December 14, 2012

Celebrity Voice Recordings Earn Charity $100,000

The "Voice of God" was sold out in a few hours.

That's according to Autism Speaks, which held a year-end fundraising campaign enticing its supporters, celebrity fans, and others to buy custom-recorded messages from Tom Hanks, Ed Asner, Will Ferrell, Carrie Fisher, Derek Jeter, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Betty White ... and Morgan Freeman.

Mr. Freeman's deep, distinct tone, which has earned him the nickname "Voice of God," was a fast seller during the "Sound Off for Autism Speaks" campaign, says Marc Sirkin, the charity's chief digital marketing officer.

During the first week of December, anyone who wanted an unusual voicemail greeting could get a message from a movie or sports star with a $299 donation to Autism Speaks. Each celebrity message was available to no more than 50 people, which set off a scramble for the most-popular stars like Mr. Freeman and the "Star Trek" actors Mr. Nimoy, Mr. Shatner, and Mr. Stewart.

When a fan bought a message online, he or she could tailor a script for the celebrity, although Autism Speaks barred advertising-related content and gave each celebrity final approval of the messages.

At the end of the campaign, 346 out of a possible 500 messages were sold, raising $103,000 for Autism Speaks, Mr. Sirkin says.

"It was enormously successful," says Mr. Sirkin, noting that the the charity expected the campaign to raise just $50,000. "We killed that."

Trekkies Alerted

To ensure the success of the fundraising experiment, Autism Speaks promoted the campaign to its supporters by sending them e-mails and posting messages on social networks. It also bought Facebook,  Google, and Twitter ads and hired a public-relations agency that attracted some 200 articles and other items mentioning the appeal.

But the big boost came from fan Web sites, such as those frequented by "Star Trek" aficionados.

The coordinated media effort worked, and Mr. Sirkin hopes to run a similar campaign again next year, perhaps with certain tweaks: featuring fewer celebrities, picking celebrities who interact frequently with their fans on social networks, or charging more for the celebrity messages.

Here's a video Autism Speaks did for the campaign:

Send an e-mail to Raymund Flandez.