Charities Use Viral Sensations and Content Marketing to Make an Impact

Charities and non-profit organizations are utilizing a new tactic in their public service announcements (PSAs) to make an impact on audiences – and boy does it ever! By keeping their pulse on popular culture and adopting content marketing, charitable organizations have created some very powerful campaigns.

By now, it’s likely you’ve heard of the viral videos “celebrities read mean tweets” by Jimmy Kimmel, or even taken a look at the blue/black/gold/white dress picture. While several companies jumped on the bandwagon, recreating their own versions of these popular images and videos, none of them repurposed the content for the purpose of driving their own message.

Raising the Roof is a great example of how charities can create an impactful campaign that resonates with their audience while driving engagement. The tear-jerking videos show homeless Canadians reading the mean things others have said about them on social media aloud (specifically, Twitter). The call to action at the end of the commercial encourages viewers to visit their website,, which hosts additional videos and information on how people can help. 

Homeless read mean tweets


I imagine that their content campaign outline would’ve looked a little something like this:

Content Campaign

These three stages also reflect the buyer’s journey of awareness > consideration > purchase.

Another non-profit organization that used the popularity of “mean tweets” in their content marketing is The Canadian Safe School Network, a charity dedicated to reducing youth violence and making schools and communities safer. In an effort to raise money and awareness, the organization released a video that featured teens reading mean comments that others have tweeted about them.

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At first, the laugh track makes it seem as though the video is meant to be comedic, but as the laughter fades – it becomes shockingly clear how impactful cyber-bullying can be. Taking a similar approach as Raise the Roof, the charity used to video to drive viewers to their campaign landing page. In fact, heavy-hitters like TIME Magazine, Huffington Post, and CTV News took the campaign to the next level by sharing it with their audiences. The charity recently reported that the video was viewed 1.5 million times on YouTube!

Capitalizing on a different viral sensation, the Salvation Army used ‘The Dress’ in their campaign against domestic violence. The image of a black and blue dress that became a viral sensation (thanks to an optical illusion that made some people see the dress as white and gold) was the inspiration for the image you see below:

Salvation Army

The message reads, “Why is it so hard to see black and blue? The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in six women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.” The image also features the logo for Carehaven, a home for abused women and their children managed by Salvation Army.

Once again, the powerful content was used to generate awareness and support – encouraging their audience to get involved or donate. In a positive turn of events, the Salvation Army’s take on “The Dress” went viral, with several Twitter users sharing the campaign image and referring to it as “powerful”.

These organizations acted fast and utilized content that was already popular to catapult their content marketing campaigns to new heights. By striking while the iron was hot, and supporting their message and goal with powerful content, these charities were able to achieve great success.


Nokia Buys In to Content Marketing – Literally

A variety of companies – both B2B and B2C – have adopted content marketing in recent years, with many of them experiencing a great deal of success. It takes skill and dedication, but content marketing has a history of delivering a strong return on investment (check out my previous blog for examples). However, technology supplier Nokia is trying to fast track their results by shifting their content marketing efforts into hyper-speed.


To accomplish this, Nokia is paying Wired magazine (a popular magazine that reports on how emerging technologies affect culture, politics, and the economy) to create an editorial style website called “MakeTechHuman” that aims to start a conversation about where technology is taking humanity. Pretty heavy stuff, huh? Print ads, events, and an onslaught of online articles will be utilized throughout the year-long campaign, costing the company millions. But will it all be worth it? The campaign is set to kick off following an invite-only dinner at the TED conference in Vancouver.

So we’ll have to wait and see if this type of “hyper-drive-conent-marketing” is effective or not. In the meantime, there are a few factors that may influence the results:

Factors working in their favour: 

  • Despite the fact that their brand image is tied to an older technology (remember how many people had Nokia cell phones in the 90s?), the company has been going strong for 150 years. They don’t even sell phones any longer! Recently, they’ve made most of their profits in B2B selling equipment to telecomm giants Verizon and Sprint.
  • If the content is perceived as valuable by their target audience, it will drive prospects through the funnel – leading to increased revenue.
  • Partnering with Wired provides Nokia with credibility in the technology industry, since the magazine company is an established thought leader with a large tech and business audience.
  • Business giants General Electric (GE) and American Express have achieved great success with their content-marketing hubs, with GE getting 30% extra value for every dollar spent.

