The Red Cross Just Had A Marketing Breakthrough

This week has been a heart-wrenching week for many people around the world. Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, was practically destroyed by a series of severe earthquakes. One must search long and hard to find the silver lining in a tragedy such as this. Although, the silver lining in this tragedy already seems to be the world's response with money and aid. Nothing pulls a community (even the world community) closer during harsh economic times than working together to help our brothers and sisters in a vital time of need.

The opportunities to help the Haitian people are numerous, but one technique stands out to me as the "ultimate participation opportunity" for Gen Y. But before I reveal what this brilliance is, we must first identify the problem that existed in Gen Y's willingness to give (and I don't mean the earthquake).

The problem: how can a charity make itself easy to give to? The cause itself rarely is enough. And although Gen Y gets a bad rap as an apathetic generation, we are not. We have a better understanding than most generations when it comes to viewing the world as "one big community."



But, often times, charities aren't meeting the "needs" of those it asks from. No one writes checks, and even online giving isn't doing the job for Gen Y. The fast-paced, multi-tasking nature of Gen Y often is a hindrance when it comes to charitable giving.

The Red Cross figured it out (or at least I'm giving it credit for figuring it out). It is allowing mobile phone users to simply text the work "Haiti" to 90999. By doing this, it has cracked the code to Gen Y giving.

The good people of Gen Y average 740 texts per month, according to a study conducted by Participatory Marketing Network and Pace University. Now Gen Y (and everyone else) can type in 10 characters into their mobile devices and affect a tragic situation in another part of the world. That, my friend, is what technology, marketing, and ingenuity is all about.

As marketers we all know that Gen Y uses alternative forms of communication (although they really don't seem that alternative anymore). But the Red Cross should serve as an example of an organization that puts lightning in a bottle. The right process met the right generation at the right time.

Here's hoping that this program has continued success. God knows that Haiti needs it.

15 comments about "The Red Cross Just Had A Marketing Breakthrough ".
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  1. Gary Stogner from Tourism Marketing 360, January 15, 2010 at 12:47 p.m.

    And just why is this exclusive to Gen Y?

  2. Marilyn Casey from MC Public Relations, January 15, 2010 at 12:50 p.m.

    Wonderful to see the Red Cross reaching across generations to help raise funds for such a worthy cause. Congrats, Red Cross, for coming into the 21st C.

  3. Archivist Hbi Archives from HBI Archives, January 15, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.

    Sounds like a great until the lag-time invloved in the transaction is cosidered. It takes up to 90+ days for the charge to incur on your cell bill and then forwarded to the charity. Not a real rapid response all things considered; but then at least their doing something positive.

  4. Brian Asner from Upshot, January 15, 2010 at 1 p.m.

    To address Gary's point, I don't think the author is trying to say that it's exclusive to Gen Y. Instead, this campaign's spin on "impulse spending" is a more appealing way for young people to contribute to charitable causes. For a generation that's often been accused of "armchair activism," simplifying the donation process really does make a significant difference.

    We cover this topic in-depth in our discussion here: We'd love to hear your opinion on the matter.

  5. Kristen Green from JWT, January 15, 2010 at 1:02 p.m.

    Great article. I think that Red Cross has demonstrated a very effective way to tap into a giving generation that just needed a new means of providing their support. We are definitely on the same wave length as I wrote about this very topic yesterday.


  6. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, January 15, 2010 at 1:11 p.m.

    Convenience is a huge driver in social media and technology. Inclusiveness is also a driver for groups who may feel less powerful. This showed both of those important characteristics.

  7. Jennifer Balyint from UD On Campus, January 15, 2010 at 1:20 p.m.

    As a Gen Y'er myself, and as someone working in the college marketing realm to engage Gen Y - this article resonates with me. I donated via text as soon as I knew the option was available.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Anish Shah from Erwin-Penland, January 15, 2010 at 1:38 p.m.

    Good read!

  9. Carlos Barbour from The Spokesman-Review, January 15, 2010 at 2:29 p.m.

    Could someone correct me - but the cost of a text program totals $25,000 annually.

    If that is the case does this type of campaign make an profitable tool to reach Gen Y in smaller communities?

    Even if Gen Y text 740 months how often do they text businesses?

    Great article and it would be great if someone had insight towards these questions. Thanks.

  10. Caroline Hendrix from The New 42nd Street, January 15, 2010 at 3:32 p.m.

    This situation is an interesting one with many positives and negatives. You're right in that this is a breakthrough in terms of getting Gen Y-ers (of which I am one) to actively contribute toward a cause. It fits perfectly with our generation: it's fast, it's easy, it's a medium we use several times a day and all it requires is a phone. At first glance, it's the perfect way for a nonprofit to engage young people.

    Looking deeper, Carlos is right that mobile giving programs can be prohibitively expensive for many nonprofits, and the fees can drastically cut into what the organization ultimately gets (I'm not sure if it was the Red Cross' effort, but I didn't read that one mobile company was forgoing the fees and contributing 100% of the donated funds). And Archivist is right about the lag time - it can take 90 days for the organization to actually get the money, so what I'm really hoping is that the Red Cross is able to immediately deploy reserve funds it already has and is simply replenishing them with what's coming in via text.

    Looking forward, the medium doesn't lend itself well to cultivating Gen Y people to become consistently philanthropic since it can't really capture their information and cultivate them as future donors. I have a feeling this will be a very successful medium for one-time gifts in the face of a disaster like Haiti, but I'm not sure it's the answer to cultivating young people to philanthropy for the long-term.

    There are a lot of downsides, but I agree that something is better than nothing, and engaging young people to give toward a cause in a way that suits them is ultimately a step in the right direction.

  11. Caroline Hendrix from The New 42nd Street, January 15, 2010 at 3:34 p.m.

    Sorry, I meant I DID read that one mobile company was donating 100% of the funds.

  12. Susan Schaffer from Market Inc., January 16, 2010 at 9:29 a.m.

    The contribution of texting to Haiti relief has been phenomenal - but we really don't know if this was the Red Cross or, Gen Y or boomers - - or a human(e)response to a horriffic crisis or a 'win' for texting.

  13. Jeffry Pilcher, January 16, 2010 at 11:47 a.m.

    Please don't "bury the lead." The headline isn't developed until the 5th paragraph, following four paragraphs of expository preambling.

  14. Angela Gamble from Nestle, January 26, 2010 at 1:52 p.m.

    I was informed today that the American Cancer Society has been raising fund via texting for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event for over a year.

  15. Dewi Paulino from Unicast, February 8, 2010 at 2:05 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more with Peter. The text messaging campaigns executed by organizations such as the Yele Foundation and the American Red Cross were simply AMAZING! I personally was so delighted upon discovering these earthquake relief text messaging efforts that I immediately shared it with all of my friends/networks on facebook and received a great response. In addition, as Peter states - us generation Y'ers (yes I just made that up) are much more in tune with what is going on in the world than everyone gives us credit for. At least in my circle of friends, we are all always looking for ways to help others and play an active role in our communities whether it is through running a marathon in support of breast cancer research or tutoring kids at our neighborhood schools. But texting campaigns such as these just gives us one more way to help quickly and easily - which is something I totally appreciate!

    You can read about my experience with using text messaging to donate to the Haiti earthquake relief effort here:

    Please take a look, I would love to see your opinions on my experience and this marketing movement.

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