Mobile Charity: The $10k SuperBowl Ad

No, they didn’t pay $10k for a SuperBowl ad.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the United Way Superbowl spot asking users to text “fit” to UNITED (864833) raised about $10,000. Of each $5 donation, United Way got about $4.50. By my math, that’s 2,000 $5 donations from a single 10-second spot viewed by nearly 100 million (second most-watched TV show ever).

Could they have done better with what they had?

pSMS (premium SMS) allows interaction with a user which adds small charges to a cell phone bill, typically under $10. In the US, it had been limited to selling mobile content and dominated by ringtones.

According to the carrier rules, you couldn’t make a pSMS charge to deliver a real-world good a service, or to accept a donation to charity.

The rules also have mobile carriers and aggregators keeping a large percentages of the charges as revenue share. Varying from carrier to carrier and negotiated by volume, etc., you might get back only 60% of revenues, and this still requires you to do all the work of programming the service, promoting it, etc. This is as if the credit card companies charged 40% instead of low single-digits for processing charges through merchant accounts, but don’t get me started.

Until recently, the only exception to both rules had been donations to the Red Cross during disasters. Slowly more exceptions are being made, and here’s a little more detail.

I know how mobile works in detail (having run many pSMS programs) and I had questions when I viewed the spot during the game. I didn’t know enough about what I was being asked to do, how it would work, how much it would cost me (“$5” was buried in small print at the end), what the privacy impact would be (would I be solicited for more donations?), and what the benefit would be.

Even remembering the instructions might have been challenging (how many Budwiesers had the viewer consumed at this point in the game?). Why not run the instructions at the bottom of the screen through the whole spot:

Help United Way Reduce Childhood Obesity, give $5 through your cell bill.
Text “fit” to 864833. It’s easy, no hidden charges, no calls.

Did they test this ad by serving chips and beer in a living room and showing it? When doing something fairly new, a little insight goes a long way, and since you’re not after absolutely objective data, a fancy research firm with expensive scientific validation isn’t necessary. Cheap and informal work does great here. Ask folks what they thought about it and watch them while they try to do it on their phones after you answer their questions.

Anyway, since I try every shortcode program I run across, I made one of those 2,000 donations back in February. I wonder if nearly all 2,000 were from mobile industry folks. Here’s what the program looks like on my phone (four text messages):

Me: fit
864833: “To confirm your $5 donation to United Way youth fitness reply with the word YES. For more info visit: mahlp.cc/uwyf. Other charges may apply.
Me: yes
864833: Thanks for your $5 donation to United Way. Donate up to 5 times by sending FIT to 86433. Encourage others to donate. Info reply HELP, Other charges may apply.

They don’t ask for permission to text the user later. Otherwise they might follow up to see if they are interested in volunteer opportunities, tell them about outcomes with the donation they made, ask them to take action in support of some legislation, or let them know about other causes or ways to donate. Would some who gave $5 want to contribute much more if they’d been further engaged?

Also, TV is only one way to promote these mobile donations. How would they do with print? Outdoor? Or with calling for people to take out their phones at events?

The Mobile Giving Foundation
is pushing to move this kind of program from rare exception to common practice.

The carriers win when everyone understands pSMS better and sees it as applying to more than ringtones. Allowing mobile philanthropy meets that goal and creates good will, so I hope progress will be made to quickly allow many more non-profits to experiment with mobile donations. For their part, I hope non-profits work to develop and share insights from listeing to and observing those in their target audience so that any hurdles to mobile adoption are most effectively understood and overcome.

ADDED 12:45pm: Mobile Active included many more details about the Mobile Giving Foundation and vendors used in implementing the United Way program.

2 thoughts on “Mobile Charity: The $10k SuperBowl Ad

  1. It seems hopelessly under-geared. With companies paying six, seven figures for a spot, they might have thought, hey, let’s ‘partner’ with a corporation. Give them some visibility in the Prime-iest of Prime Time, and they bury us up to our necks in money. One guy in a non-speaking role wearing a Nike shirt? You’ve just added $10,000 — no texting required.

  2. It seems hopelessly under-geared. With companies paying six, seven figures for a spot, they might have thought, hey, let’s ‘partner’ with a corporation. Give them some visibility in the Prime-iest of Prime Time, and they bury us up to our necks in money. One guy in a non-speaking role wearing a Nike shirt? You’ve just added $10,000 — no texting required.

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