What You Can Borrow From Red Nose Day’s Colorful Charity Campaign

The nonprofit charity Comic Relief has successfully brought its popular U.K. event across the pond—and its strategies are worth borrowing from.

If you’ve been hearing a lot about red noses lately, it’s because of a nonprofit marketing campaign that’s doing its job.

Thursday marks the third U.S. edition of Red Nose Day, a longtime nonprofit campaign by Comic Relief that originated in the United Kingdom. The campaign, which raises funds for programs around the world, is focused on supporting education and improving quality of life for children.

Red Nose Day is a great campaign to study. What makes it work so well? Here are a few lessons from its marketing strategy that you can bring to your own events:

Use your Rolodex. One of the most impressive things about Red Nose Day is the depth of its bench. It may be one of the few events that can bring together Bill Gates, Julia Roberts, Ed Sheeran, Jack Black, Blake Griffin, and Ludacris. The appeal from a fundraising perspective is that there’s something for everyone. Not interested in listening to that celebrity talk about the benefits of Red Nose Day? Fine, here’s another one. The deeper the bench, the broader the impact.

Build around a moment. In many ways, Red Nose Day is an update of the telethon format used by the Muscular Dystrophy Association and other groups for generations. The difference may be that it’s not limited to television. While it includes a night of programming on NBC, it also integrates social media tactics (including a Facebook-based campaign), making it less about a watching show and more about participating in an event, along the lines of #GivingTuesday.

Find a familiar hook. That red nose is everywhere. People recognize it and can buy one at Walgreens and Duane Reade stores nationwide. The object is simple, it winks, and anyone can wear it. On its own, it doesn’t say anything about giving to charity, but that’s a good thing because it creates a lot of room for Comic Relief to build messaging around it. It’s an effective hook.

Leverage nostalgia. Comic Relief was cofounded by Richard Curtis, a well-known British director of romantic comedies. This year, he took advantage of his Hollywood connections from his popular holiday film Love Actually to create a “Where are they now?” mini-sequel, set to air Thursday night on NBC. It features some of the stars (Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Keira Knightley) who were already well known when they appeared in the original film, as well as those who weren’t but went on to bigger success (Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead, Chiwetel Ejiofor of 12 Years a Slave). “I picked Love Actually because it was one thing I had up my sleeve,” Curtis told CNN this week. “I saw the film for the first time in a decade, and that got me thinking I could very quickly say what’s happened to everyone.” The result is a buzzy moment with the power to engage millions of fans.

You may not have Curtis’ movie-star contacts, but your association or your industry likely has its own iconic moments that you can leverage to tap into your community’s shared nostalgia.

Rowan Atkinson, one of many "Love Actually" stars taking part in this year's Red Nose Day events. (Handout photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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