Factors working against them:

  • You can’t build credibility overnight. It takes time to earn the trust of readers – months of distributing quality content designed to provide genuine value to the target audience. Articles will be labeled as “sponsor content”, which tells the reader that the article has an agenda other than simply sharing information – it was created to generate revenue.
  • The last site that a company in the tech industry sponsored was Verizon’s SugarString, and the online community shut them out. After facing intense backlash and ridicule in regards to their publishing, Verizon shut down the site within two months of its launch.
  • It’s still unclear why a B2B company will be spending seven-figures over the next year on attracting the consumer community (B2C).
  • Nokia will need to define and articulate what they do and why people should care, because that message is not being clearly communicated.

At the end of the day, this is a marketing campaign that is expected to drive results. Nokia is walking a thin line, and I’m interested to see the results of this campaign. What are your thoughts?

The Economical Impacts of the 2013 Toronto Ice Storm

While the citizens of Toronto and surrounding area continue to clean up after the epic ice storm that occurred in December, many businesses have crunched their numbers for 2013. There were some significant losses as a result of the storm – in both lost sales and discarded products. However, there seemed to be three distinct “groups” that emerged from this economic sucker punch; the winners, the losers, and the referees. How cliche, I know – using a sports analogy to illustrate my point – but stay with me here.

The winners – or economic benefactors of the storm – includes a variety of businesses. There are some businesses who were able to add to their (already significant) holiday revenues. In other words, the rich got richer. Many hotels who still had power sprang into action – taking to the “twitter-verse” to promote special “#blackto” discount prices to local area residents who were without power and not wanting to go sleep at the Red Cross warming stations.

hotel ad


hotel promo

Some of the unexpected winners included local business owners. Since many GTA residents didn’t want to venture out onto the icy, debris-filled roads – they shopped locally. Many of the larger malls also fell victim to the mass power outages – like Yorkdale Mall – so even if you made it to the mall, there was no guarantee that you would be able to shop. Local businesses who had power saw a much needed spike in their revenue as a result.

Yorkdale Mall

Yorkdale Mall

On the other end of the spectrum is the losers – those businesses who did lose power and weren’t able to operate during this lucrative time of year. For some companies, it meant ending the year in the red rather than in the black. Not only did they lose any potential sales – but they lost money on discarding any spoiled produce or paying employee wages. In some cases, businesses had to pay the employees who reported for work and waited for the power to return – while other businesses, such as Toronto Hydro, had to pay for additional staff as well as any holiday or overtime rates.

food chain

Any food establishments who served spoiled produce, any hotels who jacked up their prices to get more money out of desperate and cold GTA residents, or any hydro crew members who “appeared to be slacking” were dragged through the hypothetical mud. The moral witch hunt was on – and members of the public participated by pointing their finger at anyone displaying questionable behaviour.

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That brings us to the referees – or as I like to think of them, the “moral conduct keepers”. This category holds the whistleblowers – the ones who put businesses, as well as members of the public, back in their place. They remind us to consider others during this time and to help in any way we – even if it’s as simple as turning off your christmas lights to “conserve power” during the outage. Anyone who disobeyed these unwritten rules became the subject of public shaming. This has left some businesses struggling to survive amongst the negative press.

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The ice storm certainly impacted our economy, and many of our lives, in a variety of ways. No one seems to have been spared by the force of this weather event. As the clean-up lingers, the long term impacts of this storm have remained to be seen.

clean up from ice storm


Twitter Use During Toronto Ice Storm 2013

On December 21, 2013, Toronto was hit with a sever ice storm that resulted in the loss of power to over 300,000 customers. The city was crippled as Toronto Hydro crews rushed to restore power as quickly as they could, addressing essential locations, such as hospitals, first. As hydro employees worked feverishly to fix the damage caused by the storm, another storm was brewing online. Toronto residents took to social media, primarily Twitter, to gather information and communicate with others during the outage.

