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MDA's Electronic 'Paper' Icon Campaign

We turn again to the icon campaign only this time an all-electronic version.

It’s the season of St. Patrick’s Day in the United States and the Muscular Dystrophy Association is selling their paper Shamrocks in stores and other retail locations. I saw them advertised as a top banner ad on the website of my local newspaper.

I clicked on the ad and it took me to a secure page on the MDA website. It took forever to download, but in time a video appeared featuring a short performance from by singer Ace Young from their telethon.

Young, a former American Idol finalist, then made a call to action to support the MDA by buying an electronic version of their Shamrock in $5 or $10 amounts, or more.

Some of the traffic comes from Young’s Myspace page and he addresses those fans directly in the script. MDA also has a Myspace page and counts Young as a friend.

Like all icon campaigns this is “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” type fundraising, but for MDA an 'e-Shamrock' is vastly superior to the paper version:
  • A nearly infinite variety of versions of the electronic icons is possible.
  • MDA acquires a database of donors.
  • Once all the electronic backend is in place, your costs are limited to the fees charged to process credit cards and Paypal donations. By contrast a typical paper icon campaign has more variable than fixed costs.
  • Likewise, MDA has fewer personnel costs with an e-Shamrock than with the paper version; it’s cheaper and easier to move electrons than atoms.
  • There’s all the advantages of tracking made possible by the Internet that tells them great deal about who donates, where, how, at what time, where they came from, etc.
  • Electronic icons don’t clog landfills after the campaign is over (although even electrons pollute in that they require electricity to power the servers).
  • It’s very easy for the campaign to go viral, and MDA enables that to a certain degree by including HTML code for various versions of the e-Shamrock.
Like I said, this electronic version hold many advantages for MDA. The question is, aside from the affinity that MDA possesses, why would potential donors participate?
  • With a paper icon, there will likely be a direct ask from a cashier. Young fills that role in this campaign. But saying no to a persistent cashier is harder than not clicking on a link. And what about the people that don’t know or like Ace Young?
  • People get to sign their name on paper Shamrocks and have them display them for all to see, or even take them home. There’s nothing similar in this campaign.
  • It seems small, but when there’s hundreds of paper icons hanging up in a store it creates subtle social pressure to donate. This campaign doesn’t duplicate that aspect either.
That said, I think there are a couple of things MDA could do to help compel support.
  1. First of all, it needs some kind of ‘tell a friend option’ whereby when you buy a Shamrock, it gives you the option of alerting your friends to your generosity. Handled right the creative might work to ‘shame’ friends and family into matching your gift.
  2. The other idea is harder to execute but potentially much more valuable to would-be donors. MDA ought to give as premium to Shamrock buyers an unreleased track from Ace Young’s upcoming album.
Now music rights are notoriously hard to clear and while the artist might go for it, that doesn’t mean his record label would. Still, it would give Shamrock buyers a real incentive to buy.

Combined with the ‘tell a friend’ option, MDA’s Shamrock campaign would stand out in a way none of its competitors ever have. And given its 42-year telethon archive and thousands of celebrity appearances, it has celebrity access and an inventory of performances no charity could match.


Sandra Sims said…
This is an interesting update to the paper icon campaigns. When Chili's did their campaign for St. Judes at their restaurants last year they had an online site where you could create a pepper and print it out, though they didn't charge for it. So that ability, with a donation, would be another good suggestion. MDA could have also added to Honor/Memory of component by sending an email to the person it was made in Honor/Memory of.

I think your points about it going viral and the fact that MDA builds a list are two of the campaign's strongest points. Though the question is how strong is that list? If the people are donating low amounts and possibly doing so only because a celeb endorses it, are they really good potential repeat donors?

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