5 Ways To Make Your Content So People Can’t Look Away

When a brand combines strong storytelling with a good cause it can raise more than just money—it can raise awareness.

Admit it: At some point after reality TV burst on the scene what seems like a lifetime ago, you were hooked. You tuned in to find out who was getting voted off the island, or which pair of contestants would find their way to Tokyo first. Even if this was never you, it’s true of tens of millions of Americans.

There’s a reason for this, of course. People love narrative intrigue. Build a good storyline and they will come. And buy. Or in the case of KFC’s Add Hope campaign, give. Food insecurity—hunger—isn’t an abstraction in South Africa. It’s a daily reality. KFC decided to take the expertise and tools we developed marketing restaurants and turn it loose on a much more pressing problem, one that hit especially close to home.

In South Africa we spent five years dialing up a campaign to fight hunger, and we learned a few things along the way—lessons that may help other brands use their market power to heal the world. If you want to do some good in the world, your strongest ally is compelling storytelling. Here are some steps to help you craft your narrative:

Identify a cause

Obvious enough—but the key is to find one that’s a natural fit for the brand and the content you plan to create. Focusing an organization on something other than quarterly results take commitment. Make sure your brand devotes itself to something it can maintain for the long haul. For us, this was an easy call. We’re in the food business. Hunger is considered the world’s number-one health risk—greater than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. A real crisis.

Establish the connection

Our effort began in 2007 as a modest fund-raising campaign that over two years generated about $68,000 for hunger relief. From there we decided to go further—to intertwine the cause more deeply with our identity. In 2009, we launched Add Hope, a campaign in which customers could order a fictitious side item off the menu—at a cost of 2 rand (about 20 cents)—that was actually a donation to feed a hungry child. Add Hope raised $660,000 in 2010.

The following year we commissioned the Wall of Hope, an ambitious art installation consisting of 5,500 empty-bellied childlike figures. Donors could simply drop their 2 rand into one of the coin slots, which helped drive the point home that each donation helped feed a hungry child. At ground level, the installation appeared to be a random maze of intricately laser-cut panels, but when viewed from above it spelled out the word hope. That brought in $975,000.

All of which laid the groundwork for what we tried next.

Find your medium

We created a six-part television series. The idea was to produce something to build buzz and draw a large and growing audience. We settled on a 4,100-kilometer bicycling adventure that, tracked by satellite on our website, would write the word "hope" across the South African map.

Build a compelling cast

Who could we partner with for such an undertaking? Rather than hold a casting call likely to yield an unknown commodity, we settled on someone with established credentials: renowned adventurer Riaan Manser, who had gained notoriety for being the first person to circumnavigate Africa on a bicycle. We didn’t need to dilute the power of the narrative introducing him to South Africa. He was already a hero, and his star-power would help boost attention.

Stir in tension

We sent Manser off last September 14 on what we called the "Journey of Hope," but the epic ride alone wasn’t enough. He would do the ride on half the calories such an expedition would normally require.

The geo-coordinated route took him to charities in five provinces where Manser ate as the children did. This was his only real source of nutrition. Tension is part of any good narrative, and that helps keep viewers coming back. Good intentions don’t fight hunger. Donations do, and we needed to keep viewers invested and coming back if we were going to raise both money and awareness. Still, Manser didn’t restrict his calories for dramatic effect; he did it to illustrate in unforgettable fashion how much a single meal can mean. Each time, the effects were almost instantaneous; Manser felt stronger, his endurance grew, and his mindset improved dramatically. In other segments, he battled the elements, the road, and the pressing needs of his own body. Manser would later describe the trek as the hardest thing he’d ever done.

The expedition sparked a huge response—partly on the ground, where people could meet him and drop their 2 rands into the donation vessel on Manser’s bike, and partly through the backing of a dedicated website, social media, and other support mechanisms. But the program as a whole, which appeared as a series of three-minute episodes over six weeks, packaged the cause in a way that people who had never really experienced hunger could connect with—starkly demonstrating how calorie deprivation ravages the body and making a visceral connection to the agony of hunger.

The results told us plenty about the content’s ability to hit home. Millions watched Journey of Hope, which generated more than $700,000 in earned media plus extensive chatter on social media; donations approached $1.3 million in 2012—a sum that will provide 6 million meals this year.

It helped lots of kids in need, and while that’s the part I’m proudest of, KFC South Africa came out of it with a boost, too. Our research showed that from over the three-year period from 2010 to 2012, consumers who visit fast-food restaurants were 21 percent increase in the perception that KFC is a brand that gives back.

And a result like that ensures that we’ll be able to keep giving back for years and years to come.

Lauren Turnbull is CSI and Sponsorships Manager for Yum! Restaurants International.

[Flickr image by islandjoe]

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