What Could Your Cause Do with a Full Page USA Today Ad?

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Ironically, USA Today never asks that question in its #America Wants Twitterathon to give away a free full page ad valued at approximately $190,000. Perhaps worse, USA Today never asked itself how the newspaper can use a full age ad to help a charity that authentically reflects the newspaper’s mission.

Instead we get another contest with no authenticity or theory of change. So what’s the impact? While it seems to be generating some tweets from charities, the overall impact will be debatable.

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From a marketing standpoint, the contest — based on responses to date — has generated a lackluster amount of response. So whether it’s the USA Today or its Kindness Community, in general I’d say this could be better.

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Now, from a change impact standpoint, we have a scattershot approach to the ad. No theory of change means whoever gets the ad will either be a great creator of ads or a bust, but USA Today doesn’t seem to care with this effort. Nor do they care what type of cause (health, environment, etc.) will win the effort. They’ve taken the Pepsi Refresh approach of trusting the crowd.

I’m not quite sure how that successfully changes anything.

Ironically, even the USA Today’s Kindness community has a purpose, “Kindness is your daily source of inspiration and guide to making a difference in fresh and exciting ways, no matter where you are. Each day, this site will unearth unique stories of giving with exclusive interviews, fresh takes on news stories, plenty of tips, and links to interesting resources.”

So let’s riff of that for a different campaign with a theory of change: “Blog your cause’s best story of kindness and tag it “USA Today America Wants” and we will dedicate an entire page in our newspaper to that story, a sidebar on on related tips, and an advertisement from the cause. We will work with you to create a strong call to action so your cause can measure the impact of the advertisement, whether it be donations, awareness or advocacy.

Hmm. Encourage stories of kindness throughout the Internet (achieve mission, reflecting authentic corporate values), create an opportunity for the cause to use the story to affect change (move the needle), generate earned media impressions (market), and add more members to the kindness community (market). Just my two cents on this…

#America Wants expires tomorrow (April 16). While I see cause marketing weaknesses in the effort, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge my cause friends for seeing differently or from participating. It’s still a full page ad ;) In fact, below find a couple of different views…

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9 Replies to “What Could Your Cause Do with a Full Page USA Today Ad?”

  1. I don’t want to alienate the good that USA Today is trying to achieve – I am sure their hearts are in the right place and their eye is (as it must be) on their bottom line.

    They have been more than kind to us and I enjoy the Kindness effort.

    As someone whose job it is to rally the communities we’ve worked so hard to build, though, I don’t want to encourage more contests like this. I want to open a dialogue with corporations and media and really figure out how we can work together to achieve all of our goals – including those of the public who supports all of us.

    I know it can be done. We just haven’t quite figured out how yet. I’d venture to say involving all the affected parties before launching the next one could result in real good for everyone.

  2. I love how USA Today has already figured out how much this is worth. “It’s $190,000. Period.” It could be worth a lot more for the right ad/content layout, and a lot less for some group that doesn’t know what it is doing.

    Take your idea a step further, and let semi-finalists crowdsource their page layouts. Invite designers and ad people to develop spec layouts, then let people vote on which moves them the most. That gets an extra round of buzz and involvement, exposes more people to the desired impact, and solicits a real professional touch to the entire affair which raises the quality of the material presented.

  3. Hi Geoff, as follow up to earlier just wanted to reach out directly. First thing, thank you! We’re glad to see the conversation about #AmericaWants moving onto other platforms beyond Twitter. You bring up some good points and I’m happy to discuss.

    Thank you for highlighting the Kindness community, a newer feature on USATODAY.com, which focuses solely on cause related efforts and the people who are doing them. We also ran one of our semi-annual “Sharing” sections on Tuesday. This one was an 8-page, stand-alone section with a cover story highlighting the convergence of technology and cause efforts. In recent past we have also tied these Sharing sections to Philanthropy summits held at USA TODAY, bringing leaders in cause-marketing and issue advocacy into the same room to share ideas.

    In terms of #AmericaWants. We wanted to try something different and experiment. We’re committed to social media here, and committed to the idea of “What America Wants.” The idea for this campaign extended naturally from a branding effort we launched in March, and our desire to try new ways of engaging with people on new platforms. The timing with our Sharing section was as perfect as could be and the support we got from USA TODAY’s editorial team in print and online was wonderful.

    As for the results so far. We’re thrilled and think things are going swimmingly. We’re up to more than 22k tweets as of this morning and have seen #AmericaWants and “USA TODAY” both become trending topics on Twitter. It has been inspiring to see so many people activate and engage and I personally have learned a lot about different organizations doing good in the world. It’s even nice to see celebrities get in on the action and help promote a cause they believe in.

    When we know who the recipient is, we’ll be led down a different path. They may use the opportunity as they see fit, but if they need support with design and execution we can help. We offer support to all our advertisers and it only benefits us to help people communicate their message in the best way. An ad in USA TODAY may not change the world, but it can give a non-profit a unique opportunity to reach millions of readers in a single day. That can elevate awareness, traffic to a website and media interest.

    I love your idea of blogging for change and would welcome any other ideas you might have. We all have such a valuable tool when it comes to the internet, but it really only works when we all collaborate and share ideas. And thank you for sharing the comments from your Facebook friends, it was nice to see.

    Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions. I’m always available and happy to chat.

    All the best,

    Alexandra Nicholson
    Manager, Social Media Strategist
    Twitter: @USATMediaLounge
    Blog: Social.usatoday.com

    Link to Sharing section online: http://www.usatoday.com/news/sharing/default.htm

    Link to cover story: http://www.usatoday.com/news/sharing/2010-04-12-technology-giving_N.htm

    Link to marketing blog highlighting #AmericaWants and branding effort: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/socialmedia/post/2010/04/usa-today-kicks-off-americawants-hashtag-campaign-on-twitter/1#uslPageReturn

  4. Thanks Geoff for being so gracious on my Facebook post yesterday. I’m glad I changed my avatar. Ha!

    I digress. The reality is that none of us has figured this out. Change is a very broad and abstract definition. Perhaps the real argument (or debate) should not be relegated towards the tactic as much, but more towards the shift in Cause Marketing itself. Social awareness , albeit from corporate sponsors or non profits, has changed. And will continue to change. Many corporate sponsors are leveraging the act of good will as a means of increasing their brand and ROI as well as enacting a sense of goodwill to the community as a whole. Whether Pepsi Refresh, or USA Today accomplishes this tactfully, is not the point in my opinion. The point is that after a generous gift and leveraging a bigger brand for philanthropic endeavors (Cause Marketing in this case comes in the form of a case $190,000 free, full page ad), will the organization leverage this new awareness to produce change within the community they are trying to impact. The onus is on the foundation, not the corporate sponsor or media partner. It’s about managing expectations.

    We can call this tacky. And we can say that this campaign will do little to move the needle in effective change. But the reality is that this is new territory and we, as foundations, need to make sure that our missional goals produce real change. Leveraging a new awareness tactic possibly will allow us to do just that. If not, then both parties need to be ashamed. What do the corporations get out of it? Who knows. More brand affinity? More newspaper sales? Better ROI? Who knows? But if one of the effects of cause marketing is increased awareness, then it’s up to the organization that leverages this increased awareness to enact change.

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