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.


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!

You thought blackface would be a good idea? Really?

It’s that time of the year again – the time for poor costume decisions. Once again, some member of the “Hollywood elite” thought it would be OK to dress in blackface. Julianne Hough, who rose to celebrity status after years of performing on Dancing With the Stars, had the bright idea to dress up as her favourite TV character Crazy Eyes from the series “Orange is the New Black”. The costumed involved the darkening of Hough’s skin and hair to match the ethnicity of the character. In other words – Hough went blackface.


Even more surprising is that she wasn’t the only person who made the poor decision to dress in blackface this year. While watching my local news tonight, I saw a story about a Caledon vice-principal who chose to go in blackface for his Mr.T costume. Really? –Really? A man who’s job is to set an example for children. Did not see that one coming. At the same time, I can’t believe that there wasn’t one friend, family member, neighbour, or mailman around to tell the person that going in blackface is a bad idea.


It seems as though a majority of the people who dress in blackface are doing it as a tribute to their favourite person or character – not as a type of hate crime. However, several experts – along with millions of people  – say that dressing in blackface is never ok. Ever. In a recent blog posted by The Globe and Mail, writer Caroline Alphonso explains that “blackface dates back to the 1850s when white actors would put on dark face paint to portray often racist caricatures of black people”. She goes on to say that “it has a long history of being offensive because of it’s ties to slavery”.

With such deep-rooted ties to slavery and racism – it’s a shock to hear that there are still individuals who believe dressing in blackface is acceptable. Yet – every year, like clockwork, headlines about celebrities or university students sporting racist costumes start popping up.

You’d think that we’d catch on – you know, with history repeating itself and everything. Sigh.

At the end of the day, there’ll still be someone, somewhere that will dress in blackface for Halloween 2014.

How do I know? It’s simple math: stupid-people


Honest Ed’s SOLD – Another Landmark Bites the Dust

honest ed

To date, this has been my only experience with the famous Toronto landmark, Honest Ed’s. Always passing by, but never taking the time to wander inside. I already knew exactly what I would find inside the building – bulk items at low prices. I could even picture what the sale signs looked like – advertising the latest deals and bargains. In my 10 years as a GTA resident, I had caught glimpses of the store on the news or in the media.

I feel an attachment to this place for some reason – but more than anything else, I’m concerned about what will replace the well known landmark site. The discount retailer has been sold to Westbank Properties, a Vancouver-based luxury developer. They’re the developers behind the Shangri-La Hotels in Toronto and Vancouver.

Now — I don’t know about you, but when I think about the Annex (the area surrounding Honest Ed’s), I don’t think “luxury” or “Shangri-La” – I think “community” and “eclectic”. The people who live the in area consist primarily of artists, students, young professionals – and it’s hard to imagine that they’d be accepting of a high-class hotel.

The deal won’t close until later this year – but time is running out. I’m thinking that a trip down to Honest Ed’s some time soon is needed, before the space is changed into another condo building.