Unique ‘shock and raw’ online campaign targets Ontario youth

“By clicking on this handsome tattoo, you can open me up,” says Ben.

And there’s a graphic truth to his words.

On Recycleme.org, you click on the image that says “Recyclables inside” tattoeod on Ben’s sewed up chest. When you do this, his chest peels open and his vital organs are displayed. Place the cursor on his heart, kidneys or liver and the organ will zoom outwards from the screen.

I learn that the liver can clean blood, produce energy, and ward off infection.

“The liver might have multiple requirements for the body,” Ben says. “The only requirement you need to become a donor is the desire to make a difference.”

In addition to this graphic interactive feature, Recycleme.org also prompts youth to sign their name to an organ donation card. It’s not some weird joke or a biology lesson gone wrong. It’s one part of an advertising 2009 campaign designed to boost youth awareness about the Trillium Gift of Life Network and the need for organ and tissue donation in Ontario.

The Web site’s name was born out of the notion that youth already care about recycling, explains David Rosenberg, creative director at Toronto-based ad agency Bensimon Byrne. This campaign was about asking youth to to consider a new aspect of recycling where they were intimately involved — organ and tissue donation.

But what about the shocking nature of the content?

“We remember what it was like to be young,” he says. “We liked weird twisted stuff, incredibly graphic visual imagery.”

Rosenberg presented alongside Amanda Alvaro, managing director at Narrative Advocacy Media at Toronto’s Advertising Week Jan. 26.

The campaign had a heartbeat for four months, from April 20 to July 12, 2009. It squeezed in on the 15-24 year-old demographic in a response to the organ donor shortage in Ontario.

There are currently 1,700 Ontarians waiting for an organ transplant. Every three days, one of those patients dies. And although 87 per cent of Ontarians feel consenting to become a donor is important, only 17 per cent have actually done so.

“Ontarians presented a great challenge when it came to organ and tissue donation,” Alvaro says. “But youth presented an even greater challenge, it wasn’t even on their radar.”

Recycleme.org served as the central hub of a campaign that oozed out into social media, television spots, and real life. There was a Twitter account with an engaged following, a Facebook fan page with a following of 3,500, and various YouTube videos.

These videos feature equally stunning content. Fictional retail stores were created with names such as “Live Heart Barn”, “Lung Mart” and “Kidney Depot.” Commercials for the imagined stores are energetic, and feature smiling patrons holding up clear plastic bags of harvested organs as though they are displaying a side of beef.

The intent is to drive home a simple message: If getting organs were this easy, we wouldn’t need donors.

Perhaps most striking of all, videos of actual organ transplants are found on the Web site.

“This was one of the most popular aspects of the site,” Rosenberg says. “In all its graphic and gory detail.”

But the results speak for themselves. The campaign brought 120,000 unique visitors to the site over the period it ran and saw 11,000 registration forms downloaded from Trillium. That’s a 400 per cent increase over the same period in 2008.

“The best result for all of us at the agency was knowing we were actually having a positive impact on changing attitudes and behaviours on something as important as organ donation,” the creative director says.

The presentation for the creative concept was originally received well by Trillium, according to Wendy Seed, communications planner at the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. The ministry was willing to take risks in a time defined by an economic downturn, and was pleased with the results.

The Ontario government created Trillium Gift of Life Network in the year 2000, and significantly increased funding for its awareness campaigns in 2007.

It was more than just energetic, pitchman-style commercials with a lot of gore that led to campaign success among youth, Alvaro says. The campaign’s strategy involved the target demographic by creating an advisory panel of 15 to 24 year-olds.

The learning experience from that panel is a refreshing departure from some common perceptions about Generation Y. Youth are interested in organ donation as an issue and want to talk about it and explore it, Alvaro says. They can also be selfless, willing to volunteer time and effort to causes they believe will make a difference.”

“We needed to have a sense of humour and an irreverence that would capture their attention,” she says. Once that was done, youth wanted to coalesce around a cause for the greater good.

Those who did choose to register as donors had their name appear on the Web site’s wallpaper, behind Ben. The background is now completely filled with names from edge to edge.

Ben is still front and centre, ready to be dissected.

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