The Right Blend: Integrated Marketing Communications in UNICEF’s Tap Project

Remaining competitive and ensuring that marketing activities effectively and consistently reach a specific target market remains one of the biggest challenges to any organisation. It is said that people are bombarded with more than 500 commercial messages each day.

So how do organisations cut through this ‘noise’?

This week I look at integrated marketing communications (IMC), specifically that of digital and social media platforms, and discuss how a well-known international charity –the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)– practices good IMC principles through its marketing activities.

Simply put, IMC ensures that all promotional tools of an organisation are integrated and work in harmony to reinforce the actions of each. The benefits of IMC include (among other) creating a competitive advantage, reinforcing the company brand, boosting sales/products/donations, ensuring a better overall return on investment on marketing activities, developing an on-going dialogue with a target market and promoting brand loyalty (Multimedia Marketing, 2015).

UNICEF logo (source)

UNICEF was established in 1946 by the United Nations General Assembly. Active in more than 190 countries and territories, the organisation protects the rights of children through humanitarian and developmental assistance. UNICEF’s central belief is that “All children have a right to survive, thrive and fulfill their potential – to the benefit of a better world” (UNICEF, 2017).

UNICEF is widely known for its potent marketing and fundraising campaigns in order to solicit donations, advocate support for its campaigns and effectively communicate its work. With the rise of social media and internet marketing, UNICEF has remained relevant and was ranked the 3rd most popular charity on Facebook and Twitter with 6 million likes and 5.4 million followers respectively (Top Non-profits, 2016).

UNICEF tap project with image of phone app
UNICEF’s Tap project (source)

A particular example of an effective IMC campaign by UNICEF, is the “Tap Project” – an award-winning fundraising campaign that raised over $6 million dollars and directly benefited more than half a million people in 12 countries over 10 years. An expert and integrated use of social media, digital and phone application marketing played a crucial role in the success of the project (UNICEF, 2016).

tap project restaurant brochure design
Tap Project Restaurant brochure (source)

The Tap Project started out in New York City restaurants where patrons donated $1 to UNICEF for tap water that they usually got at no charge. The concept was to raise awareness about how citizens in affluent, 1st world countries often take access to clean water for granted as opposed to poverty stricken areas where access to clean water is often difficult and costly to come by. The simplicity and success of the project quickly spread to thousands of other restaurants in the US and even lead to a highly popular vendor demonstration in Times Square (New York) where dirty water bottles were put up for sale (UNICEF USA, 2015). Watch the clever marketing ploy below:

However, it wasn’t until 2014 with the introduction of the ‘Tap project challenge’ that the campaign reached critical success through clever social media marketing tactics. Individuals were asked to download and open the Tap Project challenge app, then put down their phones in order to provide clean water for someone in need for a day. The concept was to highlight the perceived need of people in first world countries (the need for a cellphone) versus the real need of impoverished individuals (the need for clean water). As UNICEF explained through its campaign: “For every fifteen minutes you don’t touch your phone, UNICEF Tap Project sponsors and supporters provide the funding equivalent of a day of clean water.” Sponsors like Giorgio Armani Fragrances and S’well Bottle provided the funding based on users actions.

tap project app steps unicef
The UNICEF Tap project app (source)

The Tap Project Challenge campaign was successfully rolled out and integrated in the following ways:

  1. An ad agency, Droga5, was employed to launch a full-scale online media blitz to promote the campaign and the app (source).
  2. A dedicated website was created to track the campaign’s status and its current users (source).
  3. Traffic to the site and to the app was increased by posting about the campaign from UNICEF’s parent Twitter (5.4 million followers) and Facebook (6 million fans) accounts (source).
  4. Viral, word-of-mouth campaigning was enforced by the self-promotion feature of the app. Every time a user successfully raised enough time (15 minutes of putting their phone down) to provide one child with clean water for a day – an automatic tweet was sent to the user’s followers. Essentially, this created campaign but also brand advocates/ambassadors out of their users and dramatically increased the reach and impact of the campaign. Users were more likely to join the campaign when seeing that their friends were already participating and endorsing the campaign/the organisation. Participation and endorsement from celebrity’s like Selena Gomez (with millions of social media followers) further compounded the campaign’s reach (source).
Selena Gomez tap project challenge tweet unicef
Selena Gomez Tap Project Challenge Tweet (source)

Further iterations of the project have followed through celebrity endorsements through Youtube and digital content, like the ones below by Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Adrian Grenier:

UNICEF Celebrity Tap Project (source)

Since the launch of the Tap Project Challenge, a total of $1.6 million dollars have been raised from 2.6 million individual users – through the use of an integrated digital marketing and social media campaign (UNICEF, 2016).

In addition, the project successfully gained exceptional brand recognition for UNICEF,  broadcasted its unique value proposition (i.e. the ability to effectively and efficiently provide aid to impoverished individuals across the globe) created brand resonance among its followers (by cultivating brand ambassadors and word-of-mouth viral marketing).

As such, UNICEF’s strategic IMC approach to its campaigns, specifically through digital  and social media , ensures that the organisation remains competitive and that its marketing activities effectively and consistently cuts through the ‘noise’ to reach its target market of donors, supporters and brand ambassadors.


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