If you haven’t heard about Batkid this week, you’ve been living under rock. Just in case you somehow missed it let me summarize for you…
Miles, age 5, is in remission after battling leukemia, and told the Make-A-Wish Foundation that his wish was to be “Batkid” and they mobilized the city of San Francisco to make it happen. And well, that’s awesome. I mean, way to go, kid, you couldn’t have thought of anything cooler to wish for. Ever. And the rest of the world clearly thinks so too.
Miles’ wish got picked up on a blog and spread like wildfire. Not surprisingly, a lot of San Franciscans were eager to help make his dream a reality. On Friday, November 15th over 11,000 people volunteered to turn San Francisco into Gotham City and cheer Batkid on as he sped around in the Batmobile, responding to countless threats and saving the city. Then they made sure to tweet and post every second of it out to the world, ensuring that Batkid is now every bit as famous as his favorite superhero. If you want a more detailed outline of Batkid’s day, BuzzFeed has done a nice job of compiling the best of the extensive social media coverage in one place.
There is nothing not to love about this story – a cute kid, defeating cancer, Batman, and a whole city rallying behind the cause – you might be heartless if it didn’t touch you at least a little bit. Seriously, after reading about super typhoons and towns leveled to the ground, everyone in the world needed this story this week. And thanks to social media everyone got to hear it regardless of whether or not they live in the Bay Area.
It’s not surprising it went viral, but it went so, so, so, so viral. On Friday #batkid was #1 on Twitter. He was also the star of my facebook news feed. Videos on Vine, Vimeo, and every major news channel abounded. He got shout outs from Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Brittany Spears, not to mention a quick Vine video cheering him on from the President himself. Safe to say the celebrity endorsements took Miles’ fame and this story to a new level, but it also put Make-A-Wish Foundation on a whole new playing field.
I don’t mean to take away any of the pure, wholesome, joy that is Miles’ story. It’s an amazing story. But it is also the most incredibly brilliant PR stunt I’ve seen in a long time. Make-A-Wish Foundation’s site got so much traffic on Friday that it had technical difficulties:
The foundation took something it does every day – making sick kids’ dreams come true – and turned it into a global fundraising strategy. And because they accomplished the campaign through social media, mobilizing the general public and celebrities to cheer on Batkid, it comes across as entirely organic. After hearing Miles’ story, it’s hard not to want to donate to or volunteer for this organization, but I strongly doubt that anyone has thought their reaction was actually in response to a marketing campaign. In fact, when I tried to Google: “Make-A-Wish marketing strategy” I got next to nothing. There was one blog post from 2011 and that said Make-A-Wish was going to shift from traditional to social in their marketing efforts. Mission accomplished.
The marketer in me wonders how long they planned to do something like this. Who vetted the wishes to find the perfect poster child? What criteria did they use to identify him or her – a cute kid, with a wish that would excite and require the help of the community? Was it even more than that? A story about a child who has made it to remission is an easier and happier one to digest. It’s a story of hope rather than of fear, and that may be the tipping point for it going viral. Did they enlarge the typical wish budget to make sure this story was news worthy? The Make-A-Wish sponsored video does a fantastic job of telling Miles’ story but it doesn’t discuss how much thought the foundation gave to making this a social media phenomenon.
As a nonprofit, Make-A-Wish Foundation, survives on donations, so you might say that exceptional PR is their greatest product and generator of revenue. As such, it’s essential that their marketing and communications team figure out the exact formula for making something go viral. Miles wish was precisely that. And regardless of whether he and his wish were handpicked to be the new cover story for the foundation or it happened organically, his story has helped to ensure that countless other sick kids also have the opportunity to have their wishes come true.
When I was ten, my friend Stephen was diagnosed with cancer. Make-A-Wish Foundation granted his wish to go to see a game in Yankee Stadium and meet the players. A decade and a half later I still remember how utterly thrilled Stephen was by this event, and I’m still obsessed with this charity – and even have a soft spot in my heart for the Yankees (yes, I know, Bostonian sacrilege). The point is though, that there is staying power in compelling stories that connect a potential donor to a charity’s mission and brand. I wonder if Batkid will have that staying power and whether or not we’ll see Make-A-Wish use social media to promote more stories like his in the future.