American Red Cross – Integrated Marketing Campaign

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American Red Cross: Integrated marketing campaign saves the day

The challenge

The American Red Cross (ARC) entered the fourth quarter of 2009 with a funding deficit. Our efforts to close the income gap had been hindered by lower-than-anticipated disaster giving (due to a lack of major “top news story” disasters and the country’s economic crisis).

We knew we had to capture a greater share of holiday and year-end giving.

The key challenge: Most donors think of the Red Cross as THE organization to support when a major disaster hits. Few would associate the holidays with giving to the Red Cross. And we’d be competing for share of mind and wallet against other well-established charity campaigns that have become holiday traditions.

Moreover, the Red Cross had not yet found a truly effective fundraising platform outside of disasters. Even loyal donors may not realize that the Red Cross helps people in URGENT need every single day, in communities all across the coun­try.

The Red Cross provides more than half of the nation’s blood supply, comes to the aid of tens of thousands of victims of home fires, and responds to thousands of local and regional emergencies every year. Yet ARC income is highly depen­dent on major disaster giving.

We needed to test an entirely new approach to fundraising in order to gain share of holiday and year-end giving. That approach needed to communicate why a gift to the Red Cross is urgently needed at ANY time, not just during high-profile disasters.

And we had to work fast. We began planning the strategy, creative and media in mid-September for a November 23rd launch.


  1. Generate incremental income to help close the deficit gap
  2. Increase ARC share of holiday/year-end donations
  3. Make a compelling case for the urgency of giving to the Red Cross in a non-disaster context
  4. Increase brand awareness and intention to give
  5. Drive the majority of donors online to donate

Russ Reid solution


Our overarching strategy was to create a “surround sound” effect in the marketplace. We crafted a multi-channel cam­paign that was a hybrid of direct response and branding designed to lift TOTAL response.

The campaign was structured to employ direct response TV, print ads, web banners and transit ads to build awareness and drive donors to our website.

The media blitz was integrated creatively to support local Red Cross chapter fundraising.

To actually CAPTURE the majority of donations, we layered in core direct response vehicles: search engine mar­keting, email and direct mail.

We conducted quantitative online research to test new themes and calls to action against the Red Cross traditional brand positioning of “Change a Life. Starting with Your Own.”

Americans see the Red Cross as the organization they count on in a disaster. They’re motivated by urgent needs and human suffering. But the then-current positioning line (“Change a Life. Starting with Your Own.”) did not speak to ARC’s distinctive strength. We needed a new theme for the campaign that would convey the urgency of the needs—the everyday crises—ARC responds to all year long.

That’s why we chose “Give the gift that saves the day” as the new positioning and call to action for the campaign. Our online research validated the choice.

We were also mindful that donors are bombarded with heart-tugging fundraising appeals during the holidays. We wanted to inspire them not only with WHAT ARC does, but with WHO they really are: a nationwide movement of volun­teers motivated by compassion—by the desire to give comfort and hope to people in crisis, not just to meet their physical needs.

We know donors identify with this compassion. It’s what motivates them as well.

That’s why the campaign images show Red Cross volunteers delivering food and a hug to a hurricane victim, pro­viding a shoulder to cry on for someone whose house just burned down, or comforting a frightened child in a shel­ter. In each case, we captured the moment when a victim’s face began to change from despair to hope—evoking a feeling of gratitude or relief that the Red Cross was there.

We believed donors would identify with the victims, too. One can’t help but think, “What if that were me?”

To call attention to these emotional moments, we placed a translucent square frame around the “heart” of each photo. In TV and web banners, the frame fades up over the photo. The frame captures the “Red Cross moment” when heartbreak turns to hope.

Every image communicates authenticity. We used existing photos—shot in crisis situations, of actual volunteers and the people they helped. The photos aren’t perfect, but they’re real.

This creative solution also enabled us to save money on TV and print production costs.


The ARC campaign ran from the week before Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve.

To generate as many impressions and donations as efficiently as possible, we concentrated our 30-second TV spots in daytime and late evening (non-prime) slots on national cable networks.

Full-page ads ran in 5 December airline magazines, whose audience ranks extremely high in charitable giving (and had plenty of time to read the ads). We also used web display ads and video banners to extend our reach and increase online response.

Social networking strategies were employed through a Facebook fan page, giving widget, tweeting, Flickr page and the Red Cross Hot Topics.

Search engine marketing, including Google paid search/grants and Yahoo paid search, was key to the success of our “surround sound” strategy. The role of search was to convert donors driven to the web by all media. We tested branded Red Cross terms, as well as terms related to holiday charitable giving, constantly monitoring and optimizing—and ramping up frequency in the last week.

Several emails to current donors drove response directly to either the Holiday Campaign landing page or the catalog website.

Direct mail to Red Cross local chapter donors dropped in mid-November and mid-December, with a prospect mailing in late November. We also utilized a zip walk direct mail effort and free-standing inserts in selected chapter mar­kets.

Outdoor is not generally an important part of a DR arsenal. But since this was indeed a hybrid DR and brand cam­paign, we created and employed billboards, transit posters and bus tails.

A small (100,000) mailing of the catalog arrived in homes at the campaign launch. Both the printed and online cata­logs offered free Red Cross T-shirts and first aid kits to incentivize higher dollar donations.

Earned media outreach also played an important role in our success. As the campaign launched, a satellite media tour for the ARC CEO promoted the holiday campaign. The ARC celebrity cabinet was engaged to enhance cam­paign recognition. Earned media delivered nearly 23 million impressions during the campaign window.


2009 results

The economy had tanked. We launched a new campaign amid the advertising clutter of the holiday season—in direct competition with great charities like Salvation Army and St. Jude who have made their holiday appeals an American tradition. Despite this…

The campaign was a breakthrough success on 5 levels:

  1. We increased income by more than 5.3% over our historical results for the same time period. (National ARC fund­raising increased by 7.3%, while chapters raised income by 4.8%).
  2. Fueled by the campaign, total income for 4th quarter ’09 surpassed that of every year since 2000, with the excep­tion of 2005 (following Hurricane Katrina).
  3. We achieved an ROI of 2.35%, or $2.35 in donations for every dollar spent, exceeding our campaign goal of 1:1. A significant portion of the income came from new donors.
  4. The Holiday Giving Catalog (mailed to only 100,000 donors, and promoted online) exceeded all projections and laid the groundwork for a new revenue source.
  5. Brand awareness increased by 6 percentage points. That’s difficult to do, when you’re the Red Cross.

The “surround sound” strategy proved that the whole is indeed larger than the sum of its parts. People who saw the advertising were TWICE as likely to donate than those who hadn’t seen it, according to post-campaign research.

TV, radio, print and online ads influenced 41% of donors. The majority of online gifts came through paid and organic search. And online gift size increased significantly over the prior year.

And as a result, ARC commissioned Russ Reid to conduct a more robust holiday campaign in 2010.

2010 results

The hits just keep on coming. Done right, integrated multi-channel marketing does better than the sum of its parts. By fine-tuning our multi-channel strategy based on our 2009 learnings, we:

  • Increased income by 26% over 2009
  • Achieved an 11:1 ROI on search (goal was 4:1)
  • Increased Gift Catalog income by 31%
  • Increased average gift by 43%

And more Americans brought significance into their lives by giving the gift that saves the day.

To view a downloadable PDF of this case study, click here.