New Yorkers Shout Back About Those HSUS Ads

The "amNewYork" is a free daily newspaper published by the folks who bring you Newsday and the Cablevision digital TV service. Like similar "commuter rags" in other big cities, amNewYork caters to the subway crowd with light-hearted news, sports coverage, weather reports, and water-cooler gossip. It's the most widely-circulated daily newspaper in Manhattan.

This morning, hundreds of thousands of Big Apple readers are learning that it's okay to not like those Humane Society of the United States TV infomercial ads.

You know the commercials we're talking about: "For just 19 dollars a month…"  Yep. Those ads. It turns out Fox in New York City actually yanked them off the air after viewers said "enough!":

“I can’t watch them, I feel sad when I see them,” said Manhattan resident Joy Kreveillant, 21. “I usually have to flip the channel.”

The ads provoked such strong emotion that Fox pulled them off the air in December after viewers complained. “The feedback we were getting was that they were depressing,” said Alexis Baker, a spokeswoman for the cable channel …

The ads are tied to a membership drive, though [HSUS vice president Michael] Markarian would not say how much the campaign cost or if it’s boosted membership.

However, ad executives estimate that a 30 second segment on a local news channel such as NY1 would cost $200. And the group’s nonprofit tax filings for 2008, the latest year available, show that it spent $24 million on fund-raising efforts and reaped $87 million from contributions and grants.

We told amNewYork that when a nonprofit starts advertising on this scale, "it starts to look like a business and not a charity." We stand by that. And we're guessing the $19/month figure—why not $15 or $20?—was calculated to give HSUS just the right level of "yield" in return for what it spends.

We doubt HSUS pays $200 per spot, since they buy in bulk on a scale that Apple computer and Toyota would have trouble keeping up with. Their bank-card processing company probably takes three percent off the top of every donation. And HSUS had to invest money to shoot the ads, hire an agency to buy all the media, and pay a royalty for that weepy Sarah McLachlan song.

If they're lucky, they'll generate one new donor every time the ad runs. That's a year's worth of $19 monthly contributions, or $228.

They're probably just breaking even.

So maybe the point of all these ads isn't to make money after all, but to generate free PR exposure for the false premise that HSUS is primarily concerned with caring for dogs and cats (like a real Humane Society)? Could the new donors essentially be covering the cost for the misleading ads that hooked them, and nothing more?

That would make New Yorkers' negative reactions all the more interesting. HSUS may be sinking $5 or $6 million into a PR campaign that turns off as many people as it turns on.

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