How we can all learn classic marketing techniques from Comic Relief.


Lenny Henry.

On Friday 18th March 2011 Comic Relief raised a record £74.3 million from a British public weighed down with debt, cuts in public spending and job uncertainty. How did they do it? They did it by applying the classic principles of marketing really effectively to their ‘Red Nose Day’.

Marketeers have long used the mnemonic AIDA to structure marketing communications. AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. These days it is recognised that there should also be a C for Conviction.

So just how did Comic Relief apply the principles?

Clearly taking over a premier TV Channel (BBC1) for the entire evening helped to get attention. Packing the show with A list celebrities also helped. But Comic Relief started demanding our attention several weeks before Red Nose Day with a series of activities and programmes designed to raise our awareness. A group of celebrities left their luxuries behind to trek across the dessert, whilst four others spent a harrowing week living in the slums of Kibera in Kenya. Others performed feats of endurance in TV and radio programming, whilst more made fools of themselves dancing and others made pledges for a Twitrelief Ebay auction. We all knew that Red Nose Day was imminent.

Once they’d got our attention Comic Relief worked on getting our interest. A series of short films showed some of the projects that the charity supports. Our desire to help was triggered by making the stories personal so that they appealed to our emotions. Although many of the films showed unbelievable hardship and tragedy they also showed incredible human dignity. We were shown people working hard not just to survive but to help themselves and we saw the emotional responses of the celebrity reporters. The sight of big, strong, funny man Lenny Henry in tears over the living conditions of a young family in Kibera was hard to ignore. So were the many other tales of human suffering and courage in Africa and the UK.

If we still needed to be convinced then the statistics that were quoted throughout the programmes and during Red Nose day and night helped. So did the examples of successful projects which Comic Relief has been delivering with money raised in previous years. We were also told that all the money raised goes to the projects and were told some of the plans the charity had for money raised this year. Only an extreme cynic could fail to be convinced of the need for the money.

However all this would have been useless if Comic Relief hadn’t made it easy for us to take action. Throughout the night we were invited to call the Red Nose number to make our donation. Programmes which pulled at our heart strings finished with a number to text to make a £5 or £10 donation. Text one number with a one word message and our donation was made. It was easy to give, harder to resist.

So what can a small business learn from Comic Relief?

  • Gain attention. A headline that makes your prospect think; a personalised approach to a potential customer or a whacky activity that will appeal to the press, for example.
  • Generate interest by identifying a problem that your target has and that you can solve. Describe the problem clearly so that your prospect can relate to it. Go for their emotions not just their rational side.
  • Create desire by elaborating on the pain the problem is causing your target. Make sure it really hurts and then make it clear how you can take the pain away.
  • Use testimonials that show how you have helped other people to overcome a similar problem. To aid conviction give the name of the person giving the testimonial or, better still, use a video.
  • Be really clear about the action you want the prospect to take. Spell it out. Make it easy. Ask your prospect to take the action.

Remember your marketing is about your target not about you. Comic Relief spoke to us directly. They made us all aware how lucky we are and how life can be so hard for some people.  The appeals recognised that we  might have troubles of our own but when compared to the lives of those people who the charity helps our own concerns pale into insignificance.

Comic Relief got the message right and in doing so raised an enormous amount of money. How will you get your message right?

If you could use some help to identify what your message is and how to get it to your target audience give Glenda a call on +44 20 8991 2767 (8.00a.m. to 10.00p.m. GMT please) or email Go on, do it now before you forget!

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