CENTURY 21 Fuels Brand Affinity Through Philanthropic Endeavors

Philanthropy has long been a core aspect of CENTURY 21 Real Estate LLC’s approach to business. It’s something we instill in the more than 100,000 System members affiliated with our brand. In May our marketing team set out to determine how our brand could leverage its longstanding commitment to philanthropy, combine it with a marketing sponsorship, and generate consumer awareness and company preference—all while remaining authentic and consistent with our brand’s values. 

While the philanthropic commitment remained at the forefront of the activation, increasing brand affinity while providing our agents with an opportunity to connect with consumers about this culturally relevant event played a generous role in how we made this activation come to life.

As a sponsor of CFH Racing and IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden, our challenge was to find a meaningful way to bring the sponsorship to life. Our company has had a longstanding relationship with Easter Seals—a nonprofit organization that provides services, education, outreach, and advocacy for individuals living with disabilities and special needs—so incorporating the organization into the sponsorship was a natural, altruistic fit for the brand. This was a true grassroots effort. In fact, the activation was a marketing tactic for our larger goal of highlighting our CFH Racing sponsorship.

The idea was simple: Identify a young person associated with Easter Seals who is an IndyCar and Josef Newgarden fan in the Indianapolis area and give him the experience of a lifetime. 

Through Easter Seals, CENTURY 21 Real Estate was introduced to five-year-old Josiah who has Noonan Syndrome. Noonan syndrome, according to the National Institute of Health, occurs in approximately one in 1,000 to 2,500 people. A condition that affects many parts of the body, Noonan Syndrome can be characterized by mildly unusual facial characteristics, short stature, heart defects, bleeding problems, skeletal malformations, and many other symptoms. When his mother was pregnant with him, doctors told her that Josiah would not survive to full-term, but he’s now thriving thanks to the occupational and speech therapy provided by Easter Seals. 

Once Josiah’s family was on board, our team began ideating on the activation. Surprising Josiah with meeting Newgarden would thrill him, but CENTURY 21 wanted to do more. We worked with Newgarden to create a day Josiah would never forget. 

On Saturday, May 23, the day before the Indianapolis 500, Josiah was whisked away on a mystery trip with his parents, unsure of his destination, to meet Newgarden and ride in the Indianapolis 500 parade. While Newgarden and Josiah waved to fans along the parade route, local volunteers from CENTURY 21 quickly transformed Josiah’s room into a racing-themed paradise. 

Once the parade wrapped up, Newgarden, CENTURY 21 President and CEO Rick Davidson, and COO Greg Sexton brought Josiah home where a team of local CENTURY 21 brokers and affiliated sales associates and Easter Seals representatives were there to greet him as they unveiled the room makeover. It was truly a special day created for a special little boy.

By capturing emotionally compelling content of the entire activation, we were able to generate more than four million earned media impressions and significant community interest, which positively impacted our brand affinity and contributed to the success of the event.  With our film crew there every step of the way, we created a heart-tugging video that was shared across our social media channels, providing our network of System members with a great conversation-starter for new and existing clients. The more important results, however, were Newgarden’s selflessness before the biggest day of his racing year, the gratitude expressed by Josiah’s family, and the sheer joy on Josiah’s face.

Rules of the road

Here are four lessons we learned from the experience.

Keep authenticity at the forefront. In an activation like this, it’s easy to get carried away. At times, ideas to redecorate Josiah’s room in branded material or CENTURY 21 colors seemed more important than giving Josiah the room of his dreams. While a certain level of branding was desired from a media perspective, taking a step back to remember the “why” helped to ensure we remained authentic to the sponsorship, Easter Seals, and the brand itself instead of throwing a logo onto a child’s bedroom walls. 

Be agile. Flexibility is essential when working under a tight deadline. From finding quick-dry paint that could cover bright orange walls with just one coat to ensuring that the bedroom reveal would fit into Newgarden’s busy pre-race schedule, remaining nimble and having the ability to quickly solve problems were essential to the success of the campaign. 

Have fun! If you’re not excited about the activation, how can you expect others to be? It’s important for all parties to share in the excitement and believe in the mission of the activation. While the CENTURY 21 leadership team had heart for this idea, Newgarden’s excitement and willingness to participate in any capacity and the dozens of passionate CENTURY 21 volunteers added to the overall impact of the day. 

Have assets that tell your story in a compelling way. Without capturing compelling content, whether in the form of video with interesting sound bites or heartfelt photos, all of the work in planning and executing the event cannot be packaged into a story. The genuine smile on Josiah’s face and the tears of joy shed by his father were all captured onsite to help tell the story in a way that words simply couldn’t express.

About the author:

Mike Callaghan is the acting chief marketing officer for Century 21 Real Estate LLC. He leads the internal and external marketing and strategic communications strategy and program execution for the brand. Callaghan hasworked extensively in the areas of consumer marketing, digital marketing, and client services over his twenty-plus year career. Most recently he was with Epsilon Interactive, where he served as VP of client services for the email and digital solutions unit. Prior to that, Callaghan worked for JPMorgan Chase, Lucent Technologies, and AT&T for nearly two decades in a series of increasingly senior roles in sales, marketing, and business development.

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