About Schmidt is a 2002 American comedy-drama film co-written and directed by Alexander Payne and starring Jack Nicholson in the title role. Why it was an opportunity for Plan International is that Schmidt ultimately finds new meaning in his life from a child he sponsors through ‘Child Reach’ in the U.S., the equivalent of Plan International in Australia just with another name. The opportunity was to leverage this opportunity to showcase child sponsorship, which was the cornerstone of Plan International’s fundraising strategy, while overcoming the branding issues with two different names for the same organisation.
Although he appears in the film only through still photos, the character of the Tanzanian sponsored boy plays a big part in the film’s plot. Warren Schmid’s decision to sponsor Ndugu through real-life child sponsorship group Childreach is what ultimately gives him hope. “We’re all pretty small in the grand scheme of things,” Schmidt says at the end of the film. “The most we can hope for is to make a difference.” Not only are the company and the commercial shown in the movie real, but Ndugu is as well. Actually named Abdala, the 6-year-old boy is now sponsored by the cast and crew of About Schmidt. Both Kathy Bates and Jack Nicholson were nominated for Academy Awards for the film.
As Chief Marketing Officer of Plan International with my team, we took this approach:
Objective: Create a strategy to leverage the Australian launch of the movie to showcase child sponsorship to an Australian audience to a) attract new child sponsors and b) use as an engagement tool with current sponsors.
Strategy: We would leverage a ‘movie premiere’ approach nationwide and invite our donors and child sponsors who had little engagement in the past. We approached the distributors of the movie and asked if we could create ‘premieres’ of the movie around Australia.
We also entered into a partnership to promote the premieres in joint advertisements in newspapers (the internet was just getting going at this time and printed newspapers still mattered!). This meant we could show the movie to key audiences prior to its official release in Australia. We could also create marketing assets around the film to connect Plan International with ‘About Schmidt‘ and with a major international movie star and get out our message about the benefits of child sponsorship – in terms of the communities child sponsorshp supported and the donors who contributed.
It turned out that having a different name from the US organisation did not matter to our supporters. Every premiere sold out and we created wonderful engagement opportunities at each event. It increased the brand exposure of Plan International in Australia and equally importantly, we generated new child sponsors during and after each event using face-to-face staff signing up new donors at each event and using direct mail to convert sponsors post-event. We showcased in particular the African communities (especially Tanzania) which was featured in the film) and encouraged sponsorship of older children who we often harder to get sponsors for. We raised funds for and awareness of disadvantaged communities around the world.
A great success all round using a unique and time-constrained opportunity.