Yup & Nope: Standing out with red sand and a campaign slipping through the cracks


Yup & Nope: A one-minute look at brands in real life. Who’s doing it right and who’s doing it all wrong.

Boost Child and Youth Advocacy Centre

I was reading the paper and came across a photo of a person putting red sand in the cracks of a sidewalk. That caught my attention. ‘Now, why are they doing that?’ I asked myself. I learned it was for an awareness campaign by a Toronto organization called Boost Child and Youth Advocacy Centre. The red sand symbolizes the children and youth that fall through the cracks and are abused and exploited. Doing a bit more reading online I learned this red sand is actually a thing, aptly named the Red Sand Project. It was started by a couple of American artists and is described as “an activist artwork that uses participatory sidewalk interventions, earthwork installations and convenings to create opportunities for people to question, to connect and to take action against human trafficking.”

I thought the visual and its analogy to the cause was brilliant. So simple. One of those, ‘now why didn’t I think of that?’ ideas. Simple, but also powerful, creative and memorable. Exactly the type of campaign that an organization that’s trying to get people’s attention and support needs to have.

We’re inundated with news about violence and abuse. There are so many problems. Fortunately, there are also many organizations trying to help. That’s good of course, but with so many organizations it’s hard to know them all. If they want to be known they have to make themselves stand out.

I had never heard of either the Red Sand Project or Boost Child and Youth Advocacy Centre. Now, I know about them both. And, when I see and hear about sand and sidewalks, I will think about them both. That’s effective branding.

Covenant House

On the same morning that I read about the above, I came across another pitch to help young people. Picture it, the morning rush on the TTC at the Queen subway station. It’s shoulder to shoulder and you’re just trying to make your way through the crowd. Then I hear this: “Spare change for the homeless youth”.

Now, my heart really is with non-profits. (Although I prefer to call them cause-based organizations since they exist to make a difference, not just to not make money. But, that’s an aside.) I’ve been in the shoes of those volunteers; asking strangers for donations or selling stuff to raise money for charity. I absolutely understand the importance of fundraising and know it’s tough times for the organizations that are doing our world’s most important work.

But, compared to the ‘oh that’s clever’ feeling I had just experienced with the other brand, this didn’t resonate. It felt like the wrong pitch at the wrong time.

The organization, Covenant House, is actually running a good out-of-home ad campaign that was done by Taxi last year. Maybe there’s a way the organization could have integrated the campaign’s creative and messaging into its fundraising efforts to align its brand to the ads that many of these TTC riders had just seen, and, to more effectively stand out from the crowd. For example, instead of using buckets to collect the donations, maybe they could be piggy banks shaped as houses. Maybe the t-shirts worn by the volunteers could mimic the creative with Home [blank] Home. Maybe the transit ads could have been made into post cards with a pitch so they could be handed out to the commuters whizzing by. Maybe the volunteers could have been standing behind an old, dirty sleeping bag. Maybe in the 2 seconds I’m within earshot, I could hear something that could conjure a more positive and hopeful image. I don’t have a great suggestion for that but maybe something like: “Help kids find homes”.

I really don’t want to be critical. I know these organizations rarely have the time and money they need and that competition is fierce. That’s why I think it’s so important to do two things extra well; be creative and consistent.

Tie your actions extremely close to your brand. If you’re running a multi-pronged campaign, leverage the money you already spent on the concept, visuals and slogans and be consistent in your look and messaging at every touch point.

To get attention and create a highly visual analogy for its cause, Boost Child and Youth Advocacy Centre used red sand. I have no idea what a shovel full of coloured sand runs but I doubt it’s a huge cost. There’s even a free Red Sand Project Toolkit. Imagine the added reach and brand value that could have been gained if the red sand installation was done by Covenant House, the youth charity that already has name recognition across Canada.

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