Majority know they should call Scottish SPCA

Distinction between charities now clearer, says Michelle Grubb
SSPCA is the only animal charity in the UK authorised to enforce animal welfare legislation. Picture: Jane BarlowSSPCA is the only animal charity in the UK authorised to enforce animal welfare legislation. Picture: Jane Barlow
SSPCA is the only animal charity in the UK authorised to enforce animal welfare legislation. Picture: Jane Barlow

Sometimes a brand name becomes so ingrained in the public conscience that it becomes synonymous with the function it performs.

Google has entered our language to describe any internet query, regardless of the search engine used.

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Ask home owners if they own a Hoover and it’s likely the majority of those polled would answer they do. However, the likelihood is many of those who responded positively would in fact own an alternative brand of vacuum cleaner. The mistake made would have been to confuse a manufacturer with a type of product.

There are many other examples we repeat throughout our daily life. Bubble Wrap and Jacuzzi are brand names, not products. Ask for a Coke in any bar and you may be served any one of a variety of colas.

This is called genericide, when the meaning of a brand name is transformed through popular usage. Our responses in these situations tend to be instinctive rather than considered and based on information fed to us through word of mouth, advertising and the media.

Considerable success

Attempting to change established behaviour can feel like swimming against the tide. Yet it’s a challenge the Scottish SPCA has taken on in recent years with considerable success.

The Scottish SPCA was formed in 1839 – 15 years after the RSPCA had been established to help animals in England and Wales. Both charities have always been separate and perform their roles in their own countries and under different legal systems, with the Scottish SPCA being the only animal charity in the UK authorised to enforce animal welfare legislation.

Yet the distinction between the two charities was not always clear in the minds of the Scottish public. In 2009, 70 per cent of people in Scotland said they would contact the RSPCA if an animal was in danger or distress. Only 18 per cent would have called the Scottish SPCA.

Over time, the RSPCA’s profile and influence had become so significant in the public’s mind, its name became entwined with animal welfare almost throughout the UK.

When the RSPCA appeared in the Scottish media or advertised in Scotland, it was rarely made clear that this was an English and Welsh charity which didn’t work north of the Border.

A stronger voice

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It is understandable that so few people realised that calling the RSPCA to help animals in Scotland may endanger lives due to the delays involved and that their donations would not save animals in Scottish communities.

The Scottish SPCA fought for a stronger voice to make this clear but it seemed no matter how loud we shouted our message was drowned out.

Generations in Scotland grew up largely aware of one charity but not the other, mistakenly believing that the RSPCA helped animals in their country or that the Scottish SPCA was a branch of a larger UK-wide charity.

Four and a half years ago, the tide started to turn. Having tried to convince the RSPCA to be clear in its advertising about where it worked but without any sign of a breakthrough, the Scottish SPCA launched a forthright and groundbreaking campaign, stressing that the RSPCA can’t help animals in Scotland. Our campaign was a watershed moment in our history and met an overwhelmingly positive response.

Large numbers of donors who had believed they were helping animals at their local Scottish SPCA rescue centre gave us their support. Legacy income intended to save animals in Scotland increased and, most significantly, more people became aware of which charity to contact if an animal was hurt or being abused. This year, research demonstrated that 71 per cent of the Scottish population now know to call the Scottish SPCA if an animal needs help, a dramatic increase of 53 per cent since 2009.

We have harnessed this momentum and the backing we have received, building new rescue centres, taking on more inspectors and expanding our free and tremendously successful Prevention through Education programme for Scottish schools.

In 2014, we’ll reflect on our landmark 175th anniversary and look ahead to the future and the progress still to be made.

In a perfect world, the Scottish SPCA wouldn’t need to exist and every animal in Scotland would be well cared for and treated with compassion and respect. Until then, it is vital that the Scottish public know which charity can help animals in Scotland.

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• Michelle Grubb is head of marketing and communications with the Scottish SPCA