Television Case Studies
Operation Smile
Television (short form: :120 spot)

Case study: Attracting monthly sustainers to an organization known for one-time surgeries


The challenge

Operation Smile had successfully marketed an inspiring offer for donors to help provide a free surgery to a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate with a donation of $240 – or $20 a month – through long form TV shows. What they needed was a breakthrough in short form TV that would deliver up a volume of monthly sustainers, which are the backbone of an organization’s growth. How could they communicate the impact of a donor’s gift in only two minutes? It was a challenge in an economic environment that had made it tougher than ever for non-profits to raise new dollars from new audiences.

Russ Reid solution

Our primary objective was to increase the number of monthly sustainers and decrease the average cost per call…thus creating a healthier ROI. We had to beat the only other control in the marketplace that had not delivered enough monthly sustainers at an acceptable ROI. Our strategy was to create an emotional two-minute spot that would inspire and motivate people to call or go online and become monthly Smile Partners. The offer was to invite viewers to join with Operation Smile as a Smile Partner for only $18 a month – just 60 cents a day. We launched the campaign and aired it over a six week period. We reached well over 1,000,000 households – airing on various national cable networks and different day part placements. Emotion leads to action. And nothing is as emotional as seeing a true life, hard-to-believe before and after transformation happen before your eyes. Especially when it is a heart wrenching story of a tormented child born with a correctable birth defect. The core creative idea was to convey the “instant transformation” that happens with the gift of a free Operation Smile surgery. This transformation goes far deeper than reconstructive surgery – it truly transforms a child’s life, family, community and future. Rather than focus only on the before and after photos, the split screen treatment contrasts the cruel “before” scenario of a child’s torment and suffering with “after” story of a fulfilled, hopeful transformed life. It’s the context of the portraits that helps unfold the true story. The story of transformation is what the viewer can make possible with their donation. The viewer can help rewrite the story of a waiting child. A bed of music carries the story, along with captions that illustrate the need and the call to action.


The spot beat the control out of the gate. We increased the percentage of monthly donors by 30% while decreasing the cost per call by a remarkable 39%. Although the offer was to help provide surgeries, care, treatment and doctor training for $18 a month, the average pledge came in at almost $36 – an increase of 63% over the control. To view a downloadable PDF of this case study, click here.