United Way Reinforces Brand with Performance PSAs

September 1, 2001       Clint Carpenter      

The United Way of America is reshaping its brand — adding speed and punch — via a new public service campaign, which depicts athletes as a metaphor for the re-evolving 1,400-chapter organization. The Performance campaign stresses that the Alexandria, Va.-based UWA is a determined, action-oriented community leader and the foremost community solutions provider in the nation. The PSAs debuted in mid-July with national and local television spots of 60, 30, and 20 seconds, plus radio broadcasts of 60 and 30 seconds. There also are print ads.

The PSAs are designed to depict a renewed and futuristic UWA on the shoulders of gold medal sprinter Alvin Harrison and former professional women’s boxer Danielle Doobenen. The spots, entitled Sprinter and Boxer, draw a performance-based and focused parallel between UWA and the athletes.

The campaign will run for one year, and the objective is to disrupt existing perceptions of UWA, said Mary McDonald, UWA’s director of advertising. Motivating people to rethink what UWA does and associating the organization with bold, determined action is another goal of the campaign.

“(We want) to differentiate United Way as the leading community solutions provider,” McDonald said. “Not just simply a fundraiser.”

The organization also wants to stress performance and accountability. “Through these unique partnerships and approaches United Way mobilizes their resources beyond those that are raised through their fundraising efforts,” explained McDonald.

“When I say our partners – we partner with schools and government policy makers, businesses, labor, financial institutions, neighborhood associations, community development corporations, and the faith community.”

UWA has been developing a new brand for quite some time. McDonald said the strategy is coming to fruition through the conceptual development of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Fraser Communications, which did the work, pro bono.

According to Renee Fraser, Ph.D., president and CEO of Fraser Communications, the concept was simple: distinguish UWA from other charitable organizations by redefining the brand.

Fraser said that following three focus group discussions the organization determined that the major perception of United Way was that it is a fundraising organization that collects and hands out funds.

“The feeling was that (UWA) didn’t have enough of a point of differentiation and didn’t speak to some of the things that are very important and meaningful to donors of today,” explained Fraser. “In the research we identified the fact that donors are looking for performance and accountability.”

The goal of the campaign is to symbolize what UWA is about and the well-honed athleticism of Harrison represents the new UWA, according to Fraser.

“He’s got a magnificent body. He’s obviously well disciplined and focused and goal oriented and we want people to think the same thing about United Way because it really is focused and goal oriented, not just a fundraiser,” Fraser added.

“The other thing that we felt was important, when you do television you can’t communicate a great many things – you get a feeling across and one or two key messages that you want to stick with people.”

The key message of The Sprinter PSA is that United Ways across the country are finding ways to fight violence through goal-specific programs that combat violence in order to minimize violence in their communities.

The Boxer spot relates to fighting poverty and widely known rap artist Kool Mo Dee does the voice-overs for both PSAs.

The call to action urges viewers to the unitedway.org Web site. When visitors get to the site they are prompted to enter their city or ZIP code and are linked directly to the respective local UW Web site.

“In (Los Angeles) for instance we have a program called, ‘Success by Six’ to get kids into schools and make them start learning faster so they can stay in school longer,” said Fraser. There are also programs “for getting neighborhoods to be safer and moving people into homes as opposed to living in motels and garages and things like that,” she said.

Getting people to go to the Web site enables them to track effectiveness of the spots and opens people’s eyes to what UW actually does in the community, said Fraser.

People are going to say, “‘Wow that’s the United Way I’ve never seen before, and I had no idea they were focused on these things,'” Fraser said. “‘I’m going to the Web site to find our what’s happening, what’s going on, how is my United Way different? What are they focused on?'”

Even though Fraser’s, Kool Mo Dee’s, Harrison’s, and Doobenen’s services were all pro bono, UWA did incur production costs for the TV and radio spots and a 2:44 campaign film called Action. McDonald declined to discuss the specific production cost, saying she wasn’t at liberty to do so. She did add that the production cost was substantially reduced due to the benevolence of the vendors involved.

While people may call them different things across the United Way system there are some universally identified impact areas, and those are the ones that UW focused on in the PSAs. The major impact areas uncovered through research of the local UWs and focus groups were: building safe neighborhoods; helping children succeed; and increasing self-sufficiency.