For the past three years, the University of North Carolina’s public television network has been experimenting in search of the most impactful fundraising campaign strategies.
Guided by digital fundraising lead, Jen Newmeyer, UNC-TV has trimmed pledge while launching multi-platform giving initiatives. These have included specialty campaigns like Giving Tuesday or PBS Nerd Trivia, along with year-end campaigns.
As FY19 came to a close, UNC-TV had been brainstorming toward a new concept. “As we were coming up with ideas, our love for Bob Ross surfaced,” she says of the legendary host of The Joy of Painting. “We used Bob Ross in our PBS Nerd campaign pilot back in 2017. He’s a beloved figure in public media just like Mister Rogers. So many people watch his programs for the painting aspect, but other people enjoy his very peaceful persona.”
They were aware that, recently, Bob Ross had started becoming something of an icon among millennials. Was it possible the quirky art instructor and TV host could be a bridge between older audiences who remembered his show and younger audiences attracted to his persona?
Happy Little Trivia
That’s when the trivia idea came into play. “We’ve done that before with some of our show promotions,” says Newmeyer. “Before the Mister Rogers [documentary] we did Mister Rogers trivia. Before the royal wedding we did royal wedding trivia. We thought it would be perfect to do Bob Ross trivia.”
So UNC-TV devised a comprehensive campaign built around the PBS icon, designing it to acquire new prospects, engage members and raise revenue. It began in May 2019 with the launch of “Happy Little Trivia.” Every week, online audiences received a new set of questions via email. By answering them, they were entered for a chance to win “The Joy of Prizes” in the form of a gift box containing a t-shirt, mug, puzzle, deck of cards and even a Bob Ross Chia Pet.
Happy Little Details
The four-week campaign also included social media and on-air components. Overall, it was a rousing success. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Three promotional trivia emails opened by more than 73,000 people with over 6,700 click-throughs.
- More than 1,400 people participated in four weeks of trivia. Around 34 percent of participants were existing members (half of whom were sustainers). The rest represented new prospects.
- Three weekly e-guides broadcast the campaign trivia and takeover to over 200,000 people.
- Three paid Facebook ads, targeted to the network’s main audience, garnered 315,000 impressions, 5,000 clicks and 47,000 engagements.
- Facebook ads targeted to prospects and disengaged members (those who hadn’t opened an email in 12 months) had 250,000 impressions, 3,000 clicks and 2,500 engagements.
- A Facebook Live video, an Instagram story and other promotional posts brought in even more impressions, with staff members sharing and posting in tandem with the campaign.
- A Bob Ross campaign landing page on the UNC-TV website logged more than 2,400 page views.
- Traditional marketing efforts included a pre-roll video, a digital ad on the statewide cable company, plus five radio ads across three stations.
- More than 60,000 viewers tuned in for the live Bob Ross Studio Takeover on June 6, 2019.
All in all, the campaign raised $10,470, with more than $4,300 the result of the studio takeover, which included staff wearing Bob Ross wigs, a painting demonstration, and more. (The event’s cold open was particularly captivating.)
Another $3,900 came from a “Joy of Painting” pledge show that aired twice during the drive. Online gifts brought in more than $2,100 through a thank-you gift pledge featured in promotional efforts.
Happy Little Growth Funnels
Looking back, Newmeyer believes that the campaign attracted both younger and older demographics. Typically social media hits a younger audience in their 30s and 40s. Meanwhile, on-air programming tends skew older. “But seeing the impact and feedback we were getting on social media the night we were on-air—just having people comment that they were watching the show and about how much they were enjoying the live studio activities—speaks to reaching both sides of those audiences,” she says.
Newmeyer shared a few of her favorite viewer comments:
- “I love the Bob Ross event tonight. Can’t stop laughing. You guys are great!”
- “Thank you for the trivia contest. It caused me to read about Bob Ross on Wikipedia and discover an interesting, principled man.”
- “Loved this guy. He has a very interesting bio. I’ve made MILLIONS of ‘happy mistakes.’”
Most importantly, the campaign focused heavily on what marketers identify as the “growth funnel,” a multi-step process that helps turn initial contact acquisitions into supporters and revenue. Hundreds of the individuals participating in the trivia process were engaging with UNC-TV for the first time—and became instant new prospects. “The giveaways and trivia were beneficial for us because those email addresses are so valuable. Now we’re able to cultivate them and start working with them through the growth funnel,” Newmeyer says.
In other words, the happy little Bob Ross campaign was more than an engagement event and more than a fundraising event. For UNC-TV, the comforting, culturally relevant strategy offered up a little of both.