Because it needs blood, agency rolls out new campaign

Joanne Laucius
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The newest weapon in Canadian Blood Services' never-ending war to attract, retain and reactivate blood donors is Because, a television commercial that aims straight for viewers' empathetic hearts.

The ad enumerates reasons for giving in a rapid-fire series of clips:

"Because parents should never outlive their child," says a man standing by his daughter's hospital bed.

"Because I need his heart to keep beating," says a middle-aged woman following a gurney down a hospital hallway.

The newest weapon in Canadian Blood Services' never-ending war to attract, retain and reactivate blood donors is Because, a television commercial that aims straight for viewers' empathetic hearts.

The ad enumerates reasons for giving in a rapid-fire series of clips:

"Because parents should never outlive their child," says a man standing by his daughter's hospital bed.

"Because I need his heart to keep beating," says a middle-aged woman following a gurney down a hospital hallway.

"Because she'll need two more operations before her first birthday," say a pair of anxious young parents next to a baby in an incubator.

The television spots, launched earlier this month, seek an immediate response, asking viewers to make an appointment to donate. This year, the service hopes to add 90,000 new names to its donor list. While 12 million Canadians could donate, only about 404,000 are "active," having given in the past year.

Moreover, the service's latest appeals must take into account population changes that ultimately mean growing demand and shrinking supply. Aging baby boomers, the mainstay of the blood system, are increasingly more likely to be recipients rather than donors.

"You can only ride the wave for so long," says Jeff Moat, the blood agency's director of national marketing. "With this demographic shift, we can't count on them for too long."

The Because campaign sends different messages to different age groups, says Shelley Sutherland, vice-president and creative director at DDB Canada, which developed the campaign.

"Different things resonate differently with different people. We try to maintain a sense of empowerment. This is a constant need. But you can do something about it," says Sutherland.

The agency had a target of 884,000 units of blood last year, but fell short by about one per cent. This year the target has increased to 901,000 units. Last year, the agency attracted 85,000 new donors, also one per cent short of the mark.

The blood agency spends about $5 million a year in recruiting blood donors, from advertising in traditional media to "loyalty retention" programs. High-frequency donors get e-mail newsletters that offer insider information about the blood system. Retention rates are stronger among those who receive the newsletter than those who don't, says Moat. The agency also gives pins and certificates to donors who pass certain milestones. "It's a myriad of tactics. There's no silver bullet. We have to continually refresh our approach."

Canadian Blood Services dropped guilt-and-fear marketing campaigns about five years ago for more creative approaches. About two years ago, it launched campaigns that offered a chance to win trips to Banff and Orlando, Florida, and DVDs of the animated films "The Incredibles," "Cinderella," and the vampire flick "Van Helsing." The agency also partnered with the casual clothing manufacturer Roots to offer T-shirts, sweatshirts, keychains and backpacks that asked "What's your type?"

Canadian Blood Services' efforts have included convincing the activist millennial generation that rolling up its collective sleeve will help them save the world a little at a time. "You have to talk to this new generation differently," says Moat. "They want to save the world. But looking at big issues like poverty and the environment has been overwhelming. A pint of blood can save up to three lives. It's one way to wrap your head around it."

Mark Vandenbosch, a marketing professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, believes there are two keys to get inside the heads of potential donors. One, tell the would-be donor that someone other than the donor will benefit. Two, add the element of possible harm to someone else if they don't.

In a paper to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Vandenbosch and his colleagues studied two years' worth of data based on appeals for donations made to the viewers of a public television station.

They found that the appeals that offered a benefit to donors - for example, suggesting that a donation would allow donors to keep on watching his favourite programs - were less successful than those that suggested other people would benefit - such as saying a donation would allow children to keep on watching educational programs.

Appeals that suggested other people would suffer also worked, including those that hinted the television station would have to lay off workers if it didn't meet its fundraising targets.

This translates into marketing for other causes, including blood donations, says Vandenbosch. He believes Because will hit the right spot more effectively than a recent campaign which stressed: "The life you save may be your own."

In the U.S., a state that started to pay donors to give blood found that donations declined instead of increasing after money was introduced to the equation.

One theory of why people respond to appeals suggests that helping allows the donor to share the joy of the recipient. Vandenbosch's research leads him to believe that theory doesn't wash. People donate not because they're altruistic, but because they need to alleviate the guilt they feel in seeing someone else suffer.

It's hard to tease out whether people give for themselves or others, he said. "In the end, maybe it doesn't matter."

Internationally, Canada has a higher-than-average donation rate, with each active donor giving blood 2.17 times a year. But there are also trouble spots. Canada works on a national inventory system, and a pint of blood donated in St. John's can end up in Victoria.

The system gets a high donor participation rate in the Atlantic region, but Toronto and Vancouver are the toughest markets for collecting blood. The Because campaign is bombarding these cities.

While blood donations are still keeping pace with demand - the blood agency keeps an "inventory" of 18,000 to 20,000 units of blood - there have been times when supply and demand appeared to be on a collision course. Last summer, donations dropped to a trickle at the same time demand increased because of summertime accidents.

"It's such a fragile system," says Moat. "If there's ever a disaster, it could throw everything into a tailspin."

Organizations: Canadian Blood Services, DDB Canada, Incredibles Roots Richard Ivey School of Business University of Western Ontario Journal of Consumer Research

Geographic location: Banff, Orlando, Florida, Canada U.S. St. John's Victoria Atlantic Toronto Vancouver

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