Storytellers Campaign Shows Powerful Red Cross Moments

New Ad Campaign
You only know in a fire to get out...but what do you do now? And that’s where the Red Cross came in.

Starting December 10, a first-ever, documentary-style ad campaign for the American Red Cross will roll out across the country. The print and TV ad spots, which feature unscripted stories created and filmed by the participants, are powerful and personal accounts of how their lives have been touched by the Red Cross.

The Origin of an Idea

Even though the American Red Cross is more than 130 years old, many people don’t know what the organization does apart from major disaster relief and blood collection. So the challenge for this ad campaign was to communicate the everyday mission of the Red Cross to the public, but in a personally relevant way.

The most effective way to tell the story of the Red Cross, it turned out, was to let the public tell it—by having them share their stories, in their own way.

The Red Cross worked with creative agency BBDO on the idea, deciding that rather than taking a camera crew to film people’s stories, the organization would supply them with a video camera and ask them to film themselves telling their story. This approach, which would be named the Storytellers Campaign, was inspired by the documentary “A Day in the Life.”

“This is the first time many people will hear firsthand the real voices of those who have been helped by the American Red Cross,” said Linda Honan, senior creative director at BBDO New York.

“From the beginning, we made a conscious decision to step aside from our usual role as creative brand storytellers. Instead our role was to equip the people who have been touched so deeply by the brand with the tools that would enable them to tell their stories themselves,” said Honan.

From Idea to Final Footage

The Red Cross used multiple channels to find people who had a story and wanted to tell it. Calls for stories went out to Red Cross chapters across the country, through social media, and through a national direct mail campaign.

All these avenues brought in more than 1,200 stories from the public, which the Red Cross reviewed. A number of them were then selected for further follow-up and development.

In May, storytelling kits were sent to more than 200 people, with shipping donated by FedEx. TV kits included a Sony-donated camera and an instructional DVD from Eliot Rausch, a well known short-film director and documentarian, while print kits contained a Lomography-donated camera and a workbook.

Rausch edited the video footage that came back from the participants, and the result is a series of personal and quietly powerful stories.

“You only know in a fire to get out—to escape. And now ok, you’re outside and you’re safe, but what do you do now? And that’s where the Red Cross came in...” said Kerry Barnes, one of the storytellers.

The ads feature stories from people across the country, and bring the Red Cross mission to life like never before. They show the entire scope of the organization’s work: blood services; Service to the Armed Forces; both major disaster relief and everyday disasters, such as house fires; international services; and preparedness and health and safety services.

After a preliminary rollout in December, the full launch of the campaign will begin in January 2013. You can see the first ads on the Red Cross Facebook page.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.