Youth homelessness charity Depaul UK is challenging charity marketing convention in its latest campaign by setting up a new company to sell house movers cardboard boxes carrying stories about some of the United Kingdom’s 80,000 young homeless people.
Like many charities, Depaul UK relies heavily on modest, one-off donations—a particular challenge when economic conditions are poor and demands on its services are growing, fast. An estimated 23% more people in the U.K. now sleep rough than was the case just three years ago.
The idea, developed with Publicis London, is to raise much-needed funds as well as awareness of the charity’s work at a time when help available to young homeless people is decreasing despite rising demand, Publicis managing director Will Arnold-Baker explains.
With English Housing Survey figures showing that 3.8 million U.K. households having either moved house in the last year or are moving house in the year ahead, the new company—The Depaul Box Company—has set itself the goal of raising £3 million a year from cardboard box sales over the next five years.
"Rather than try to elicit sympathy, we believe that charities in the future will need to create innovative funding streams that create a bridge to business," Arnold-Baker says. "What could be more relevant than using cardboard boxes to prevent people from having to sleep on cardboard boxes?"
The new strategy neatly flips on its head the visceral and often distressing association between cardboard boxes and sleeping rough by turning it into a positive, according to Depaul UK CEO Martin Houghton-Brown.
"No one should have to make a cardboard box their home. Buying our cardboard boxes will ensure nobody has to," he says.
Each cardboard box features true stories of real young homeless people Depaul has helped, though their identities have been disguised. Just two packs of Depaul boxes—which are priced at £30 for a pack of ten—can take one young person off the street for one night. The boxes can be purchased online.
The launch of The Depaul Box Company is being promoted through outdoor ads, PR, and a forthcoming opinion formers-backed Twitter campaign. The initiative is the latest in a number of innovative strategies developed by the agency for Depaul UK in recent years.
In 2010, Publicis worked with the charity to launch iHobo—an iPhone app that allowed the user to learn more about the issues young homeless people face by having one "live" on their iPhone for three days, during which time they make a series of increasingly desperate demands on the user.
Two years on, iHobo—which is still live—has been downloaded more than 600,000 times.