As published in nytimes.com
A campaign for an organization that fights leukemia and lymphoma is taking a bold, assertive tack in a bid to stand out from fund-raising efforts for other causes.
The campaign, now under way, carries the theme “Someday is today,” declaring that progress is already being made in the fight against cancer. That line of thought is carried further in a commercial that includes scenes of people reading a newspaper with a front-page banner headline declaring, “Cancer Cured!”
(Some might say the subtext is that a cure cannot be too far away if, when the breakthrough takes place, there are still print editions of newspapers.)
The campaign, on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, based in White Plains, is being created by a new New York agency named Interplanetary. There is a budget of about $5 million for ads to run in paid media in six large markets as well as a public service component of the campaign, asking media companies to donate space and time to run the ads.
In addition to the commercial, which features a voice-over narration by the actor Michael C. Hall, who had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the campaign also includes content on the organization’s Web site, outdoor ads, digital ads and a presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter. The campaign is indicative of the growing interest among nonprofit organizations in adopting and adapting the tactics of consumer marketing to help them raise awareness among members of the public as well as raise money. Underlining that is the campaign’s consideration of contributions to the organization as investments in a cancer-free future rather than charitable donations per se.
The campaign stems from a goal to “create a master brand strategy for the organization,” says Lisa Stockmon, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, who joined in March 2012 from Time Warner Cable, and “bring a laserlike consumer focus to us as a nonprofit.”
“There were a number of things L.L.S. has done well,” she adds, but there were also challenges that led her to seek advice from the executives who eventually formed Interplanetary. They all knew one another from working together when Ms. Stockmon was at Time Warner Cable and the executives were at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, the creative agency for Time Warner Cable.
“We’ve made a difference in the cancer space,” Ms. Stockmon says of the organization, “and we are so close to finally finding a cure — not in several years, but soon.”
“We’re using the success of L.L.S. as a proof point for the new brand positioning” of “Someday is today,” she adds.
The organization has more than $300 million in annual revenue, Ms. Stockmon says, and 62 chapters in the United States and Canada. Still, there is a need to “make more people aware of the work we do,” she adds.
One way to achieve that, Ms. Stockmon says, is through engagement, by “keeping our stakeholders engaged” in what the organization does.
Certainly, it is engaging to take an approach that discusses how there could be a cure for cancer someday soon. And in not being “morose,” as Ms. Stockmon puts it, the campaign is in counterpoint to many others from nonprofit organizations.
But is it too risky, raising the possibility of false hope?
“No, we didn’t blink” when the executives at Interplanetary suggested the central points to make in the campaign, Ms. Stockmon says, and “we had the support of our C.E.O.,” John E. Walter, as well as the organization’s chief mission officer, Louis J. DeGennaro.
The organization did, however, conduct research on the tack the campaign would take, to see if consumers would believe it was valid and credible.
“When you put it in front of them, it resonated with them,” Ms. Stockmon says. “They said, ‘Yes, there are advances, and L.L.S. is working toward cures.’ ”
“Is it out there?” she asks rhetorically, then answers her own question by citing the cover article in the April 1 issue of Time magazine, which carried the headline “How to Cure Cancer*,” beneath which were these words: “*Yes, it’s now possible — thanks to new cancer dream teams that are delivering better results faster.”
“I don’t think I’m overpromising,” Ms. Stockmon says, citing work by scientists and doctors supported by the organization “who’ve made amazing progress” in the fight against cancer.
That is the message of the commercial narrated by Mr. Hall, whose voice is heard as scenes appear on screen of people engaged in everyday activities like filling a teakettle, washing laundry and taking the newspaper in from the porch. (It is that paper that carries the “Cancer Cured!” headline.)
“You’ll remember this day forever,” Mr. Hall says earnestly. “You’ll remember where you were.”
“This day has never been closer,” he continues. “Today, thanks to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, hundreds of thousands with blood cancer are living a normal life.”
“We’ve spent nearly a billion dollars on cancer treatments once thought impossible,” Mr. Hall says, as on screen a woman in Times Square looks up at a large screen on which the words “Cancer Cured!” appear. “We’re almost there, but we need your help.”
As he continues speaking, scenes appear on screen of hospital patients being hugged. “Help us make cures happen,” Mr. Hall concludes. “Help us reach today sooner. Join us.”
Superimposed on screen are the words “Someday is today”; “Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Fighting blood cancers”; the organization’s Web site address; and a toll-free telephone number, 888-HELP-LLS.
Bruce Lee, partner, creative director and copywriter at Interplanetary, praised Mr. Hall. “His voice is so emotional while being straightforward,” Mr. Lee says. “A great actor can do that.”
The outdoor ads in the campaign repeat the “Someday is today” theme, adding lines like “We’re accelerating cures to save more lives. Join us: lls.org.”
Andy Semons, partner and head of strategy at Interplanetary, acknowledges that as a result of recent difficulties involving cancer organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Livestrong Foundation, many people are “somewhat leery and somewhat skeptical” of making donations.
“The notion of ‘Someday is today’ is the linchpin of the strategy” to counter that, he says, because it is “coming forward with the fact an enormous amount of progress has been made.”
“There’s a way to go, but we’ve got the finish line in sight,” he adds, and “people like backing winning horses.”
Mr. Lee says the agency’s executives, in working with the L.L.S. on developing the campaign, were “shocked” by the progress that had been made against cancer, which made it seem “like living in the future.”“This is really good news,” he adds, “and good news has as much drama as the scary news” in which these kinds of campaigns had played up previously.
Joe Dessi, partner and managing director at Interplanetary, says the “sanity check” that was done in the form of the consumer research led the agency’s executives to believe the approach did not represent an “overpromise.”
“It really was amazing how much it touched people’s hearts,” Mr. Dessi says. “We even had people emotional in the research.”
Still, the agency is taking what he calls “a measured approach,” describing the campaign as in the “crawl phase,” with plans in the next 18 months to “get to the walk phase and the run phase.”
It weighs on everyone involved with the campaign that “this is money that could otherwise go to research,” Mr. Dessi says of the estimated $5 million being spent to buy ads in the six markets, which are Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington.
“What we’ve seen so far is incredibly encouraging,” he adds of the response since the ads began appearing in February, with “double-digit lifts” in online donations and traffic to the Web site.
Ms. Stockmon says that callers to the toll-free number are saying they heard about the organization “from the TV spots.”
Next on tap for the campaign, according to Mr. Dessi, is “a lot of search and digital advertising.”