[Hpn] Homeless "Old White Guy"

HOBOMATT@aol.com HOBOMATT@aol.com
Fri, 17 Nov 2000 15:39:13 -0500 (EST)

I pulled this off the list two years ago. Its that time again.......
Matt Parkhouse,
Colorado Springs, CO

FWD  St. Petersburg Times, November 15, 1998


Area social service agencies have adopted a tried-and-true
marketing move to maximize donations for the homeless:
"The Old White Guy.''

By Adam C. Smith

You may have seen him grizzled and hunched over a plate of food, tugging at
your heart strings. He could be your uncle or father after a lifetime of
bad choices.

Thousands of Tampa Bay residents will see his photo this holiday season and
open their checkbooks for local homeless programs. But you probably won't
find this sad fellow at any area shelter.

His photo, or one of another similarly down-on-his-luck senior, appears in
dozens of newspapers from Florida to California. Advertising executives
insist he is -- or once was -- an actual person in need, though they don't
know offhand his name or whereabouts. He gets no royalties.

And while rescue missions don't much like to talk about it, Mr. Anonymous
is also part of a curious truism among service providers for the homeless:
the Old White Guy sells.

Put a picture of a Hispanic teen, a black senior, or any mother and child
in a newspaper or direct mail piece, and people will give money. Use an old
white man, and more people will give money, say advertising executives.

"You test and you test and you test, and in the end you go with the guy who
draws the most," said Tom Harrison, a senior vice president at Russ Reid
Co., which provides an ad campaign to about 60 rescue missions across the

"I was shocked because I would think a picture of a mother and child that's
homeless and needs everything would draw the most, but it doesn't," said
Harrison. "What works best is the stereotypical vision of what the homeless
person is. People think of an older male alcoholic."

The Tampa City Mission and St. Petersburg City Mission this year are using
California-based Russ Reid to place newspaper ads featuring a wrinkled,
white-haired man in a ball cap looking into a plate of food. The campaign
last year helped the Tampa mission raise $227,000 and the St. Petersburg
mission more than $350,000. Tampa's Metropolitan Ministries for the first
time this year started placing a similar ad with a weathered man's photo
supplied by another national firm.

The Old White Guy marketing principle raises perplexing questions about
human nature and compassion. It is also the source of great debate among
service providers who know firsthand that the face of homelessness is in
fact black and white, young and old, male and female.

But the providers need every penny they can get to meet needs, and
marketing pros keep reminding them that the elderly white man works best.

"It's a big controversy, and there are groups of people in the industry
that are starting to challenge that assumption," said Chasz Parker, the
former assistant director of Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa and now the
director of a large rescue mission in Syracuse, N.Y. "Everyone's told that
the picture of the old white guy works best. Perhaps it reminds somebody of
your dad, your uncle, your grandpa. Or perhaps it's just the most pathetic
picture you can have. I just don't know the answer."

A handful of national advertising companies specialize in donor campaigns
for homeless programs. They analyze potential pitches with the same
precision used for marketing toothpaste or soft drinks.

"A picture of a woman alone does not do well. A woman with a child does a
little better. But it's the older white man who's king," said Timothy
Burgess of The Domain Group, a Seattle-based ad firm. He thinks it's
because people associate him with urban rescue missions.

Randy Brewer, vice president of Grizzard Advertising in Los Angeles, said
focus groups found old black men second in effectiveness, though their
facial details can be difficult to see in black and white newspaper ads.
Least effective are young men, especially when pictured holding "Will Work
for Food" signs.

"The attitude of the responder is, "He can go get a job. He doesn't need my
help,' " Brewer said.

Giff Claiborne of the Los Angeles Rescue Mission has developed a national
reputation marketing rescue missions, and he dismisses the theory that old
white men always work best. Still, he acknowledged that most of the Los
Angeles Mission's holiday pictures feature them.

Countless variables come into play with an ad's effectiveness, Claiborne
said. One of the most effective newspaper ads he ever saw happened to be
positioned near a picture of Cher.

"Maybe we should try to use Cher in our ads," he suggested.

St. Petersburg's St. Vincent de Paul Society does not use a national
advertising company, but places newspaper ads with a photo of a woman with
a child digging in a trash bin. Executive Director Lola Walker said the
people pictured were an ad agency employee and her daughter who had donated
their services.

For years, Metropolitan Ministries insisted that only photos of actual
clients be used in its fund-raising pitches. This year, the 27-year-old
ministry started supplementing its own photos with a newspaper campaign
almost identical to the Tampa and St. Petersburg city missions.

The ad notes it takes just $1.79 for a Thanksgiving dinner and pictures a
bearded, well-worn face sipping from a foam cup. Ministry leaders don't
know who the man is, but their advertising company, Grizzard Advertising,
assures them he was a needy client somewhere.

Curiously, the St. Petersburg and Tampa missions say their full
Thanksgiving meals cost $1.57 -- 22 cents less than Metropolitan
Ministries. It's not that one offers white meat, the other dark. The
figures come from two different ad agencies, which say the calculations
stem from surveys of dozens of rescue missions.

The holiday-meal pitch is repeated across the country by non-profit groups,
and it raises eyebrows among watchdogs.

"It's a feel-good appeal because people like the idea that my single
donation will let somebody have a turkey dinner," said Daniel Borochoff,
president of the American Institute of Philanthropy. "They have these ads
appear during the holiday time for the holiday meal, but when you look at
it, most of the food is getting donated. Usually, that's not really what
they need most of the money for. Most of the money is going for general
program services throughout the year."

The ads for Metropolitan Ministries and the Tampa and St. Petersburg
missions focus on holiday meals, but also mention other services.

For cash-strapped programs trying to serve the homeless, the trick is to
pull in the most donations without blurring ethical lines. Many missions
show a wide array of clients in their fund-raising pitches, even as the
conventional marketing wisdom pushes the tried-and-true old man.

"The question is, "Are we attempting to educate people or are we attempting
to emote response and emotion that gets people to participate?' " asked
Brewer of Grizzard. "These groups do not have a lot of money to spend on
advertising, and it's important that they stretch their dollars."