During WW I, the American
Red Cross faced an unprecedented national need for its service. Raising
the funds to deliver this service required that the organization use advertising
to appeal directly to the American people. The American Red Cross used
every possible means of publicity, most of which the organization had
never before employed, to encourage donations and volunteers. When time
was of the essence, the American Red Cross assembled an advertising campaign
that proved to be extremely effective.
The National Headquarters of the American Red Cross led two fundraising
initiatives: the War Fund and the Roll Call campaigns. Taking place in
June of 1917 and May of 1918, the two War Fund drives sought donations
for the relief effort abroad. Advertising for these campaigns detailed
the uses of current funds and made an appeal for donations to provide
a higher level of service. In total, the War Funds brought in about $250M,
significantly surpassing the organization's expectations.
The Roll Calls, initiated in 1917, occurred annually around Christmastime
for 25 years. The Roll Calls' main purpose was to generate funds by asking
the public to join the membership list and pay a $1 due. This initiative
was instrumental in raising millions for the organization. Running ads
with slogans such as, "We cannot all serve in the trenches, but we
can all serve at home," Red Cross members increased from 286,000
to 20 million in just two years. This level of success in a relief campaign
had never been achieved in American Red Cross history.
The American Red Cross was able to conquer unfamiliar ground as well
as solidify some of its previous advertising techniques with WW I campaigns.
The success of these campaigns lied primarily in the organization's two-part
strategy. First, the National Headquarters created the instructions, models,
and products for the campaign, distributing them to all its local chapters.
With these tools, the American Red Cross chapters undertook a dynamic
campaign unique to their respective communities. This aggressive and extensive
endeavor was the first of its kind in the organization's advertising history.
The campaign included:
- Posters - Posters represented one of
the most compelling and popular components of the campaign. Some of
the most common themes included: "The Greatest Mother in the World,"
"All you need is a heart and a dollar," and "Keep this
hand of mercy at its work."
- Newspapers, magazines - As the American
Red Cross upheld its policy of not paying for advertisements, countless
newspapers and businesses generously provided public service advertising
support. Publicity also came from the multitude of articles written
in magazines and newspapers covering the campaign and its success.
- Banners, billboards, placards - The
American Red Cross slogan was seen everywhere, in places such as restaurant
menus, theatre and movie programs, and even homes; the "Red Cross
Service Flag" was a popular memento given to all members to be
displayed in their windows.
- Brochures, leaflets - Literature was
provided to the public outlining the work of the American Red Cross
and emphasizing the dire need of the troops abroad. It called for donations,
membership support and volunteers at local chapters.
- Motion pictures - Films were created
and distributed to all movie houses, along with lantern slides that
were displayed between movies. These short films provided moving visuals
to encourage support for the American Red Cross.
- Public speakers - One of the most avid
speakers for the Red Cross was President Woodrow Wilson, who was known
to make public pleas for Americans to support the organization. Local
leaders, such as preachers, were encouraged to make mention of the Red
Cross's efforts, as well. People called "4-Minute-Men" gave
pre-written speeches in theaters and movie houses asking for support.
- Public events - Volunteer-run "Enrollment
Booths," found on streets corners at all hours, were used to solicit
subscribers to the organization, while some local communities organized
parades and pageants.
In the face of a historic demand for help, the American Red Cross used
every possible method of reaching the public through advertising. Through
national, as well as grass roots, efforts, the organization rallied the
nation to help support the war effort.
The American Red Cross's record of achievement during WWI secured the
organization's position as a trust-worthy partner in times of need. The
organization gave people a vehicle through which they could unite to help
their troops, and demonstrate their dedication to the US and to winning
the war. Today, the American Red Cross continues to serve as a conduit
for the generosity of the American spirit in its relief efforts.
American Red Cross
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