftFCB’s first completely social media-based campaigns).

However, McKinlay admits that it’s too early to tell whether the campaign will, in the end, give a good ROI. But the knitted billboard constructed by DraftFCB that’s due to go up in Auckland’s CBD tomorrow should help.

“It’s hard to know the end result because just before Christmas there’s a big rush to make a last minute purchase. Give me a ring in January and I’ll tell you how it went,” he says.

There’s certainly no shortage of competition for New Zealand’s charity dollar over Christmas. ChildFund New Zealand communications manager Kiri Carter says ChildFund’s Gifts that Grow, which is now in its fifth year, are bought and “sell well” each year. New Zealanders have certainly embraced the trend of giving animals as gifts (perhaps due to a combination of comedy value and warm fuzzies) and, as of this time last year had given 40,000 hens, roosters and baby chicks, 3,500 goats, 569 cows and 41 turkeys to impoverished through the families.

“Many supporters are repeat purchasers of Gifts that Grow. They tell us how they love to give gifts with real meaning at Christmas and that during these tough economic times, ChildFund gifts have become an important part of their Christmas shopping and are no longer just a novelty. To keep it fresh, the gifts are updated every year depending on what’s needed in communities, and we also change our ‘hero’ gift each year. This year it is the humble sheep.”

To create awareness about the sheep theme, ChildFund sent balls of wool and knitting needles to long lead media so they can make their own Christmas stockings. It then sent handmade Christmas stockings to short lead media. The rest of campaign won’t be revealed until next week, but Carter hints it plays with the idea of “yarn”.

Probably the most prominent charity in most people’s minds for alternative gift giving is Oxfam, which popularised the idea with its Give a Goat campaign.

Karen Watson, Oxfam New Zealand’s marketing coordinator, says the Oxfam Unwrapped campaign has been “hugely sucessful” (check out a few of the previous ads here).

“Over the past five years, Oxfam Unwrapped has raised nearly $3.5 million to help people in the Pacific and East Asia. In terms of cost, it’s been a very effective way for Oxfam to generate the resources needed to fund our programme work in developing countries.”

Oxfam’s supporters, says Watson, have a variety of reason for buying alternative gifts, but the main reason, she says, is because they know it makes a real difference to people living in poverty.

“Many want to avoid buying ‘stuff’ that’s not needed, others like the cheekiness of giving a goat or a toilet, others want to teach their children about what’s happening in other communities around the world.

This year Oxfam Unwrapped has all sorts of “funusual” creatures for sale in its online shop window. As well as the now standard goats, piglets, honey bees, donkeys, ducks and lambs are all ready for departure. And ff that doesn’t pull your chain, for $50 you can buy a toilet (there’s also an unwrapped wedding gift service).

WorldVision, The Leprosy Mission and Trade Aid also run similar schemes and Greenpeace has also got in on the act of alternative gift giving this year, suggesting homemade preserves and artwork or “re-gifting” as ways to minimise our impact on the planet.

“Alternative gift-giving is not a new concept,” says World Vision’s director of engagement Paul Newnham (the new ‘Smiles‘ campaign has just been launched with the help of ssignment, Exposure and MBM). “Category growth is largely driven by increasing product awareness and there are many charities that offer alternative gifts. It’s better for all of us to grow the pool than compete for share within it. At the end of the day, we all share the common goal of eradicating poverty.”

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