For World Blood Donor Day on 14th June, WARC’s Genevieve Silk looks at campaigns that inspired people to donate blood and save thousands of lives.

Blood. We all have it; we all need it – between nine and twelve pints to be precise, depending on height and weight. But all too often there just isn’t enough of it to go around. Although nearly 120 million units of blood are donated globally every year, the demand for blood transfusions far outstrips the supply. And with one in four people needing a blood transfusion over the course of their life, encouraging people to donate is of paramount importance. Here we look at six campaigns that drove people to donation centres worldwide.

Turning sacrifice into donation

Many devout Shia Muslims in Lebanon are no stranger to letting blood. Every year, on the Day of Ashura, hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslim men mourn the death of Imam Hussain by taking razor blades to their skin and willingly spilling their blood on the streets as a form of sacrifice. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s blood banks were desperately low.

Blood donor organisation Donner Sang Compter (DSC) strove to convince those participating in this ritual to donate their blood, rather than letting it pour into the street. A campaign through FP7 McCann placed pop-up blood donation centres along the path the bloodletters would walk, and in this way DSC not only spread its message about the importance of blood donation, but also provided ample opportunity for people to donate. DSC collected 700 blood units in one day, meaning up to 1,965 lives were saved thanks to people turning their sacrifice into donation.

Stepping into fantasy

When millions of people turn to gory TV shows to relax, why not use their bloodlust to drive blood donations? This was the thought behind American Red Cross’ partnership with HBO ahead of the final season of Game of Thrones. Fuelled by fans’ enduring loyalty to the series, American Red Cross dared them to prove their devotion by bleeding for the throne. Through Droga5, HBO and American Red Cross kicked off the Bleed for the Throne campaign at SXSW with an immersive experience that gave fans a behind-the-scenes insight into the show before they donated. They were then rewarded for their sacrifice with the opportunity to interact with over 80 actors playing characters from the show. The blood drive was replicated over 3,000 times across 18 countries and collected 349,660 usable units of blood.

Hiding in an app

In Taiwan, the Taipei Blood Center decreased the average blood shortage time by tapping into a medium already found at everyone’s side: the smartphone. Every week in Taiwan there are critical blood shortages for specific blood types but there was no easy way for donors to know when their blood type was in demand, making it difficult to reach willing donors when they were most needed. However, Taiwan’s smartphone penetration is the second highest globally and, with people unwilling to download more apps, the Taipei Blood Center created and inserted its ‘blood beacon’ into an app used every day: a parking app. Conducted through Wunderman Thompson, the Blood Beacon alerted users to real-time blood inventory data while they searched for parking spaces and navigated them to the nearest donation centre. The campaign reduced the blood shortage time from 35 hours to just seven.

Giving people someone to care for

What drives people to donate blood? For some it’s a sense of duty, for others it’s financial gain. In India people donate for love, to save the life of someone they care about. HDFC Bank wanted to inspire Indians to donate even if their loved ones were not in need, by giving them someone to save. The bank made 65-year-old blood donor Mr Jyotindra Mithani the focal point of its #StopMithani campaign through Leo Burnett. Having given blood 151 times over 30 years, Mr Mithani had been advised by doctors to stop donating. The twist: he refused to step down until 100,000 people stepped up. As the campaign spread it gave Indians nationwide the opportunity to save a life by donating blood. The donation drive attracted over 300,000 successful donors and collected enough blood to save the lives of up to 900,000 people.

Making blood donation cool

Only 1.7% of Romanians donate blood, making it the country with the fewest donors in Europe – a statistic that radio station Rock FM sought to change. Music has the power to unite people from across the globe, and lovers of rock music in particular have a particular pride in their music genre: not only is rock the superior genre, but any other song sounds better in rock version! Rock FM launched its campaign Romania has Rocker Blood, via Most Wanted Advertising and Rogalski Damaschin, to create rock versions of popular Romanian songs that would only become available once a certain amount of blood had been donated. The drive was a hit and the Blood Transfusion Center in Bucharest received 32% more donations in the first week of the campaign.

Ensuring equality in donation

While 42% of British people have given blood at some point in their life, many more were prevented from doing so by an archaic and discriminatory law preventing sexually active gay and bisexual men from donating. Pressure group FreedomToDonate teamed up with digital publisher UNILAD to change the law by opening The Illegal Blood Bank: the world’s first blood bank donated exclusively by gay and bisexual men. Conducted by Elvis London, the drive collected enough blood in a single day to save up to 78 lives. Tested using the same medical standards as the NHS, all the blood was declared 100% safe to use, demonstrating that governments worldwide are refusing millions of donors with policy based on prejudice, not proof. As a result of the campaign, the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in the UK was lifted in a landmark law change in December 2020.

What are you waiting for?

Donating blood is one of the quickest and easiest ways to save multiple lives and feel like a superhero. While the precise criteria for blood donor eligibility vary from country to country, finding them online is an easy Google search away. The World Health Organization provides a set of rough guidelines, while the UK’s NHS Blood Donation and the USA’s American Red Cross each set out their own eligibility criteria. Each donation saves up to three lives. So, what are you waiting for? Do something amazing. Give blood.