Do Abstract Images of Hunger Work in Advertising?

In response to an L.A. Times feature questioning consumer marketing tactics for nonprofits
G2 ad
Abstract imagery in an ad created for Action Against Hunger by G2. Creative credit: G2

In late 2011, we launched a print ad campaign that took an innovative approach to raising awareness and funds to fight hunger -- an ad campaign that didn't depict hungry people. The ads, which can be seen here, used abstract images to engage readers in a fresh, dynamic way. The terrific pro bono work of creative agency G2, the ads proved highly successful and we're thrilled to be launching a related animated PSA soon. This week, the Los Angeles Times ran a feature exploring our ad campaign, along with a like-minded one from Oxfam. Included in that piece was criticism for nonprofits using abstract image ad campaigns from a nonprofit consultant and a blogger. We invite you to read the article, as well as our official response in the form of a Letter to the Editor submitted to the newspaper on January 30, 2013:

"Re: Ads to fight hunger in Africa, without the hungry, Jan. 29:
In commenting on Action Against Hunger’s innovative ads using abstract images to raise awareness about global hunger, consultant Nancy Schwartz and blogger Jeff Brooks deemed our campaign “a failure.” But it’s Schwartz and Brooks who fail to realize that the campaign was in fact quite the opposite -- highly successful in terms of brand lift and donor engagement, especially when it came to our younger supporters. That engagement translates into the real success -- being able to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance to more than seven million people in 40 countries around the world. We applaud creative agency G2 for the bold, avant-garde approach it took in crafting the ads for us, and look forward to a similarly fresh video PSA coming out soon.”

—Matt Aubry, Director of External Relations, Action Against Hunger

It's that shared desire for a fresh approach that made benefitting from G2's pro bono services such a good fit for us. As the agency's Chief Creative Officer explains:

"Imagery in print advertisements must do two things well: capture readers’ attention and convey complex thoughts simply. Unexpected imagery is often the best way to accomplish the first task. In the case of hunger relief, people have been exposed to so many images of gaunt, starving children over the years that the images have -- sadly -- lost some of their power to arrest attention and inspire action. So, we felt the need to explore other terrain for Action Against Hunger from the outset."

—Bruce Henderson, Chief Creative Officer, G2

We're glad they did! Do you agree? Sound off below. 

Tell Us What You Think

Creative risk-taking: pro or con? Share your thoughts about the virtues and vices of doing an anti-hunger ad without showing hungry people -- or any people at all, for that matter. Can abstract ads be effective?

Support our lifesaving work around the world


About Elisabeth Anderson Rapport

Elisabeth Anderson Rapport, Senior Communications Officer

Elisabeth is Action Against Hunger's senior communications officer, reporting on our impact and current events around the world.