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.


The Social Responsibility of Social Media

“You are what you Tweet!”   -Terms of Service, Twitter

During the SuperBowl this year, everything seemed to go according to plan. One team won, the other team lost, Bruno Mars performed, and large corporations spend millions of dollars to air their commercials. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, in the twitter-verse, there was a storm brewing — a really bad storm.

After the airing of Coca-Cola’s “It’s Beautiful” commercial, where the song “America the Beautiful” is sung in multiple languages by a variety of races and family types, hundreds of Americans took to Twitter to post their complaints. In case you haven’t seen it, you can watch the video here:

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Actually — “complaints” isn’t the right word. They took to Twitter to post their racist, anti-gay, anti-multicultural, backwards beliefs. And that’s putting it lightly. Most of the comments danced on the edge of becoming a hate crime – all because a beverage company wanted to celebrate the fact that America is a melting pot. This should have been a “sure thing” for Coke – they targeted every single minority across the country with their message – so what went wrong? In their attempt to include everyone in the messaging – they managed to anger any American who feels that English is the only language that should be associated with the country. And not only English language – but caucasians, too.

As we’ve seen in previous “crisis” situations – such as Toronto Ice storm outage – a diverse community was spontaneously formed on social media, which consisted of three distinct perspectives: Racists, those with common sense, and Moderators. Yes, I’m biased when referencing these groups. For obvious reasons, I can’t support any of the tweets that contained racist, hateful comments. I guess you could say I fall into the “common sense” category – which contains those who stand against such prejudice. For example:

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The moderators played their typical role, preaching “freedom of speech” or “everyone is entitled to their opinion” — but is that enough? Is it really ok to spread such hateful messages through the social media community? When is it time for the company – in this case, Twitter – to step in? If at all?

After reviewing Twitter’s Terms of Service, it quickly becomes clear that they’ve done all in their power to completely disassociate themselves from any content posted by their users. However – they do state that they “reserve the right to remove or refuse to distribute any content, or to suspend or terminate users” – but that’s only applicable to content that directly impacts Twitter the company, or if the content is requested by law enforcement. Nothing about “online abuse” or “racism/hate crimes”.

Digging deeper into Twitter’s Rules – there seems to be more rules regarding “spam” than anything else – including the perpetuation of hateful messages. So what gives? Each of the users you see below are still active on Twitter – their accounts have not been closed or suspended, even though they’ve said some really disgusting comments:

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we speak english

And I assure you – there are hundreds of comments like these online right now. Should Twitter be responsible for taking these types of comments down? If you try to Report the Tweet (found under the …More option) you are required to complete a form indicating the reasons why you feel the tweet is abusive in nature. However, if the tweet content isn’t breaking any of the “Twitter Rules”, then nothing is done. You can easily find any of the tweets above, they’re still out there in the Twitter-verse.

When is it time for the company to take some social responsibility for the messages communicated via their product/platform? Or are we, the users, responsible for policing this social sphere? You may want to think a little harder before you hit the “post” button on your next tweet.

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