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Apr 27, 2004
Case Study

Foster Parents Plan Tests Four Very Different Online Ads to Gain $396 Donors: Results & Samples

SUMMARY: You can learn a lot from this Case Study, because let's face it, charities like Foster Parents Plan are consummate direct response marketers. They have to be. They are not allowed to lose money on a campaign.

Most fascinating fact -- they discovered that it's possible to have a "control" ad that keeps steadily, quietly succeeding for months on end, even as other campaigns' clicks flare up and die down around it.

We've known controls are possible for mail -- but for online banners? Here's more info, and plenty of samples:
CHALLENGE

If you're charity, testing online ads can be a nail biting proposition .... because you simply can't afford to lose any money.

"We're very much accountable," says Tara Christie, Foster Parents Plan (Canada) Internet Development Project Manager. "80% of our revenues goes directly to our programs." So, Foster Parents carefully relied on what was proven to work - direct postal mail and direct response television.

But, by late 2002, they noticed that a significant number of offline campaign-driven donors were signing up at the site instead of calling or mailing. Order processing costs were so much lower online, without any dip in conversions, that Foster Parents Plan's in-bound call center began promoting the site as the best resource for questions.

It only made sense to test online ads in 2003.

But, could a banner campaign have the same powerful impact that an offline campaign can? Plus, Foster Parents Plan isn't a low-ticket impulse buy. It's a $396 annual investment.

Getting clicks is hard enough, how can you make them convert to a long-term giving relationship?

CAMPAIGN

The answer is by carefully eking out your budget with a series of tests, tweaks, and more tests. The team carefully tested four main online ad concepts over 18 months, each test building on what they learned from the last. (Link to samples at end of story.)

Each test also relied on best practices in landing pages, focusing the visitor on a single course of action -- read the bulleted copy and start filling out a donor application on the same page. There were no extraneous links or information.

Test #1. "Child in Need" Static Banner

This creative was instantly familiar to anyone who's ever seen an offline Foster Parents Plan ad. It features a photo of a child, a short list of statistics, a short list of Plan benefits, and a large call action, 'Click here to sponsor a child today.'

The large 425x600 banner was static - no moving parts, no changing panels, no interactivity beyond the click link. Plus the creative team only used shades of blue, no other colors, which gave it a stark, simple feeling.

Test #2. Text Links

For an even more straight-forward message, the team ran text-only links on a variety of Canadian portals and search engines that said simply, "Sponsor a child today".

They hoped text-ads would work because surfers' eyes are drawn to text instead of color-blocks; text-ads can be an inexpensive media buy; and, the marketplace presumably already knew enough about the brand so the right prospects would click without further ado.

Test #3. "Happy Woman" Lottery Interactive Banner

And now for something completely different... the team decided to try a highly engaging, interactive banner. Instead of focusing on a sad, needy child, this would focus on the sense of joy you can get from becoming an involved donor.

This 443x556 banner featured an exuberant photo of a grinning 20-something blonde. Tabs down the right side read:

- Did she win a lottery?
- Did she fulfill a dream?
- Did she win an award?
Click here to find out

The landing page, also featuring a photo of the smiling woman, started out: "She helped a child in need. And for that she deserves to win the lottery and a whole lot more

Test #4. "Joe Traveler" Interactive Banner

This 443x556 banner also featured a quiz about a donor, but this time the donor was a fairly gender-neutral cartoon character named "Joe". The creative read:

"What's in Joe's bag? You decide. Through Foster Parents Plan, Joe has recently sponsored a little boy named Salifou who lives in Togo, West Africa. Joe is planning to visit Salifou and is wondering what to pack."

The viewer could click on three items from a list of seven including a camera, a motorcycle, crayons, and anti-malaria pills. Each one plopped itself into the bag as the viewer clicked.

The landing page started out by showing the viewer "Here's what you put in Joe's bag!" and congratulated him or her on a good choice. Then the copy segued into brief information about the Plan, and featured an interactive form to begin the sponsorship process.



RESULTS

Despite their initial concerns, Foster Parents Plan learned successful online ads could generate new donors at a 50% lower cost per donor than DRTV could.

The needy child static banner was a consistent winner, plus, it has unusually long legs.

Christie explains, "It was steady throughout the entire campaign. It stayed at .15% clickthroughs and .9% conversion to donor rates. It didn't matter how many impressions we threw at it or how long we ran it. It was a true control and we still run it from time to time."

Much to everyone's surprise the text links bombed with very poor clickthrough and no conversion. Brief words alone couldn't move the click for this particular offer. More information and some type of emotional involvement was needed, either with a child photo or interactivity.

The happy woman campaign generated an insane number of clicks -- averaging at 2%. But conversions were a dreadful .03%.

"When you started looking at what you were spending at the end of the day, it didn't work out. It was triple the cost of DRTV" says Christie. "We learned you need to set things up as much as possible, give people enough information before the click. That's why the control works and this didn't. It's obvious, there's nothing hidden there."

The Joe Traveler ad, designed as a mid-way point between the stark control and the interactive happy woman, did extremely well ... for about two weeks.

Christie explains, "The first week it did actually reach 2% clickthroughs. Then it flattened out to .92% and died pretty quickly after that. Conversions were consistent at .2% We determined that 10 days is the optimal period of time for these ads."

So, the team will continue to develop and run new interactive ideas during 10-day periods in 2004, interspersed with the control.

Also, as we've heard from other online advertisers, Foster Parents Plan discovered online email portals are a great place to run ads. The highest performing placement was invariably the spot on the last page an email user saw as they left email. Which makes sense, that user is more available to click at the perfect moment in between activities.

Useful links related to this article:

Samples of the three test banners, plus landing pages:
http://www.marketingsherpa.com/fpp/ad.html


Delvinia Interactive, Inc., the agency who handled creative and online media buying for Foster Parents Plan
http://www.delvinia.com


Allard-Johnson, the charity's traditional media agency
http://www.allard-johnson.com


Foster Parents Plan (Canada)
http://www.fosterparentsplan.ca

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