PORTLAND — The Salvation Army usually conjures images of holiday-time bell ringers or volunteers distributing blankets to victims of fires or other disasters.

This week, a local advertising agency has teamed up with at least 50 local businesses to come to the Salvation Army’s aid.

The advertising campaign is part guerrilla, part traditional, and is being done at no cost to the relief agency by VIA Group. It is intended to raise money and awareness for the Salvation Army.

“The Salvation Army has an ‘older’ stigma and they haven’t been able to market themselves well,” said Greg Smith, chief creative officer at VIA. Smith said the advertising firm was surprised at how little the Salvation Army spends on marketing – 83 cents of every $1 donated to them goes directly to programs.

When VIA public relations director Rob Gould approached Smith and some others about the Salvation Army, and pointed out the grassroots nature of the organization, VIA decided to take on the marketing project. Art department guys Mike Irvine and Chris Avantaggio brainstormed and came up with the idea of getting the Salvation Army message out by spending elbow grease instead of money.

“Just like the Salvation Army, we decided to spend nothing and give more,” Smith said. 

The result is the “This Ad Cost Nothing” campaign, launched in time for the organization’s annual Salvation Army Week. 

If you order a pizza in Portland this week, chances are the Salvation Army logo and Web site information will be in the box

Need a sleeve for your hot coffee at Portland Coffee Roasters? The information will be there, too.

Enjoy a beer at Novare Res and have to use the bathroom? Look at the mirror, because the Salvation Army will be there, promoted in grease paint.

VIA employees and their willing friends will also park their cars downtown this week and purposely cover their back windshields with dust. And written in that dust will be – you guessed it – the Salvation Army logo, along with slogans like “We cut our advertising budget in whole.”

Dozens of shops will also support the organization by having the slogan on their windows.

Painted rocks, tarps, tennis court floors – Smith said there are more than 5,000 “creative units.” Traditional media also donated broadcast time and print ad space. 

It wasn’t difficult to get businesses to participate, he said. VIA employees went door to door and simply asked. Leonardo’s Pizza on Forest Avenue is one of the 50 or so that jumped on board.

“Being relatively new here, we’ve been trying to create relationships with nonprofits, ” said Ted DeMulder, general manager of the pizza shop. Leonardo’s also liked the idea of using pizza boxes as advertising tools.

“It’s of minimal cost, and this is not creating significant amounts of paper waste like some other ad campaigns,” he said.

Craig Evans, director of development for the Salvation Army of Northern New England, said the challenge for the organization has been to make people more aware of what it does and to encourage financial support, but to also spend donations on its programs.

“Historically, the Salvation Army hasn’t invested really in advertising or marketing,” he said.

He said the organization was surprised when VIA offered to do the Portland marketing campaign pro bono.

“For them to jump in with both feet and really capture the essence of the Salvation Army is incredible,” Craig said, adding that he thought the guerrilla component was fitting because the Salvation Army started as a street ministry in London.

Since the agency is looking at the campaign as more of a getting-out-the-word mission than a fundraising one, Craig said there are no projections for resulting donations. He also said the campaign may be repeated in other areas if it is successful.

The northern New England division includes Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The division is based in Portland.

The campaign Web site is salvationarmydonate.org

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]



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salarmy.jpgPainted rocks on tables in local restaurants are part of the “This Ad Costs Nothing” campaign launched this week for the Salvation Army. (Courtesy Via Group)
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