The sudden and vast success of the NBC game show “Deal or No Deal” has critics and even fans begging the question: What gives? The show is slow paced. There’s nothing really thought provoking about it. One critic even panned it as a more elaborate version of “Guess How Many Fingers Are Behind My Back?”

But the American Heart Association (AHA) isn’t bothering with asking the why, simply because it’s busy reaping the benefits.

Some of the success can probably be summed up in the one word that the show’s host, Howie Mandel, uses to introduce each game — “Ladies.” The ladies are models dressed in designer clothing who hold briefcases that need to be opened to reveal a potential cash prize.

NBC along with Campbell Soup Company, a cause supporter of AHA, paired up this past February for American Heart Month. The two industry giants held an auction of little red cocktail dresses designed exclusively for AHA’s Go Red For Women movement.

NBC debuted the dresses on the Feb. 12 episode of “Deal or No Deal,” and Campbell’s handled the bulk of the promotions. AHA’s part of the deal: pocketing the nearly $17,000 the seven-day auction netted.

“It was fabulously catchy, eye catchy,” Andrew Buroker, chairman of AHA, said of the 26 briefcase-wielding “Deal or No Deal” models, each sporting a low-cut, high-hemmed, “Campbell” red dress as they filed out at the start of the episode. Directly following the show, the 26 red dresses went up for auction on the NBC Web site and on Campbell’s microsite, GoRedWithCampbells.com.

Sponsor-activated campaigns are nothing new at AHA. In this case it was a marriage of cause marketing, an online auction and general media awareness. “The AHA is excited that our sponsors really step up to the plate and activate their sponsorships to help promote the (Go Red For Women) movement,” said Buroker. Regarding the NBC game show and its close link with Go Red For Women, it was really driven by Campbell’s.

“When it comes to PR and media outreach, our sponsors work closely with us to involve us in their plans so that we can help drive the movement and convey our message,” he said.

According to Buroker, there’s a contractual agreement involved to be a Go Red For Women sponsor and to be able to use the Go Red brand and logo. “We have a corporate relations review committee at the national level, which is a mix of volunteers and staff, legal, business, fundraising, etc., that looks at these opportunities we get,” said Buroker. The charity then vetts those opportunities from “an appropriateness standard.”

Additionally, third-party sponsorships must follow the guidelines and standards set by the Wise Giving Alliance, a division of the Better Business Bureau. “There’s a pretty high level of review of that,” added Buroker. “And then, oftentimes, it’s just an active communications with the third-party sponsor on what they’re looking for.” Campbell’s committed to donating $1.5 million to AHA over the course of three years, starting this past November. According to Campbell’s spokeswoman Julie Mandel Sloves, the “Deal” auction is just one component of the company’s first ever fully integrated campaign to support the four-year-old Go Red movement, centered on the month of February.

To promote Go Red, Mandel Sloves said Campbell’s employs media integration, including strong use of the Web, and PR, with advertising in certain publications, a T-shirt offer, and in-store promotions on its lines of Healthy Request soups and V8 drinks. “We have to run everything by AHA,” she said. “We put together a program, and then the program gets reviewed by the AHA to make sure that it’s something that they feel is going to properly represent (them).”

Mandel Sloves said the “Deal” auction was an exciting opportunity to reach out to people the charity might not ordinarily reach on its own. “That’s really a value-added opportunity through working (with a third-party sponsor), something we can bring to the table,” she said. “It hasn’t been an ongoing project, so we don’t really have anything to compare it to.” Mandel Sloves did note that the “Deal” auction was “tremendously successful,” exceeding the soup company’s goal by three times.

According to Buroker, the raciness of “Deal or No Deal” was only a minor concern to AHA and Campbell’s, a family brand, and was greatly overshadowed by the opportunity to reach the 16 million “Deal or No Deal” viewers. “They had fun with it, and Campbell’s helped make it meaningful for them and for us.” The biggest debate, said Buroker, half-jokingly, centered around the hemlines of the dresses, “and they went round and round on that.” According to Buroker, if you watched the episode then you know which side prevailed. NPT