Cause Partnerships – Mai Duong: The Anatomy of a Unique Campaign

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Interview with Christiane Rochon, creator of the campaign

Q. – The Save Mai Duong campaign was anything but traditional. What were the objectives? C. R. – The objective was both simple and complex: to find a donor for Mai. The “collateral benefits” were to increase awareness of stem cell donation and to conduct a successful blood drive campaign. But the real objective—the only one—was to find a match for Mai in the Vietnamese community.

Q. – Why do you think this cause met with such success? C. R. – This cause was a success for three reasons. First, everyone in the advertising industry [in Montreal] —the media included—knows Mai. Her situation directly touched the people who have the power to tell her story. That gave us an edge. Second, the overall tone of the campaign was fresh. We never resorted to pathos, and nor did Mai in the many interviews she gave. Third, the team leading the campaign was made up of people with distinct and complementary strengths, and we all made it our duty to be informed so we could answer specialized medical questions again and again. In short, it was Mai herself and the industry she works in, the tone and manner of the campaign and the efforts of a resourceful group of ad people that made this campaign a success.

Q. – To be a success, do you think a cause has to deploy such an imposing arsenal? C. R. – Obviously, the more people who are exposed to your message, the greater the chances of getting them to act. But with the range of causes we’re exposed to all year long, I think it’s the human side that resonates, the story of the patient. Generally speaking, cancer doesn’t touch people. But the cancer of a loved one—or of someone we can see ourselves in—definitely strikes a chord. The bigger the budget, the easier it is to share someone’s story. It’s also important to note the urgent nature of our mandate given the two-month deadline set by Mai’s doctors to find a donor. So yes, we did everything we possibly could in very little time. We had a hefty arsenal. But the content counts for a lot.

Q. – Did you notice a point of no return where, as with ALS, the cause becomes popular and spreads naturally through word of mouth?  C. R. – From a media standpoint, a front-page article in La Presse on July 5 would have gotten other media outlets on board and created a snowball effect. But from a social standpoint, it was always back to square one. It still is. People know that Mai is ill, but few understand why she needs a transplant or what to do to become a donor. People hear but they don’t listen. It would have been a constant battle from day one. And it will continue to be for other people who are sick. You need to repeat the facts ad nauseam for the message to really sink in.

Q. – How do you see the commercial component playing out in social causes? Do you think brands can attach themselves to a cause without creating a public outcry?  C. R. – I think that a brand can get behind a cause as long as it’s done with respect and not to steal the limelight. The big bucks required for research and advanced treatments (whatever they may be) come from corporations. It would be crazy not to accept donations from them. That said, brands can’t turn around and use that goodwill to buy sympathy from current or future clients. The partnership has to be rooted in humility and humanity. Sure, supporting a cause will no doubt cast a positive light on the brand, but everything must be done in good taste. For example, pink toilet paper for breast cancer awareness—that wouldn’t fly for me.

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