As a keystone of communities across the world, the YMCA has really been reaffirming its purpose and role throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. In the United States, its 2,700 locations have been hard at work reaching isolated older people, providing food, and creating emergency childcare as schools closed. And now, in time for 2022 New Year’s Resolutions, the NGO has launched a new campaign to help people find their purpose - or their ‘Y’. Whether it’s taking advantage of the fitness and wellness facilities or getting involved in volunteer opportunities, the campaign, developed by VMLY&R Chicago marks a huge community engagement programme.
‘Find Your Y’ was shot at various locations within the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, featuring real volunteers, members and staff, and will appear on TV, radio, online and in print. The Y originally wanted to launch a campaign in 2020 to encourage consumers to get involved at the local Y, but those plans were paused during the onset of the pandemic as the YMCAs across the USA pivoted to deliver critical support to communities.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Valerie Waller, chief marketing and communications officer for Y-USA.
LBB> The campaign emphasizes community - how has the pandemic underlined or heightened the role that the YMCA plays in communities?
Valerie> The pandemic has certainly heightened awareness of the breadth of things, Y’s do to support communities. Everything we were doing during COVID-19 was something the Y was doing prior to the pandemic – from providing food to community members in need to providing emergency child care as schools were closing, to outreach to isolated seniors. We were already active in these spaces but when COVID-19 hit, Y’s across the country were able to quickly pivot to direct all their energy and efforts into scaling these efforts to address their communities’ most urgent needs. The pandemic brought this work to the forefront and people are aware now, more than ever, the role the Y plays in their communities.
LBB> How did you get to this idea?
Valerie> The ‘Find Your Y’ creative concept was selected after testing different concepts with both YMCA leaders and consumer audiences. ‘Find Your Y’ intentionally plays on a double meaning – we want people to literally find their local Y and get involved with us so they can find their ‘why’ – their greater sense of purpose. The campaign intentionally focuses on the things that set the Y apart from others in the health/fitness, youth programming and nonprofit arenas: how we connect people to their potential, their purpose, and each other, our values, our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and the impact we make in communities.
LBB> What was it about the idea and the art direction from VMLY&R that really hit the mark for you?
Valerie> In a word: authenticity. The feeling you get from looking at the campaign visuals – the colours, the graphics, the beautiful photos of real Y people – are so true to our Y brand. We truly live our brand personality, we are welcoming, nurturing, genuine, hopeful and determined. When you go to a Y facility, drop off your kid at a Y camp, or volunteer on a Y community service project, you feel these things. And the campaign creative does an amazing job at bringing these feelings to life. I’m especially proud of our TV.
We shot it at the YMCA of Metro Atlanta. We had a great creative concept from VMLY&R, an extremely talented director and production company and beautiful locations, but what made this piece so powerful are the faces you see on screen. These are all real Y people, members, kids in our afterschool program, campers, volunteers, staff members even an adorable baby from the child care centre. There are no actors. Every emotion and connection that you see in the spot is a true, authentic moment that demonstrates the power the Y has to connect people to one another and to a greater sense of purpose.
LBB> What were the most interesting challenges you faced bringing the campaign to life and how did you approach them?
Valerie> This marketing effort was originally planned for 2020, but with the pandemic, we delayed work on it. YMCAs were hit hard by the pandemic. Alll of our nearly 2700 local YMCAs had to close their doors at some point which led to membership cancellations, loss of revenue from programs and donations and, unfortunately, loss of staff members. As we started work on this in 2021, we knew this campaign was more important than ever to not only reconnect with existing members and engage new potential members and program participants but to ignite a true sense of pride among leaders and staff members at Ys across the country.
LBB> To what extent is the timing around encouraging people to get involved and form new years resolutions around supporting their YMCA and their local community as well as taking part in healthy activities? Why did you want to launch a campaign over the holiday season? Does the YMCA usually run campaigns over the holidays or is this a new thing for the organization?
Valerie> Though the Y is much more than a place to work out, we know that December and January are key times when consumers are thinking about their health and fitness goals. As they begin to weigh their options, it’s important for us to be visible in the competitive landscape, highlighting everything that the Y has to offer in addition to being a place for a daily workout.
Yes, you can join the Y and get access to a fitness facility, but you also have access to the innumerable programs—everything from Safety Around Water classes for children to our cancer survivorship program for adults - as well as ways to support your community. And that’s all in addition to the general camaraderie you find at the Y, from the people who meet for coffee every day in our lobbies, to the parents who can connect thanks to our child care programs. In short, the Y is in the business of relationship building and we want to remind consumers of that as they think about joining this year.
The campaign is called “Find Your Y” and we want people to do exactly that – both find their local Y but more importantly, find what motivates them in 2022 — their ‘why.’ There are a myriad of reasons to join the Y and no one person is alike. This campaign expresses the heart and soul of the Y and speaks to the breadth of opportunities the Y offers, from facility-based membership to child care and youth development programs, camp, volunteer opportunities and more.
LBB> Going into 2022, what are your goals for Y-USA?
Valerie> Everyone knows the Y and we have near-universal brand awareness. But we continue to struggle to overcome the myth that we are just a ‘gym and swim’. First and foremost, we are a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the community. For example, did you know YMCAs helped feed more than one million children facing food insecurity in 2021? We want to reintroduce the public to who we really are, and help them to see a deeper level of meaning in their involvement with the Y, whether by joining us, enrolling their kids in programs, volunteering with us, donating, or even working for us.
LBB> The YMCA is such an iconic organization - when working on a campaign for a brand that has such an impact on people's lives, what sort of extra responsibilities does that give you as a marketer?
Valerie> This is so true...it is an incredible responsibility to protect, promote and steward such a well-known and iconic brand. The Y has been supporting communities in the US for nearly 170 years and almost everyone I talk to has a ‘Y story’, whether it’s going to a Y camp, learning to swim, or getting their strength back after fighting cancer. Given how many people have a connection to the Y, it’s important that our campaigns be genuine and reflect the Y experience.
LBB> Where will the campaign run and how did you approach the media strategy?
Valerie> At a national level, we’re focusing on maximizing our reach through the digital channels we own, positioning our beautiful and inspiring ‘Find Your Y’ TV and radio PSAs for donated media opportunities, and working on earned media efforts as well.
But local activation is even more important. We’re working with our local YMCAs in 10,000 communities across the country to ensure we’re sending a consistent message to the public – at the Y, you can make a difference in your neighbourhood. You can build the kind of relationships that make you truly feel like part of a community. And you can find your ’why’ – your purpose, your passion, whatever you want to call it – that brings greater meaning to your life and to the lives of others.