American Heart Association Targets Awareness With Engagement, Reaps Donation Interest

Nonprofits generally are not looking to spend big on display ad buys. “We don’t do a lot of banner campaigns,” says Anu Gandhi, Director of the Marketing and Consumer Health Division of the American Heart Association. When it comes to digital media, the group's highly visible Go Red for Women program to raise heart health awareness leverages the viral engines of social. “We focus primarily on earned media,” she adds. “When we do paid media, typically we will do some things in the social media space, primarily because from a budget perspective it is a little more in reach, and that is where nonprofits tend to thrive.”

But when ad solutions provider Mediaforge approached the AHA with a program involving 1.3 million ad impressions donated by themselves and partners Specific Media and Mediamath, Gandhi jumped at the chance to mix paid and earned media in the same annual drive during late January and early February.

The AHA has multifaceted goals that aim at multiple constituencies. There are survivors of heart disease who are rallying for the cause. There are family members of sufferers who are interested by association. And there are simply the vast numbers of health-conscious women looking for accurate health advice.

To serve multiple audiences in a single campaign, the effort developed several rich interactive ad units that had tabbed interfaces for engaging the viewer in everything from seeing a short video with actress Elizabeth Banks to getting involved in fund-raising events  or making donations. Each of the units invited in-ad interactivity before clicking through to a user-directed choice. “There are different kinds of motivation when people come to Go Red,” says Gandhi.  The plan was to invite engagement, not just click-through, to heighten awareness and education by letting people find information on their own within the ad.

The execution used three sorts of targeting. Behavioral targeting found users profiled as concerned about women’s health issues. Standard retargeting re-captured visitors to the AHA Web site who left without engaging in activities AHA identifies as KPIs. And final social retargeting was integrated with the Facebook program for AHA to retarget people who watched the video.

Examples are here, here and here.

Engagement with the interactive ad units proved to be key to subsequent activity. Those who engaged with the ads were 62% more likely than those who did not see the ad to register for the Go Red campaign, and they were 152% more likely to watch the video.

For Gandhi a particular point of interest in this campaign was the effect on actual giving, since this was an area where even a nonprofit could look for ROI from display. “I went into this wanting to understand more about the donation piece. As an organization we don’t actively use advertising to solicit donations. We do a lot of cultivation on the different channels we use for fund raising, but paid ads is not one of them.”

The donation aspect was especially interesting for those who had shown some initial interest in AHA and its site but had not yet given any money to the cause. “This could be a way to reach people who may have come to our site and get them back,” she says. “If they walked away without donating, it is worth thinking about what messaging we could deliver to them.”

One of the ad units did make a direct appeal for donation, and the overall donation effect of the campaign was strong. There was a 7% lift in donations among people who had been exposed to the AHA campaign but had not engaged with the interactive ads, but a striking 90% lift in donations among those who had been engaged. These people also donated more than those who merely had gotten he ad impressions. “We definitely saw that people are donating a little bit more, and that might be because we can give them additional information and messaging about what we are doing,” Gandhi says.

Mediaforege CEO Tony Zito confirms that getting an ad viewer to engage with a units and its deeper messaging ultimately reaps an advertiser better conversions than someone who simple clicks on a superficial static prompt. “Users who engage with an ad will return to a site and convert at 2.5 times the rate as clickers,” says Zito. “Those who click through will only convert at 3% but engagers will convert at an 8% rate.”  

The campaign was an interesting proof of concept for AHA and ultimately may direct future efforts in paid media.  “I would love to test additional pieces that might be more revenue specific to see how they might work,” Gandhi says. And the AHA has a retail component that might be worth exploring as another revenue for display campaigns.   

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