The Royal British Legion elevates marketing to make Poppy brand a ‘symbol of hope’

The Royal British Legion is lifting its marketing to a more strategic role in the organisation to ensure activity represents its welfare work.

The charity is switching from a PR-driven approach to awareness building, a change it hopes will produce a year round calendar of marketing activity. Injured service personnel and families who benefit from the legion’s support will take centre stage, uniting its commitments to the “future of the living” and the “memory of the fallen” for the first time.

This is being delivered through the “Live On” platform, launched to promote the annual Poppy Appeal, which this year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. The concept, created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, will gradually roll out all the charity’s communications, channels and events over the next 12 months.

It will foster “stronger marketing”, says the legion that aims to underscore its relevance to the nation at a time of increased competition for donations. Donations to the Poppy Appeal dropped by 3.3 million between 2011 and 2012, following more than five years of annual growth, according to reports.

While the charity has the recognition to rival most household brands, it admits the awareness has not translated into deeper engagement. Help For Heroes, a charity also aiding wounded military personnel, has generated more than £150m since it started in 2007 thanks in part to a proactive media strategy to tell the personable stories of its beneficiaries.

Gary Ryan, director of marketing for The Royal British Legion, says: “Whether you’re talking about [the marketing of] Pan Macmillan, Cancer Research or other armed forces charities like Help For Heroes, we recognise that our marketing output and strategy needs to be stronger to ensure we’re best placed to serve the armed forces for the next 100 years.

“We’re very well known for our remembrance activity but we’re not so well known for the welfare work that we do as an organisation. It’s really important that we not only address those older people but also make ourselves relevant to younger audiences and become not just a symbol of remembrance but also one of hope.”

A business case for digital is being built to support the effort by setting out the need for specialist marketers and a more robust social media strategy. Allowing people to make donations via social media is one area being explored for next year alongside how the organisation can push the channels further to promote events and raise awareness.

Ryan also plans to develop a “marketing mentality” among new and existing brand partners to ensure tie-ups strike a deeper resonance with people instead of concentrating solely on fundraising. For example, the charity has worked with Sainsbury’s to create an animated TV advert (see above) showing how there are many ways to support the Poppy Appeal in its stores including rounding up a receipt or purchasing exclusive merchandise.

“We want clearer propositions around the marketing with our partners,” says Ryan. “That’s why it’s important that we as an organisation are factoring the fundraising element but are also talking more about the effect of being associated with our brand. It’s a great asset and there’s a lot of work we can do with some of the many brands out there who want to be associated with us.”

It all points to a clearer roll for marketing within the charity, adds Ryan, that aims to elevate it o a “much more strategic position”. Much of the proposition will be shaped from the findings of research on the impact of the “Live On” campaign, which ends on Armistice Day (11 November), to determine which elements need to be tweaked going into the new year.

Ryan says: “Early anecdotal feedback to the campaign has been good but what we can’t understand right now is the difference between the success of the Poppy Appeal and the success of how people are receiving our [brand] message.

“From a PR perspective there’s no better time to make changes to our marketing than over the next two years when we’re seeing so many occasions to mark key commemorations.”