Go Red for Women Campaign
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Go Red for Women Campaign

In early 2003, the American Heart Association (AHA) and Cone set out to craft a solution to answer a dire health threat, respond to market opportunity, and infuse more passion and emotion into its well-respected brand.

Paul Holmes

In early 2003, the American Heart Association (AHA) and Cone set out to craft a solution to answer a dire health threat, respond to market opportunity, and infuse more passion and emotion into its well-respected (but largely recognized as clinical and research-oriented) brand via the creation of a new cause campaign. Based on extensive internal and external research, the team created the overall concept for Go Red For Women.

Built to create a new movement to fight heart disease in women and put a very new face on an issue so often mistaken for an older man’s concern, Go Red For Women was a phenomenal success while earning more than $25 million dollars and garnering nearly 900 million total impressions. With this, AHA successfully reinvented itself. Not only did it modernize and infuse passion into its image, but it attracted women to a cause that had been previously overlooked. Through Go Red For Women, businesses, cities, celebrities and—most importantly—women learned what it meant to be red, see red, think red, feel red…all part of what it takes to Go Red.

Convincing women, in a crowded issue space, to pay attention to heart disease as it is their number one killer, overcoming the misconception that heart disease only significantly affects overweight, middle-aged, white men, infusing passion, relevance and consumer interest into a traditional, clinical brand

In completing extensive research and analysis, the team identified a tremendous area of opportunity for AHA—women and heart disease, based upon many factors, including these highlights:

Cone conducted deep primary investigative research, including interviews with more than 50 AHA executives, outside industry leaders, affiliates and board members to identify emergent areas of opportunity for AHA to own, brand and rally stakeholders around. Cone also conducted extensive secondary research, which revealed that no singular health organization “owned” the month of February, red had a natural tie to heart disease and no national day existed to engage people around the cause of women and heart disease.

In 2003, AHA retained Harris Interactive to poll 1,000 women on their knowledge around heart disease. Cone completed in-depth review of AHA’s corporate relations policy and history as well as benchmarking analysis of the sponsorship marketplace. The team then proposed several policy amendments with rationale to AHA’s executive committee. As a result, AHA made all policy revisions to secure the most significant sponsorship dollars, while ensuring the integrity of the brand remains strong.

With less than six months to go from planning to launch, AHA assembled an integrated team that incorporated corporate partners, field affiliates, traditional and non-traditional advocates to ensure the effort was fully informed and that participants would be motivated to help shepherd the vision through to execution as well as an integrated team of experts, including cardiologists, corporate executives and members of the media, was formed to develop tactical components of the campaign.

Key ideas used to ensure the productivity of the campaign were: to leverage AHA’s national presence and high brand recognition as well as affiliates’ grassroots capacity to maximize reach, expand upon AHA’s existing February “Power of Love” cause promotion focused on women and heart disease, position the color red and the red dress as symbols of the cause, reflecting passion and femininity and reinforce the credibility of AHA as a science-based institution by earmarking funds for groundbreaking research.

The team launched the campaign with the following elements: AHA implemented a national, comprehensive communications campaign with marketing, PR, promotional tactics and corporate relations to complement program elements. Daryl Hannah, a celebrity within the target demographic, was secured as the national spokesperson for an SMT, interviews and events.

Efforts were focused in February and May to capitalize on the emotional, passionate market timing. Launch events centered in New York City and drew on sponsors to create buzz, including a fashion show featuring designer red dresses at Macy’s, a kick-off dinner at Pfizer and a science news conference. (Some media pitching/event coordination was completed by Hill & Knowlton)

AHA and Cone created the concept for an annual fundraising event, branded National Wear Red Day For Women, which took place on the first Friday of the campaign, February 6. Turn-key “how-to” kits were created for companies, inviting them to encourage employees to donate $5 and wear something red in a show of support.

To generate excitement and incorporate grassroots reach, AHA and Cone focused on inviting national and local landmarks, monuments, celebrities, etc. to “go red” during Wear Red Day, offering creative ways to become part of the experience. To educate the public, AHA also compiled materials for consumers such as brochures, wallet cards, bookmarks, posters, web alerts, screen savers, e-cards, etc.

To incorporate the credibility and dedication to research that AHA is well-known for and to generate more attention, Cone recommended funding/compiling targeted research to couple with the Wear Red Day launch. In addition, renowned female cardiologists and volunteers, Dr. Lori Mosca and Dr. Nieca Goldberg, served as credible spokespersons.

National coverage included NBC’s Today, CBS Early Show, Good Morning America, Univision, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and The Washington Post while Macy’s and Pfizer were secured at this top sponsorship tier, making a commitment of at least three years. Macy’s was the first consumer company to sponsor AHA at this level as corporate dollars historically came from pharmaceutical companies and other closely aligned industries. Also, PacifiCare and Bayer made three-year commitments at this secondary level.

Over 4.5 million red dress pins were distributed by AHA and its corporate and strategic partners.
38 cities and many landmarks went red, including the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls and the Sears Tower and 66,569 people enrolled in the campaign via the contact center and online—overall Web site hits have doubled since February.


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