“All In” campaign raises awareness for San Francisco’s homelessness crisis

Media Cause’s OOH campaign asks tough questions to turn misperceptions into education.

San Francisco’s chronic housing crisis leaves an average of 8,000 people per night without a place to stay.  

Despite the dismal statistics, San Francisco residents have accepted homelessness as a part of the city’s culture, and haven’t made much of an effort for change. 

To change the narrative, Tipping Point Community, a nonprofit fighting poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area, joined forces with Media Cause, a marketing agency that works exclusively with nonprofits, as part of its Chronic Homelessness Initiative.  

The stigma surrounding homelessness was a tough challenge to overcome, said Amy Small, SVP, creative and brand at Media Cause. 

“How do you bring people together to address issues that they generally want to avoid?” she told Campaign US. “It’s either because it feels scary, or it feels too big to do something about. Or, they feel like it doesn't personally affect them. There's a sense of otherness.” 

“All In” is a three-pronged campaign that aims to humanize the homeless population in San Francisco in an effort to get people to pay more attention to their situations. The first step involved raising awareness with a digital buy and an OOH campaign on buses and store-fronts across the city.  

The messaging asks poignant and provocative questions, such as “WHY are there 8,587 vacant apartments in SF, but over 8,000 residents with no place to call home?” and “WHY do you care more about reading this poster than the person who slept underneath it last night?”

The posters all lead to sfallin.org, where people can pledge their support and learn more about homelessness. 

The second step of the campaign involved transforming misconceptions through education with facts and data, as well as sharing testimonials from homeless people in San Francisco.  

Lastly, All In provides resources to encourage people to get involved in their community, whether it be in small ways such as giving “blessing bags” with personal hygiene essentials to an unhoused person, or taking larger actions such as attending city council meetings and pressuring elected officials for change. Media Cause also hopes to launch a pledge signing initiative in the coming weeks. 

“It’s an advocacy goal of getting more people to the website, putting pressure on elected officials and making sure people have access to the data,” said Melvin Karsenti, account director at Media Cause. “If we get people to think about homelessness differently this will go a lot further than just getting people to sign up.” 

But building awareness on a tight budget is difficult, and it’s a common hurdle nonprofit marketing agencies face, often causing them to shy away from big brand building campaigns altogether. The approach to marketing, however, isn’t very different from how agencies work with big brands, Small said.  

“You can still apply the same sort of framework,” she said. “It's just, you have to get a little bit craftier with how to use your budget. Bigger concepts are what's going to get the attention. If there isn't a really good concept behind it, it's not going to necessarily have as much power.”

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