COVID-19 Case Study: Can Red Nose Day Leap To Digital?

For the last five years, Red Nose Day has been a powerful force for children’s health, thanks to its partnership with major brands and support from famous comedians.

But in March, everything changed. Shelter-in-place orders kept crowds out of Walgreens, which distributed the noses. And as public-health officials warned people not to touch their faces, the idea of sticking on schnozzes seemed menacing -- and impossible for those wearing a mask.

The nonprofit had to move fast to reinvent its annual campaign. Alison Moore, CEO of Comic Relief US, tells Marketing Daily how the organization responded.

Marketing Daily: At what point did you realize you’d need to tear apart the game plan and start over?

Alison Moore: Toward the end of last year, we started thinking about floor planning, end caps and messaging. It’s a very collaborative effort, working with our partners, Walgreens, NBCUniversal and Mars Wrigley Confectionery. 



But as the [COVID-19] restrictions came down, it was clear it would be a very different retail environment this year, even before everyone was wearing masks. We couldn’t ask people to wear a physical nose.

So we started brainstorming: How can we take this physical nose and turn it into something digital to trigger donations?

Marketing Daily: That’s very challenging -- not to be able to use the very thing the campaign is known for.

Moore: Yes. People know the nose; we’ve raised $200 million with it in the last five years. 

We started focusing on the nose as a trigger, using social media. The red nose is just visualization for something. People know when they see it that it means something good for children. 

From there, we came up with the ideas for #NosesOn, where people can go to the website, make any size donation, and unlock a digital nose. People can post these red-nose selfies on social media, and hopefully, drive others to make donations too.

Marketing Daily: How long did the campaign take?

Moore: The team turned it around in three weeks, including getting it approved on all social platforms. We retooled our entire site to handle different kinds of traffic, different ways to unlock the lens. There was a lot of work to get the experience right.

We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback -- it’s very galvanizing.

Marketing Daily: What are your expectations? Do you think you’ll raise as much as you have in year’s past?

Moore: I can’t speak to issues like how fast retail traffic might return. But I can say this campaign is robust, and that we’re devoting everything we raise to helping kids who have been impacted by COVID-19.

Marketing Daily: What’s the marketing plan like?

Moore: We have tentacles to reach consumers on the digital side with Walgreens, as well as the night of TV that comes on May 21. And of course, there are all the comedians, who are so supportive. Jack Black is the host and an incredible champion. “Celebrity Escape Room” is kicking off the night, and the cast includes Ben Stiller, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow and Adam Scott. 

Marketing Daily: Do you worry about donation fatigue, with so many pandemic causes? Or about children’s charities, at a time when so much concern has focused on the elderly?

Moore: People understand that the red nose is for kids. And in today's climate, it's needed now more than ever. In the beginning, people did talk a lot about how children were the least affected.

But as the economic impact has played out, everyone is aware of 26 million people unemployed, of children not going to school and having access to meals.

Twelve million kids in the U.S. are food-insecure. The support systems that keep kids safe aren’t there. This year’s campaign is more important than ever. And I think more people have that “There but for the grace of God go I” feeling. People are very aware of how many families are struggling.

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