A piece of direct mail from UNICEF experienced amazing success by going where few marketers dare to tread.
For UNICEF, the rehabilitation of child soldiers in Africa and their healthy and successful re-introduction into society is a major issue. A child soldier is defined by UNICEF as “…any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group…”.
UNICEF estimates that around 300,000 boys and girls under the age of 18 are currently involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide.
In South Africa, UNICEF was desperate to cut through the barrage of charity marketing to encourage support for, and understanding of, their child soldiers program. A direct-marketing campaign was a major part of this agenda.
Around 1,000 packs were mailed out. Initially the pack appeared to contain a bag of traditional toy soldiers. Once opened though, the recipient discovered the figurines were, in fact, children reading books, playing soccer, riding bikes and carrying out other childhood activities.
“I saw this mailer at the same time as I saw a typical newspaper insert here in the UK,” says Patrick Collister, editor of www.directnewideas.com and of quarterly magazine Directory. “The newspaper insert was a typical picture of a kid with the usual text about what your donation will do. It was all about money – all about a transaction. As a result, it was mostly ignored.
“The UNICEF pack had none of those typical response devices; it was almost counter-intuitive. But it more than trebled its objectives and is now featured on hundreds of websites.
“Charities need to innovate, to invest in big, new ideas and introduce emotional engagement. What UNICEF did was so creative. In opening the pack, people were emotionally affected. The surprise and imagery made them consider their own childhoods.”
The result was an immediate rise in both volunteer applications and donations. The mailer was originally reported on thousands of websites in more than 50 countries, increasing awareness exponentially. The fact that it remains on hundreds of websites today means the ‘Toy Soldiers’ campaign continues to drive awareness about the UNICEF child soldiers program long after the last mail pack was thrown in the bin.
“My guess is that over 90 per cent of people who received this pack were engaged by it, as opposed to the 2 per cent that many marketers find acceptable,” says Collister.
“I showed it to a guy in a mailing house in the UK and he said he’d never do such a campaign, that it’d just be too expensive. But if you invest in a unique, innovative and intuitive campaign then it will almost always pay you back many times over.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and the interviewees, and not of Australia Post.
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