What Cancer Research UK learnt from its YouTube telethon

The charity’s Stand Up To Cancer campaign is back on YouTube this year, admitting last year’s activity was too “generic” and that this year it has put control in the hands of influencers.

Cancer Research UK’s Stand Up To Cancer campaign has extended its reach and engagement on YouTube, as it gives full control over the event to YouTubers and moves away from “generic” fundraising.

Last year was the first time Cancer Research UK (CRUK) had run the event on YouTube as it looked for ways to talk about the campaign when it was not on TV. CRUK and Channel 4 run the telethon on TV every other year.

At the time, CRUK said the activity was about testing how effective YouTube could be as a fundraising channel using the site’s vloggers, including Caspar Lee, Joe Sugg and Pixiwoo to spread the word.

Michael Docherty, the charity’s director of digital and supporter experience, admitted last year’s event had been “generic” in terms of its fundraising call-to-action, simply asking people to donate either via text or a ‘donate’ button on the screen. It also involved a simple 12-hour live-streamed telethon, in part because the charity had such a short lead time and had to focus on promoting the live stream.

This year the emphasis has been different. There are different fundraising mechanisms depending on the vlogger and what would resonate with their audience. For example, Anna Saccone donated a contribution from merchandise she sells on her blog while Zoella donated clothes that the charity then auctioned off.

“What we learnt last year is that the YouTubers and their audience really need to drive the fundraising mechanics. Last year, our calls-to-action were text-to-donate, hashtag to donate; more of a generic call. This year we made it really specific by tapping into what each YouTuber and their audience are in to. And we let the YouTubers drive it,” Docherty told Marketing Week.

“A lot of the creative control sits with them. There are limits to the sorts of things we would be able to be associated with, but broadly this is driven by what they want to do.”

Docherty admits the TV telethon and YouTube activity are judged in different ways. The Channel 4 event is “all about generating income on the night” and has raised almost £25m between its launch in 2012 and the end of last year. On YouTube, by comparison, it raised almost £200,000 so far this year.

READ MORE: Why Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 are changing the format of the modern marathon

The hope for the YouTube activity is that it will “cultivate the audience of the future” and get a younger generation engaged with CRUK’s cause.

“The opportunity is for us to reach this audience that is difficult for us to reach through mainstream media and tends not to be as actively engaged with our cause. YouTube creates an opportunity for us to start a discussion and a relationship with our core audience of the future,” he said.

Building confidence is creating video

The work on Stand Up To Cancer has also been useful for CRUK in understanding how the wider charity can make use of YouTube. Docherty said that since the 2015 event, the charity has been “more confident” in creating videos on YouTube and has shifted the focus of its content creation from text-based leaflets to video.

For example, it now has immersive videos showing what a CT scan is like or exercises people can do after a mammogram.

“What we learnt last year is that the YouTubers and their audience really need to drive the fundraising mechanics.”

Michael Docherty, director of digital, Cancer Research UK

The aim for this content is to reach as many people with its messaging as possible. Currently up to 4 million people visit CRUK a month and it wants to ensure they can find information on how to make better lifestyle choices, on symptoms and to help them understand their treatment and the choices available to them.

CRUK is also looking at ways it can take an “always-on approach” online and marry up the SUTC campaign with the wider charity brand.

And with the televised telethon set to take place tonight (21 October), he said CRUK is also looking at the best approach to take to ensure that the Channel 4 event and wider activity on YouTube and social media more generally make the most of the opportunity to raise money for its key cause of funding research into cancer and saving lives.



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