Think Global, Act Pro Bono: Outdoor Comes To UNICEF's Rescue

With much fanfare, organizers on Thursday unveiled what they claimed to be the first-ever global media buy. Except it wasn't actually a "buy." It also wasn't, as some might have expected, a deal that involved a lineup of pan-regional satellite TV networks, the Internet, or a chain of international newspapers or magazines. It was comprised of billboards.

The buy is actually $5 million in pro bono media donated by outdoor media giant Clear Channel to help international children's charity UNICEF promote pediatric AIDS awareness in more than 50 countries.

The creative, from South African ad agency BesterBurke, presents a simple, arresting image--a child's crayon drawing of her family, with both parents represented by grave markers--above the slogan "Unite For Children, Unite Against AIDS" and information about donating to UNICEF anti-AIDS program.

As the AIDS epidemic continues to spread in Africa and other parts of the developing world, the UNICEF campaign highlights what is arguably the disease's most dire consequence: its lingering effects on the future of developing societies. What's more, UNICEF's record of success in both fundraising and public health work suggest the ads will be more than "just a nice idea"--previously, UNICEF has channeled donated money into highly effective mass vaccination and clean water programs in Asia and Africa, and promises to achieve similar results with HIV/AIDS education and treatment.



Of course, Clear Channel Outdoor's partnership with UNICEF serves another purpose: by flexing its outdoor advertising muscle for UNICEF, Clear Channel is obviously positioning itself as a global leader in the outdoor market. Paul Meyer, CEO and President of Clear Channel Outdoor, confirmed: "This opportunity for us is tremendous, because it's the first time we've tried to take the power of our global presence and communicate on a global basis."

Following close on the heels of realignment with parent company Clear Channel Communications, Clear Channel Outdoor execs hope UNICEF's campaign presages a new era of truly global advertising, with brand identification, images, and messages carried across national boundaries. "Today that's a rarity," conceded Meyer, "but I truly believe that in the future--particularly as the great consumer brands try to develop their presences, especially in developing countries--there will increasingly be a market for this kind of global campaign."

On that note, Clear Channel's boast that the AIDS awareness campaign is "the first global ad buy" may be corporate puffery, but there's no denying the company has found a canny way to publicize its reach. Listing the company's assets, Meyer noted: "Of course there are traditional billboards, and we combine that with 'street furniture'--advertising in conjunction with bus shelters, newsstands, things like that--as well as construction sites, 45 airports internationally and most major hub airports in the U.S., commuter rail--really, everything you can imagine."

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