Red Nose Day without red noses? How Comic Relief turned over a new leaf in lockdown

Alison Moore, Comic Relief’s US chief executive didn’t expect the first event under her leadership to quite go in the manner it did. Here she talks about her first year at the helm of the US children’s charity and the solutions that were introduced to negotiate lockdown.

When pandemic was declared, many charities and campaigning organisations faced were affected. But for Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day, its brand was also under pressure; with the public encouraged to cover up with face masks, pushing its iconic red noses didn‘t seem like a very funny idea.

For Alison Moore, Comic Relief’s US chief executive, 2020 was to mark her first event. Best-laid plans were in place until they “blew up” in late February and left just a few weeks to chisel out a contingency scheme.

"It’s been a little tumultuous… but it is in these times where real progress is of made. We dug in, and really refused to have it harm our ability to make a material impact for our kids," she said.

Early on it became clear that a "pivot" and "recalibration" was required for Comic Relief. And while creating and activating a campaign amid a public health crisis has been difficult , the coronavirus has made Comic Relief‘s job more important than ever. “It‘s a combustible time, but I think some amazing good can come out of it.” This year, $32m has already been raised, despite changes to its schedule and campaign deliverables.

The group hunkered down with long-term partners Walgreens, NBC and Mars to discuss how it could move forward. One of the biggest challenges facing the organisation was its red nose – incompatible with the wearing of face masks, and so effectively banned.

Moore said: “In February, when it became clear that we weren‘t supposed to be touching our face, the idea of a prosthetic nose at retail didn’t exactly feel like the right thing to be doing."

Instead, Moore and Walgreens came up with the idea of a digital nose that integrated with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. The nose filter could be unlocked through a donation, meaning that while consumers missed the fun of the red nose itself, they could still join in with a #NosesOn selfie.

The user data collected during this digital-only version of its campaign will help inform Comic Relief‘s efforts in the future, Moore noted. The group has created a long-term subscription scheme to encourage all-year donations, called The Sandbox.

Retail activations typically play a huge part driving awareness its campaigns, but with retail footfall lower than previous years this channel was threatened. Moore said: “In times of crisis, you have to get around the table and roll up your sleeves. There was downward pressure on everyone‘s business, so, I'm really grateful for the long-term relationships and the smart people at the table.”

The main broadcast ran on NBC on 21 May and featured famous faces such as Jack Black, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Ben Stiller and Adam Scott. Filming had its difficulties, but some of the show was already in the bag. The Celebrity Escape Room was filmed early, for example.

And then there’s the never-ending hunt for new commercial partners. Dungeons and Dragons was the latest – and the alliance helped the organisation form a formidable party of famous faces for its broadcast show.

According to Moore, marketers should be eager to saddle their brands to causes like Comic Relief and make consumers aware of their role as global citizens.

“I don‘t think you can go back to the days of CMOs thinking: I‘m selling a product. You have to expand your remit as a marketer these days, and think about what were your brand is standing in the world. Consumers expect that now.”

Next, Comic Relief is scaling its digital footprint in order to attract more partners to help amplify and diversify its reach, and boost its fundraising capabilities. As Moore puts it, the mission is to “modernizing the messaging and storytelling.”

Moore spoke with The Drum’s executive editor Stephen Lepitak as part of The Drum’s Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.

You can watch the full schedule of Can-Do content, here.

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