Smile Train Breaks Away From Formulaic Charity Advertising In New Campaign

Apr 3 2014, 3:22pm CDT | by

Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft charity, today unveils a new logo and marketing campaign in conjunction with its 1 millionth cleft-repair surgery.

The campaign, focused on the U.S. and the U.K. and created by agency SS+K, departs from traditional direct-response charity advertising that features third-world plights viewed through the donor’s eyes. Instead, Smile Train sent “City of God” director Kátia Lund and award-winning photojournalist Alex Webb deep into developing countries to capture photographs of real-life Smile Train patients who have been transformed by cleft surgery.

The campaign tactics used to tell the patients’ stories include videos, sharable infographics called “SmileyGraphs,” and a redesigned brand identity. Smile Train today also launches a Smile-Powered Deeds campaign, which identifies creative ways to raise money for Smile Train.

I caught up with Smile Train CEO Susannah Schaefer via email to learn more about the campaign and the rationale behind its break from the strategies charities typically employ.

Why was a new logo and campaign necessary, and why now?

Smile Train is always dedicated to finding new, creative ways to convey the importance of our cause. Our 1 millionth-smile milestone and 15-year anniversary was the ideal time to give our brand a refresh. We need to make sure we’re communicating the power of our sustainable model in the most effective, up-to-date way possible, which we believe is through a fully-integrated campaign that tells patients’ stories in new ways. This campaign impacts every touchpoint of our communications, from the look and feel of our brand, to the creative message, to the media channels we use to distribute content. Our new logo and creative campaign, by SS+K, are designed to increase awareness and reach as many prospective donors as possible. Donations allow us to continue transforming the lives of countless children worldwide who could not have otherwise afforded surgery on their own.

Why was the radically different perspective of this campaign necessary?

There are so many charities from all categories competing for donors by pulling at our heartstrings. Most traditional charity advertising shows the plight of third-world countries through the lens of the donor. While traditional charity methods have been effective, we wanted to find a unique way to reach donors that differentiates us from other organizations and conveys our story through the patient’s eyes. Our campaign, “The Power of a Smile,” brings audiences far and wide into developing countries and tells the stories of real people from their point-of-view and how their lives have been transformed by cleft surgery. This shift in our creative powerfully conveys both the severity of cleft and the life-changing impact of our work – also showing just how far a $250 donation can go.

Why were the SmileyGraphs and Smile-Powered Deeds chosen as tactics—what will they accomplish?

The SmileyGraphs and Smile-Powered Deeds were developed to engage audiences, both online and off. The SmileyGraphs are designed to raise awareness around the severity of cleft and visually represent Smile Train’s impactful solutions in a shareable, social graphic.

Smile-Powered Deeds are a way for donors to exchange work for donations. They’re our out-of-the-box way of getting people involved in the cause. Smile-Powered Deeds raise money for Smile Train by letting people donate their time and energy in everyday ways – whether that’s tutoring, design work or babysitting. We believe these tactics are a powerful, unique way to allow the widest range of donors to contribute to our cause of providing 100%-free cleft surgery and spreading smiles across the world.

In general, where does charity advertising fall down?

In any category, success breeds a formula, and with that formula there is a risk of becoming too familiar. There are opportunities in charity and nonprofit advertising to break the mold and try new things, which can be hard to do. This campaign not only focuses on cleft as a severe issue, but powerfully shows its impact on the entire life of a child, their family and their community. Cleft isn’t just a cosmetic issue – it affects eating, breathing, speaking and the ability to lead a productive life.

How will you measure the ROI of this campaign?

Ultimately, the campaign’s success will be measured by an increase in donations, from both new and past donors. We’ll also be looking to increase awareness and engagement among existing and prospective donors. Increased donations result in our increased support for children suffering from cleft worldwide, allowing us to touch even more lives through surgery each day.


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