News and analysis
February 25, 2016

In an Election Year, the Y Campaigns for Attention


The Y's mock presidential campaign to put Zoe, a one year old girl, in the Oval Office in 2064 is to encourage kids they have the potential to change the world if they're nurtured properly.

The Y announced Thursday its support for a presidential hopeful.

But it’s not backing anyone running in 2016: It’s putting its weight behind Zoe, a 1-year-old girl who might run for president when she grows up.

In its "Zoe for President" campaign, the Y, formerly known as the YMCA, will run television and digital ads touting the mock candidate throughout this year’s presidential race.

The message is that children like Zoe, if they are properly educated and cared for, can become president or achieve other great things — and that the Y is already doing a lot of work to make sure children like her succeed.

Television spots for the drive started running Thursday and will continue to air on networks such as CNN, HLN, and TBS throughout the election. Digital ads will also run on sites like The New York Times as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

The commercial, a 30-second version of which will run on MSNBC Thursday morning, shows Zoe playing with a blanket designed like an American flag at a local Y. A voice-over explains that Zoe could be president — in, say, 2064 — if she is kept safe, eats well, and is supported in her life. It then says: "Help kids like Zoe dream big. The Y, for early learning, child care, mentorship, and more." It then directs people to donate on the campaign’s website.

Sharing the Spotlight

The drive is part of the Y’s "For a Better Us" campaign, which launched in January with television commercials and digital ads. The campaign seeks to recast the Y as more than a collection of gyms and fitness clubs but also as a charity that is devoted to social welfare and youth development.

The Zoe campaign is an adorable, fun way to tie the presidential election to the work the Y does and get past some of the combative rhetoric of the candidates, said Donna Bembenek, vice president for marketing communications for YMCA of the USA, which supports charity’s local chapters.

It also comes at a time when many nonprofits are concerned that the 2016 campaigns might divert donations from charities.

The organization, Ms. Bembenek said, was seeking a creative way to remind the public of its "For a Better Us" campaign "but that would give us a way to break through in this sea of political advertising."

Representatives of the nonprofit will also be at July’s Republican and Democratic national conventions to talk about the Zoe campaign with the media and others.

Send an email to Timothy Sandoval.