Ronald McDonald House Goes Online With Ads

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Ronald McDonald House Charities expects to begin its first national online marketing campaign May 6 to garner more donations through the Internet.


The charity, whose operational and administrative costs are borne by McDonald's Corp., will run standard gif banners and buttons on valuable space donated by portals like MSN, Yahoo, USAToday.com and AOL.com. The Oak Brook, IL, charity creates, finds and supports children's programs.


"Historically, RMHC has avoided any national promotion of itself to better allow its local chapters to raise funds locally," said Richard Guest, account manager at Tribal DDB Worldwide, Chicago, which is handling the pro bono account. "We see the Internet and this advertising campaign as a vehicle to allow RMHC to fundraise at a national level without impacting the fundraising efforts of its local chapters."


RMHC will place ads on the parenting sections of these sites. With MSN, ads also will run on MSNBC living, search and the community areas. AOL will run ads in its search and Oxygen departments, too.


Creative for the appeal is intentionally emotional in nature.


One banner shows two children, with copy reading, "Our biggest priority." Another banner shows the same visual, with different copy: "Make a brighter future at RMHC.org." A third banner says simply, "What is shorter, younger and weaker than you?"


All banners share a common call to action: get online visitors to click through to the Web site and donate.


"Our strategy was to target, as best as we could with the pro bono media without looking a gift horse in the mouth, folks who were involved in the lives of children -- parents, aunts and uncles," Guest said. "What we want to do is first increase the awareness they have of RMHC because RMHC tends to be a lesser-known charity and ... [to] get them to the Web site where they could directly donate to the charity."


Such online ads cap the charity's Internet strategy. E-mail sent Dec. 28-31 tested the waters. RMHC got $15,000 as the high daily total in response to this direct marketing effort that tapped upscale names on lists donated by e-mail list manager and broker ROI Networks. Blue Sky Factory supplied technology for that effort.


Next was a revamp of the www.rmhc.org site, which acquired the ability to accept online donations in the fourth quarter of 2001.


The charity has disbursed more than $320 million in grants worldwide through 171 independent local chapters in 44 countries. Among the programs it supports are Changing the Face of the World, Ronald McDonald Children's Hospital and Ronald McDonald Family Rooms.


"Traditionally, they have not used any marketing channels to raise funds," Guest said. "They have had national pro bono advertising for the last several years that USA Today has donated.


"But for the most part," he said, "their national fundraising efforts centered around either events they put on for their corporate sponsors or some of the programs they do at McDonald's restaurants, some of which are in partnership with USA Today and some of which involve collection canisters in McDonald's restaurants."


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