HOLD back from the headlong charge to the kettle mid-way through your number one soap this week and you may catch more than the resurrection of your favourite TV star. For the first time in a national advertising campaign on the small screen, a third world development charity is about to pit itself against the rival attractions of stone-washed jeans and beer and hope to extract front the great British public that most important of life-giving forces — their cash.
The advertisement, on behalf of Christian Aid, shows a fetus cocooned in his mother's womb, an image which could have been taken from anywhere in the world. But the message is disturbing.
"For millions of people in the third world, these will be the best months of their lives. Later on there is little nourishment, less shelter, and no comfort," the voice-over tells the viewer to a specially-commissioned synthesiser tune as the camera angles in on the unborn child.
And as the child is left behind, attention turns to a Christian Aid Week donor envelope falling through a household letter box to the floor, accompanied by the words "we're working to give everyone a real chance of life because we believe in life before death. Do you? Please help us in Christian Aid Week".
Kate Philips, head of communications at Christian Aid, says that the agency hopes to reach as many as 80 per cent of households through its television campaign, which was made possible by changes to the laws regulating advertising by charities in Parliament last year.
But the decision to launch Christian Aid onto commercial TV was taken only after extensive research into its likely effectiveness for fund-raising, and a trial campaign last year on three of the regional networks. Tyne Tees, Granada and Central were chosen for the experiment, (similar to those of Oxfam and the Red Cross) which showed scenes of a village healthworker in Asia (actually Bangladesh) and the work being done by Christian Aid and others to combat disease from infected water and malnutrition.
The current advertisement grew out of a close working relationship established by Christian Aid with its new ad agency, the London-based firm Butterfield, Day, Devito and flockney, an operation which has sold high performance cars for Honda and telephone calls for BT in its time.
"Me theme of the life before death is one which has resonances that everyone will understand," Kate Philips says.
"It is important for people to take a fresh look at charities, what they do and what they stand for — and to think about why overseas aid is needed at all. The ad conveys the very
simple message that the peoples of the world are equal as the children of God and asks why our lives are so different after we are born.
"From Christian Aid's point of view television advertising works for us at the time our 400,000 door-to-door visitors are collecting for Christian Aid Week. It helps us hammer home the message," Kate Philips says.
Peter Barnes, the ad man heading the creative team working on Christian Aid's campaign (his other clients include a cider company and a hair care firm) says that the TV commercials will he targeted to an adult audience with a proven interest in religious and world affairs.
"Within a general mix of.TV time we would expect the ads to appear with such programmes as World in Action, News at Ten, Morning Worship, and Highway.
"Although the Christian Aid commercial and the accompanying ads to appear in the national press have been in some ways like any other advertising for us, attempting to change people's minds and habits, we have all been greatly affected by our experience with Christian Aid. It is impossible to work on something like this without becoming involved," Mr Barnes says.
"We have just gone from a major war to a refugee crisis of equal proportions, and so we cannot tell what increase in total money raised the TV ads will bring. But the commercials will cost no more than the nationwide poster campaigns the charity has run in past years. I don't think I have ever been involved in making a commercial which has cost less than eight times the money spent by Christian Aid!" he says.
"We have tried not just to give people a message they understand, but to make them feel empowered in some way to affect what might otherwise seem to be the insurmountable problems of the third world through the immediate link they are offered to the charity," he says.