Toronto Hydro did their best to provide updates and communicate with their customers, but the sheer scale of the catastrophe made it near impossible to address everyone. Additionally, the size and impact of the ice storm made it difficult to provide any accurate updates on restoration efforts – which frustrated many customers. Nevertheless, as with any other outage, a group of affected users was spontaneously formed on Twitter.

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As we’ve seen in the past with large scale outages, Twitter users almost instantly began to follow corporate feeds in hopes of finding information. The less information that’s available, the more active the group of users become – saving search terms, creating hashtags (like #darkto), and voicing their frustrations. However, what I find to be the most interesting is how the users interact with each other in the group. In the absence of corporate communications during an outage – the affected users begin to update and inform each other. One user even went so far as to create a new Twitter account designed specifically to communicate any updates from the company, the media, or other Twitter users.

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A study conducted by Microsoft Learning and Psychster Inc. on Using Twitter to Reassure Users During a Site Outage revealed what most of us already know – sitting out is not an option. Companies need to play an active role on social media during an outage. If the company is absent, not only do users form their own group updates – they control the perception of the company. This is where opinions are formed – and if your company isn’t participating and steering the conversation in a favourable direction, then it’s likely your customers will turn on you.

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However, I feel as though the timing of the outage helped curve the perceptions of Toronto Hydro in a bit of a positive light. Many customers expressed their gratitude for the employees who came back from their holiday vacation to assist with the outage. Additionally, the timing almost “explained” why Toronto Hydro was a bit slow to correct the problem – several of it’s employees were taking vacation, so initially – it wasn’t “all hands on deck”. This may have balanced all the negative comments – giving users a sort of “neutral” feeling towards Toronto Hydro: they were mad that they’re power went out, but they were sympathetic to the crew members who had to cancel their vacation time.

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The study also revealed that frequent and accurate updates from the company (or a member of the company) reduced the number of calls to customer support. Having access to immediate information also improves the user’s experience, since they’re able to obtain the information they require without any additional effort. With the lack of updates from Toronto Hydro – it seems that several customers were attempting to call in, with little success. Because customers were not able to connect with Toronto Hydro via phone, email, or social media – they began to vent their frustrations on Twitter, fuelling an already raging fire.

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Overall, I feel as though Toronto Hydro could have been better prepared – especially since they recently went through an outage months before when the DVP flooded. However, taking into consideration the size of this storm and the number of customers impacted – they managed it the best that they good. I think that the festive spirit definitely helped Toronto Hydro. Hopefully they’ll be better prepared for the next outage!


Why is my band-aid talking to me?

Alright. That’s enough. When companies like Band-Aid start using technology to differentiate their product, things have taken a bit of a turn towards the extreme. Now, I’m not denying the fact that an entertaining band-aid is cool – cause it is – but was it really necessary? I understand that it’s likely that there are millions of parents out there who see this product as a godsend – it’s another way to keep their children entertained and occupied so they don’t pitch that fit in the grocery store when they refuse to buy their children fruit snacks. It’s a great distraction. — but that’s about it.

(To watch the product commercial, click here)

This product does not have the capability to heal the wound any faster than a standard Band-aid brand bandage. Nor does it hold the ability to alleviate pain. It sticks really well and buys the parents some stress free time. As you can see below, this product’s feature is so effective, your children will forget that they’ve been hurt. Why? Because they’ll be too busy with the technological equivalent of jingling keys.


Does this bother anyone else? or am I alone here? Nevermind the fact that Band-Aid is obviously in a partnership with Apple for this product, because the commercial instructs the consumer to use an “iPone or iPad” to scan the band-aid. What about the children who have parents with Androids? or BlackBerries? Or better yet, what about the parents who can’t afford a smart phone? Though I’m sure that’s less of a concern these days.

Apparently technology is so accessible, even a band-aid can use it.