Make-A-Wish looks to beat a world record in new campaign

John Cena and several organizations are helping make this wish come true.

Since its founding in 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has made dreams come true for children living with life-threatening illnesses – 300,000 wishes, to be precise. The organization just finished its busiest year yet: in 2017, it surpassed a previous record to grant 15,400. But this year it wants to go even bigger and set a new Guinness World Record for the largest wish-granting organization.

To help make achieve its own wish, the non-profit is making a big splash as it counts down to this year’s World Wish Day in its first fully-integrated external campaign. A spot announcing the countdown, starring top wish-granter John Cena, debuted this week.

"Our marketing challenge is to translate our positive brand affinity and brand awareness into action, and persuade people to actively support the Make-A-Wish mission so that we can reach our vision of granting the wish of Every Eligible Child," said Janell Holas, VP of brand and marketing at Make-A-Wish America.

Until now, World Wish Day campaigns were executed in-house and focused on recognizing existing donors and supporters. And in general, the nonprofit has relied on earned media to get its message out. But for the record attempt, the charity decided to bring in outside help: WWE, a longtime wish-granting partner, and a team from TBWA\Chiat\Day, to create the campaign.

The brief: take a ubiquitous brand and show an unseen side that will inspire viewers to donate.

While Make-A-Wish is a household name, Holas said that consumers have many misconceptions about the organization. The biggest misunderstanding is that audiences often believe that Make-A-Wish only serves children with terminal conditions, when in reality, many grantees survive their illness.

"We are trying to spread the word that a wish isn’t just a ‘nice’ thing, it’s necessary – wishes can provide physical and emotional benefits that can help give kids the strength they need to fight their critical illnesses," Holas told Campaign, adding that some doctors consider the program part of a child’s treatment plan.  

The campaign also highlights the significant behind-the-scenes work that goes into wish-granting: coordinating families, doctors, social workers and volunteers from Make-A-Wish’s 40,000-strong network, a process that requires significant resources but isn’t apparent from the splashy outcome.

"There is low awareness around the true impact of our mission, as well as [our] need for resources," said Holas, which is significant. The foundation grants a wish every 17 minutes, but is only able to grant the wishes of one out of two eligible children.

On the production side, "we had one mission in mind – to grant as many wishes as possible," said Kirsten Rutherford, a creative director at TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles.

Eight-year-old Kaylin’s wish was to be a star, so she’s the leading lady of the spot and the "thank you" messages that will go out to donors. Emalyn, whose wish is to meet makeup artist YouTuber Tati Westbrook, studied up on technique with on-set makeup artists. Kids wishing to meet Steve Harvey, Becky G and Johnny Depp either met them or found out that their wish to meet them would come true when the stars came in to record voice overs. In total, over 100 people donated their time and expertise to the production, including teams from Bob Industries, Whitehouse Post and Barking Owl Sound. Universal Studios donated the lot.

Rutherford, who has worked in advertising for over 20 years and executed many pro bono assignments, said that even after her decades of experience, it was a memorable campaign.

"Even with the best plans in place, the stars of our campaign are battling critical illnesses every day," she said. "It’s a privilege to be able to share their best days, and humbling to know that the work we’re creating will help make sure every child has a chance to have their wish fulfilled."

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