Inside Salvation Army’s non-festive strategy

The non-profit is trying to show it's more than just a Christmas charity with a new campaign to keep it top of mind year round.

The Salvation Army may be synonymous with buckets in malls, ringing bells and Christmas time, but if John McAlister, director of marketing and communication at the non profit, has anything to say about it, in 2015 the non-profit organization will be top of mind year round.

The brand has just launched phase two of its new multi-year campaign “Time to End Poverty in Canada,” created by Grey Canada. And while the latest campaign comes out in time for the holidays, creative for TV, digital and OOH isn’t meant to scream Christmas. It features a man looking at a new phone or tablet, before panning out to reveal a mom and child falling asleep in the backseat of a car. The voiceover asks “We keep making better things, why can’t we make things better?”McAlister says they developed the campaign to highlight the fact that in a time where every street around the globe can be mapped, it’s inconceivable that people are still sleeping on those streets.

Other than some lights and garland around the store window, there’s no real mention of the holidays. Digital and OOH make no mention of the holidays at all. 

“We’re very visible at Christmas – we’re a well known charity during this period,” he says. “The challenge I want to address is that we’re working 365 days a year, our funding needs are throughout the year – we’re more than just a Christmas charity.”

This is the second ad of the new campaign – the first launched this summer (featuring folks in a cafe taking photos of their food, before panning out to a homeless person eating scraps on the streets) – and is part of the brand’s bid to become more top-of-mind throughout the year. Because the June launch wasn’t an ideal time to ask consumers for donation (the campaign was originally slated to run in May, but was delayed), it doesn’t feature a huge call to action, thus acted more like a brand campaign, McAlister says.

It was supported by a digital pre-roll ad (featuring a video of someone on the street stuck buffering, asking consumers why buffering annoys them, but poverty doesn’t), and unlike the holiday push, was geared at a slightly younger demo. McAlister explains that while the brand has traditionally done well with the over-50 age demo, there is a lot of growth opportunity among millennials. Following the push, he says they did see a boost in awareness and fundraising, and says they’ll bring the TV spot back in February for another flight of TV buys with a stronger call to donate.

The new approach is a bit of a gamble for the brand, McAlister says. Because the Salvation Army is so tied to the Christmas season – it being the biggest donation period for the non-profit each year – it’s hard for it to dedicate budgetary resources to promotion at different times of the year.