What can the VHI ‘Blue September’ campaign teach us about the future of Charity Marketing?

CSR Central focuses this week on one of the better examples of Charity Marketing we’ve recently seen in the Irish market: VHI Healthcare’s sponsorship of the ‘Blue September’ campaign.

The Official 'Blue September' & VHI Campaign Logo
The Official ‘Blue September’ & VHI Campaign Logo

VHI Healthcare and the ‘Blue September’ campaign

‘Blue September’ is an initiative organised by the Men’s Cancer Alliance – an association representing 3 Irish Cancer CharitiesThe goals of ‘Blue September’ are to raise awareness of the incidence of Men’s Cancer in Ireland and, in the words of the Men’s Cancer Alliance, “educate men about the signs and symptoms of cancer, and encourage more men to take better care of their health to reduce their risks of developing cancer”. ‘Blue September’ does this through a month-long information and awareness programme together with a fundraising drive for screening and treatment equipment.

‘Blue September’ began as a cancer awareness drive in New Zealand and – having grown into an international campaign – it is now in its fourth year in Ireland. This is the second year that VHI Healthcare has been the main sponsorship partner for the ‘Blue September’ campaign.

Poster ad for the Blue September "Keepy Uppy" online game
Poster ad for the Blue September “Keepy Uppy” online game

‘Blue September’ and their target audience

Unsurprisingly, given the destination of all funds raised by ‘Blue September’, the campaign is targeted squarely at young males. This targeting is reflected in the campaign’s selection of the celebrities fronting the initiative (Republic of Telly’s Dermot Whelan and Bernard O’Shea), and in the promotional tactics used to support it (online / mobile football games).

Whatever your own opinion about the comedy stylings of Dermot and Bernard, they are an excellent fit for the campaign, and they bring a jocular tone to a ‘Blue September’ promotion that professes to address a serious issue (the challenge of making Irish men open up and discuss cancer) in an accessible, fun way. Similarly, in terms of a sponsor-charity fit, ‘Blue September’ is an obvious partner for VHI Healthcare given the latter organisation’s commitment to the provision of cancer care.         

Digital Marketing techniques used by ‘Blue September’

One of the most interesting aspects of this year’s campaign has been its launch of a ‘Blue September Keepy Uppy’ online and mobile game. The object of this (fiendishly addictive) online game is to keep a ball in the air for as long as possible, share your score with your friends, and invite them to play and beat your score. Crucially, after each session of the game, players are presented with a ‘call-to-action’ where they are asked to donate to the Men’s Cancer Alliance.

What I found particularly savvy about this promotional tactic was that it employed elements of ‘Gamification’; that is, it used game mechanics and techniques to achieve a specific goal (in this case to drive charitable donations).  This can be seen in the compulsive nature of the ‘Keep Uppy’ game (even though I was almost completely useless at it, I found myself making over a dozen attempts at it in a single sitting). But it can also be observed in how you can challenge friends to beat your score, encouraging you to return to the game, and so presenting you with fresh opportunities to donate to the campaign.

There has been a fair amount of recent research to indicate that gamification techniques might be an especially effective approach for charities who want to engage Millenials. In a recent guest post on Charity Digital News, Matt Moorut, Digital Marketing executive at Technology Trust, notes how charities are struggling to extract donations from younger consumers, meaning charities need to adapt their marketing strategies if they are to communicate effectively with this age cohort.

Among the recommendations that Moorut offers to connect with Millenials are for charities to make much greater use of mobile in their campaigns – particularly when generating campaign content. Moorut emphasises how Millenials “are more likely to share information about a cause than a specific charity”, so charity marketers need to create campaign content that is easily shareable (through sharing buttons placed on all pages, material that has virality inbuilt, etc). Finally, Moorut sees gamified campaigns like Movember and Dryathalon as being “significantly more likely to engage millennials than other forms of fundraising” – and thus increase donation conversion rates. We can see that ‘Blue September’ has integrated elements of all these recommendations.

The 'Keepy Uppy' game donation page
The ‘Keepy Uppy’ game donation page

One aspect of the campaign I found surprising was that the ‘Blue September’ initiative does not have more prominence on the VHI Homepage.  You might have expected that the VHI site would carry a ‘Blue September’ banner ad or donation button but their absence is quite puzzling – especially as ‘Blue September’ is being heavily promoted on TV and social media. For what is an otherwise well-executed campaign, this appears to be a remarkable oversight – particularly as recent research into cause-related marketing claims that “more than 9 in 10 consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause”.

Donations can be made to ‘Blue September’ by texting FIGHT to 50300.

 

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