Jul. 30th, 2008

Advertising vs. Street Canvassers

If you’re downtown at pretty much any time of day on pretty much any block, you can’t avoid them. The moment you see them, you mentally prepare yourself. Sometimes a mean comeback pops to mind, like, "No thanks, I hate children," or "Trees are ugly. Cut ’em down!" But usually you just carefully avoid eye contact, pretend you’re on your cell phone, or, if you’re feeling really un-confrontational, cross to the other side of the street before they see you.

I have nothing personal against street canvassers. I was one once. They’re average kids trying to make rent while doing something that they at least think they believe in. But more often than not, they’re being taken advantage of by an intermediary company that pays well below minimum wage and rips off the non-profits that hire them. That aside, street canvassers are freaking annoying and most of us plop them into the same category as the panhandlers they share the sidewalk with. We feel guilty for a second, but when they start following us down the block, we run for our lives.

Here’s my advice to Greenpeace and Save the Children and the Sierra Club and whoever else I ignore every day walking down Geary Street: Ditch the kids. They can work at Starbucks or something. Get over your down-with-the-man anti-capitalism bias and buy some ad space. There are a ton of talented students and generous professionals who probably already have brilliant ideas you could use to motivate and inspire people – or, at the very least, remind them you exist without making them want to crush the dreams of hapless college students.

There’s been a lot of really fantastic advertising for non-profits. The Ad Council does inspiring work routinely for extremely deserving causes.

This is the ad that inspired me to write this blog:


We’ll see what happens, but they’re absolutely right – if even one Olympian does one thing in reference to Tibet, than this single ad is worth many, many times what they bought it for. This ad on it’s own made me seriously think about their cause for probably ten minutes total, and pass it on.

So… do you think a street canvasser could do this? Can a team of wind-breakered 19-year-olds with rehearsed pitches and clipboards do as much as one really great ad?

I don’t know the numbers – maybe guilt and dogged persistence are more effective than smart copy and strategic media buys – in which case Ryan and I would probably be out of jobs – or maybe non-profits should be smarter with their money and more 19-year-olds should save their idealism for a more deserving method.


  • JonS
    Oct. 20th, 2008

    I think street canvassing (i haven’t done it) but a Human face on a problem. They’re visible and they make you think even if you don’t donate. Better than a static ad or something.. you can’t ignore a human being.

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