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How WaterAid made the plight of a village in Sierra Leone feel close to home

The Kite Factory (formerly MC&C Media) and Good Agency were highly commended in the ‘Not for Profit’ category at The Drum Marketing Awards Europe 2019 with its ‘#Untapped’ campaign for WaterAid. With this year's event now open for entries, the agency reveals the challenges faced and the strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

International fundraising is in crisis. Negative headlines, created by the bad behaviour of some NGOs, had tarnished the category, generating a widespread decline in trust from the giving public.

This backdrop was severely impacting WaterAid’s mission. One-in-three people on the planet don't have a decent toilet of their own. One-in-10 don't have clean water close to home. These essentials can change lives, and WaterAid do phenomenal work to try and deliver these things we take for granted to overseas communities in desperate need. This downward trend in giving was compromising WaterAid’s ability to deliver that. MC&C Media and The Good Agency were charged with helping find a solution

WaterAid’s brief was to find a way around this problem and help deliver their most ambitious fundraising target ever - £3.9 million. This was our primary objective.

Our secondary objective was to enhance the WaterAid brand, by bringing in new supporters, and promoting positive brand sentiment.

The final objective was all about timing. This appeal qualified to be part of the UK Aid Match government initiative. For every £1 donated to this appeal, the government scheme would also contribute £1 of UK aid, but only for a set period. Money raised outside this window would not qualify. Therefore, we didn’t have the luxury of time to test and learn – this activity had to pay back quickly.

The strategy

Our activation was built on two key insights.

Firstly, fundraising is full of rules, mostly unwritten. Show need (e.g. sad children). Ask upfront. Make beneficiaries seem powerless and donors powerful. Turn up the emotions to evoke guilt, sympathy, even pity. But these rules have brought fundraising to a place where it’s easy to ignore – as evidenced by declining results across the sector. To break through, we needed to break the rules, and tell the story of recipients in a completely new way.

That meant giving those in need some agency and power within the campaign. Putting them in charge of their own story. Seeing them as equals not beneficiaries – and ultimately replacing sympathy with empathy.

Secondly, we knew that proximity to cause is a key motivator for donation. For an international body with no proximity, marketing must build consideration. We had to build a connection between the UK public and the people thousands of miles away who would benefit from this fundraising.

The campaign

Our solution was to create #Untapped: a campaign that immersed our audience in the day-to-day life of one of the communities WaterAid helps - the village of Tombohuaun, some 4,000 miles away in Sierra Leone. We used media to remove the distance between donor and recipient, making the audience part of the village, and showing them how their donation could help what was now their community.

This was a strategy that we believed would help WaterAid extend their reach from a typical NGO ‘global citizens’ audience (aged 45-65, ABC1) into a more digitally native, millennial demographic, attracting a new audience into the charity.

This was a performance advertising campaign with a difference, prioritising light touch engagement over asking – inviting people to like, share and be part of the community so that they’d be more likely to want to donate to it.

For reach, WaterAid used podcasts, taxi tops, PR, social and cinema, to reach new audiences and amplify their story. Those amplification touchpoints then funnelled users through to immersive village-related digital experiences. Performance channels (DRTV, DM and inserts) underpinned the activity to help deliver the donation target. These channels could then work far more efficiently, as the audience were already primed and engaged in the story.

Immersive digital experiences included ChatBot tours of the village, 360 degree video content from the waterhole, village nickname generators and “how to” craft videos. We launched the activity using first party data to identify past donors who we thought would be warm prospects, to share the campaign with first. We also cross-referenced that information with third party data to identify and target users with similar predisposition and propensity to donating.

We used technology to take the audience into the front row of Tombohuaun’s daily life but most importantly asked the residents of Tombohuaun to take over the first role in the storytelling. We gave the stage to them and they invited the UK public to be part of their daily lives and witness the transition from a dirty water hole to getting clean water for the first time. For the team at WaterAid and the partner agencies the residents of Tombohuaun became everyday names.

The results

#Untapped raised £4.2 million, which delivered an ROI of 2.6, proving the campaign’s effectiveness.

The campaign had 430 million unique opportunities to view. It set an all-time high against previous campaigns to deliver an ad awareness score of 15%, plus the highest buzz scores of any charity in the competitive set over Christmas and New Year’s. 56,173 people donated, 31,239 of whom were new donors, while 13,967 signed-up to become regular donors.

76% of donations occurring after just one visit to the website and 88% on the same day of the visit. This meant the £4.2 million was successfully raised during the UK Aid Match window. As a result, the total was almost doubled to £8.42 million by the UK Government, lifting the overall ROI to 5.2. This is well above sector averages for international development charities and unheard of at a time of public distrust in International NGOs.

Most importantly, the people of Tombohuaun - and 250,000 across the world - will now get access to clean water.

“This campaign was a phenomenal success for us. Hitting the fundraising target and maximising the Aid Match contribution was key. This required us to think about Performance in a different way, ensuring every touchpoint helped ladder up to a single goal. MC&C Media, The Good Agency, Tin Man Communications and KRPT Group were all integral to helping us smash that challenge.” - Jon Eserin, Individual Giving & Engagement Lead at WaterAid

This project was highly commended at The Drum Marketing Awards Europe 2019. To enter 2020’s event, click here.

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