When is Achieving an Outcome Objective still a Failure: The Digital Death Campaign

Keep a Child Alive is a fantastic charity.  Their work for HIV/AIDS saves lives in Africa and India.  Here is some information about the charity:

“Keep a Child Alive is committed to engaging the global public in the fight against AIDS and is proud to be a pioneer in fundraising. KCA was the first charity to ask the public to donate directly to purchase AIDS treatment and the first to make an online documentary “Alicia in Africa“ available for free download.

Keep a Child Alive provides first class AIDS care, support, nutrition, education and love to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India. With 30 million already dead, the disease continues to wipe out whole societies, threatening economic infrastructure and devastating the family structure. There are currently 14.9 million AIDS orphans in Africa alone. Anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment has transformed the lives of people with AIDS in the West, returning them to health from illness. However, millions of people with AIDS have no access to these lifesaving drugs. KCA currently provides funding to 10 clinical and orphan care sites in 5 countries: Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and India; with previous projects in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Zimbabwe and South Africa that have been successfully scaled to new levels of service and self-sustainability within their communities” http://buylife.org/press-release.php

On December 1, 2010, the “Digital Death” campaign was launched in hopes of raising $1 million dollars for Keep a Child Alive.  The idea was promoted by Alicia Keys, a strong advocate for the charity.  Essentially, a number of celebrities would commit digital suicide until the money was raised.  Digital suicide involves no tweets to Twitter and no updates to Facebook.  Many pictures appeared in social media showing the celebrity in a coffin.  The celebrities included including Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Ryan Seacrest, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Khloe Kardashian, Lenny Kravitz, Jay Sean, Swizz Beatz, Serena Williams, The Buried Life, Elijah Wood, Janelle Monae, Nikki Sixx, Kimberly Cole, David LaChapelle, Daphne Guinness and Bronson Pelletier  A YouTube video helped to explain the campaign.  It can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sawIuy0yqSU&feature=player_embedded#!

The campaign declared itself a success on Dec. 8, 2010 with this announcement:

New York, NY (December 6, 2010) – Keep a Child Alive’s (KCA) co-founders Leigh Blake and Alicia Keys proudly announced today that the DIGITAL DEATH campaign has reached its anticipated goal of $1 million. The public as well as the artists who participated in the campaign donated to raise half a million dollars in less than one week and today pharma billionaire and noted philanthropist Stewart Rahr has generously offered to match this amount. The campaign launched on Wednesday, December 1st, World AIDS Day, as part of KCA’s larger fundraising effort BUY LIFE which was developed by advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day New York.

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all of the fans, friends and artists who joined this cause,” said Keys. “I’m incredibly inspired by all of the donations that have been made to help us achieve our goal and so humbled by the outpour of support from everyone.” http://buylife.org/press-release.php

In the end, the objective was achieved.  The $1 million was raised but not really how the campaign had intended.  The idea was for fans to donate money, the base rate was $10 that could be contributed by texting and later smaller amounts and other digital means of donating added.  The fans would resurrect their celebrities because they wanted the tweets and status updates.  But the general fans base was not delivering as hoped.  The belief was the campaign might take a week but donations were slow.  After 5 days just less than $300,000 had been raised.  When the campaign was only half way to the target on day 6, a request was made and philanthropist Stewart Rahr answered by kicking in $500,000—half the objective in one donation.  So yes, the objective was achieved in the specified time, this would be termed a success in terms of the outcome objective.  However, a closer inspection shows some problems with the execution that raise lessons for future efforts.

The primary concern is that the fans were not giving enough money to hit the target in a week.  It seems people may have a curiosity about celebrity social media posts but are not willing to really pay to read a celeb’s tweet or status update.  One of the key factors in social media is that it is free.  Paying for even celebrity social media did not seem like a good idea.  Here is how one critic explained it:

“The slow fan donations may have something to do with their approach to the campaign. Yes, most people would agree that donating to a cause like AIDS research is a good thing — however, fans have to donate a minimum of $10 to participate. The amount might not seem like much, but it is to the young fanbase of most of these stars.

Plus, the official website for the campaign includes “glamour” shots of celebs “dead” in coffins. Some even said that the campaign is just another way that self-important celebs are promoting themselves.

We don’t doubt that the intentions were good – but it’s likely that celebrities will think long and hard about participating in a charity stunt that gives them a huge blow to their egos” http://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/821036/Celebrity-Digital-Death-campaign-a-Twitter-disaster

Another noted:  “It’s very ironic that a fundraiser based on abstaining from social media has failed to go viral. The #buylife hashtag hasn’t made it into the Trending Topics on Twitter, and now that the participants are offline, they are unable to rally their fans” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-farah/celebrity-digital-death-w_b_792881.html

In a world of celebrity publications and gawking online, fund raising based on celebrity watching seemed to fail.  Again, the process not the outcome was the failure.  Celebrities wanted to get back online.  For some it is a dollar issue, Kim Kardashian can make up to $10,000 for a promotional tweet.  Given the results of this campaign, the sponsors paying that price might want to re-think their fees.  So it appears celebrities may need to tweet more than fans need to read the tweets.  Tweets can be a revenue stream for celebrities but are a curiosity most fans do not want to pay and can live without.

Questions to Consider

1.  Why does it matter that the process but not the outcome failed in the campaign?

2.  What lessons about online media and fund raising can be drawn from this case?

3.  Does it matter if some of the celebrities involved were driven by ego rather than goodwill?  Why or shy not?

4.  What ethical issues do you see arising from this campaign?

5.  What general insights about online public relations campaigns can be drawn from this case?

6.  Would you donate $10 dollars to a charity in order to read celebrity tweets again?  Why or why not?

7.  How does this approach differ from cause marketing?  How does that difference make such fan-based donations a risky proposition?


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