The Y Stresses Its Community Work

The Y (known to most as the YMCA) has an enviable position of near-total brand recognition. But dig a little deeper and many who have heard of the organization are unclear on what it actually does. 

“When we did some research, we learned that people know the Y and they feel good about it, but when asked to articulate the cause and the charitable focus, people had a harder time,” Donna Bembenek, vice president of marketing communications for Y-USA, tells Marketing Daily. “We want to drive awareness around the extensive programs we have beyond our pools and gymnasiums.” 

To foster a deeper understanding, the Y this week is launching its first-ever national marketing campaign, highlighting the services it provides, particularly in underserved communities. The effort, from agency Droga5, includes two television commercials, social and a keyword-based digital partnership with the New York Times



One commercial, “Idle Hands,” depicts youth sitting around aimlessly bored or in groups apt to get into trouble (like running around junkyards or challenging each other to duels with sticks), while a voiceover explains: “Give idle hands something to do, a place to go, a purpose, and they’re capable of amazing things.” The visuals change to show kids working in classrooms together, ending with one diving into a pristine swimming pool. A graphic reveals the organization’s logo, and text reading: “For after school. For safe spaces. For creativity. For a better us.”

A second commercial, “Places,” depicts a rundown, underserved community, with boarded-up buildings and altercations with police. “It feels like this whole place is invisible,” says a voiceover. “If it weren’t for the nightly news, no one would even know of this place.” As the visuals shift to kids playing together and socializing amid smiles, the voiceover asserts: “Down here, our spirits are bright, our dreams are vivid. And if given a chance, that’s what the world would see.” The visuals shift to the community center as onscreen text reads: “When communities are forgotten, the Y remembers.”

“We wanted to find something that was authentic and talked about the relevance of the Y,” Bembenek says. “The things we do strengthen our community and the collective ‘us’ of society.”

The television ads, which will run on networks including MSNBC, CBS and TBS, will be supported by digital and social efforts. One program with The New York Times will use keyword data to pair online banner ads with news stories about issues that can be resolved by the Y’s programs. 

“We’ll connect with the story, and align it with a Y program,” Bembenek says. “It’s intended to connect the news of the day [to the Y]. It gives people a way to engage in the solution.”

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