In a Radical Departure From Previous Work, United Way’s New PSA Shows Philanthropy Isn’t Pretty

Campaign shows 'problems nobody talks about at cocktail parties'

The United Way is motivating people to join its cause with heartbreaking imagery.
United Way

United Way raises more than $4.7 billion every year for improving health, education and stability in communities around the globe, and until now, its marketing focused on the aftermath and uplifting side to its good work, often featuring smiling volunteers in “Live United” t-shirts. But the nonprofit is taking a drastic turn to prompt more people to take action: its latest PSA shows what these communities look like before United Way steps in to help.

“Join the fight,” created with agency of record BVK, shows gritty scenes from neighborhoods plagued by homelessness, drug addiction and domestic violence—or, as the ad says, “problems that most people don’t have the stomach for, that nobody talks about at cocktail parties.” It explains how United Way seeks out and fights these problems, as well as encourages others to get involved.

The new approach creates a greater sense of urgency for others to donate funds or volunteer, said Lisa Bowman, CMO at United Way.

“We needed to help people understand what those problems were, not just show the aftermath of everything being clean and pretty,” she said. “It’s about taking a hard, realistic look at what’s happening in our communities today and the work that United Way is encouraging people to join us in the fight against.”

“A lot of people know what United Way is, but don’t necessarily know what they do,” added Brian Ganther, executive creative director at BVK. “United Way knew they needed to make something provocative and put the problems front and center to ask viewers to get involved in solving them.”

Most of the people who appear in the PSA are actors, but one man, Deon, is a homeless man who United Way’s staff met while shooting the ad.

“Meeting Deon made me realize, personally, what people are going through,” Bowman said. “Our research showed that, when exposed to this messaging and these images, it motivates people to lean in and join the fight.”

CREDITS:

Agency: BVK
Chief Creative Officer: Gary Mueller
Executive Creative Director/Copywriter: Brian Ganther
Group Creative Director/Art Director: Matt Herrmann
Art Director: Austin Kelley
Senior Producer: Jessica Farrell
VP, Account Director: Kevin Steltz
Senior Account Executive: Jamie Foley

Production:
Director: Andy Maser, Maser Films
Producer: Rachel Meyer, Maser Films
Photo Producer: Tara Trullinger, Get It Productions
DP: Christopher Gill
Editor: Chris Thompson, Good Credit Productions
Colorist: Tyler Roth, Company 3
Sound Mix: Steve Kultgen, Independent Studios
Still Photographer: Matt Eich

Music Company: Musicbed
Composer: “Across the Sea” by Blake Ewing