By Richie S from Brooklyn, NY, United States (New York Comic Con 2016 – Flash) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

October 4, 2017; MM&M

How do you appeal to a demographic that is often reluctant to volunteer for a social cause? When what you want is involvement rather than money, the engagement strategy needs a special appeal. DKMS, a German-based international blood cancer charity, may have discovered that formula as it looks to engage a young, more diverse, male population in signing up for its international bone marrow registry. DKMS set its sights on its booth at the New York Comic Con Convention as an ideal way to draw in millennial males.

As some of the media about “Casting for a Hero” says, “The ‘Casting for a Hero’ campaign captures the excitement of superheroes and comic books as they collide at Comic Con. Through an immersive booth experience, attendees will have the chance to audition for the role of a lifetime: to save the life of someone who is suffering from blood cancer.”

DKMS was established 25 years ago with the mission to “help every blood cancer patient find a matching donor.” In explaining its purpose, the DKMS website states:

DKMS is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and blood disorders by: creating awareness; recruiting bone marrow donors to provide a second chance at life; raising funds to match donor registration costs; supporting the improvement of therapies through research; and supporting patients from day one of their diagnoses.

The focus at Comic Con is on recruiting bone marrow donors, with an emphasis on 18- to 30-year-old males. “Young males from 18 to 30 are the most chosen donors; we found statistically that young males get chosen five times more often,” said David Tratner, VP of marketing and communications for DKMS. “Because we have a unique message and a unique ask, we asked how do we target millennial males. We came up with three different ways: sports, Comic Con, and music.”

The campaign is “a little bit of an experiment” for the nonprofit, Tratner said. “Comic Con attendees understand the true meaning of heroism, and DKMS is offering them the opportunity to take the first step in becoming a real-life hero. ‘Casting for a Hero’ amplifies the DKMS mission to live in a world with more blood cancer survivors by educating the public on how a swab of the cheek can lead to giving someone the gift of a second chance at life.”

Nonprofit Quarterly has written about cause marketing as it relates to millennials and their need for corporate integrity to bring that generation along. In addition, Nonprofit Quarterly has focused on the use of media such as YouTube videos linked to celebrities to bring the younger generation to causes. But in the case of DKMS, you have a nonprofit seeking out events that will specifically appeal to millennial males in order to draw them in to their cause. They are not looking for monetary donations. They are seeking men aged 18 to 30 (although they are happy to have women and anyone in the age range of 18–55) to become a part of their bone marrow donor database.

“We’re not selling a product; we’re a not-for-profit trying to save lives. It’s a message that resonates,” Tratner said. “We were trying to figure out the trick to reach that group. The most successful way to get them to register is to have a conversation with them starting with an email, or seeing our ads and banners. That gets them into the tent to talk to us. Instead of the direct ‘save a life’ message, we said give us your email or mobile number and let’s have a conversation.”

If the DKMS website and numerous articles about their booth at Comic Con New York are any indication, the strategy might prove highly effective. Many news and public relations sites have covered their “Casting for a Hero” booth with videos and articles about young, costumed attendees signing up for more information about being a bone marrow donor.

DKMS has coupled this with earlier connections to the National Football League and with the upcoming Revolt Music Concerts. Tying all three together could prove to be the trifecta of outreach to a population that’s not easily reached for this kind of cause.

How many superheroes will emerge from this effort? With DKMS, much of that will depend on their follow-up with those who give their emails and have their cheeks swabbed for the donor database. But if positioning their cause in some of the most trafficked places for millennial males proves successful, the options and benefits for those with blood cancers might increase, and the nonprofit sector might have some new marketing strategies to ponder.—Carole Levine