Smile Train is passionate about smiles because we know what a serious business they are. Around the world, an estimated 1 in 700 babies is born with a cleft, a birth difference that can make it difficult to eat, breathe, speak, and even survive—but with timely surgical care and comprehensive treatment, people with clefts can thrive. Cleft awareness saves lives.
That’s why, every year, Smile Train uses World Smile Day in early October as an opportunity to raise awareness around clefts and share the power of smiles. In 2023, Smile Train and our corporate partner Dentsply Sirona, the world’s largest manufacturer of professional dental products and technologies, embarked on our most ambitious World Smile Day campaign yet: a multi-month global effort to honor all smiles and unite the global cleft community by pursuing a Guinness World Records title for the largest online album of smiling mouths. The campaign would culminate (we hoped!) with a record announcement in Worcester, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the iconic yellow smiley face, on Oct. 6, World Smile Day itself.
It would also serve as a celebration of people with facial differences—a key organizational goal.
Aside from gathering the 20,000 unique photos Guinness World Records required of us to set the record, we also set key performance indicators for PR, social media, and our website to not only bring in additional smiles for our record-setting album, but also share our cause with new audiences around the world.
We thought collecting 20,000 smiles in a few months would be simple. It certainly seemed simple: We are the world’s largest cleft-focused organization, with more than 2,100 medical partners worldwide; a global community of patients, families, and supporters; and a network of celebrity ambassadors who are passionate about our cause. So we built a campaign centered around organic social media promotion and email to drive traffic to everysmile.org, our bespoke landing page where users could upload their pictures to the album.
We quickly learned that setting the record was not going to be that simple. While our organic promotion did drive significant engagement, it wasn’t translating into photo submissions—and often, the photos we did receive were taken incorrectly despite our web team’s expert UX.
Four weeks in, we were starting to get nervous—so we pivoted. We redoubled our organic promotion, sent out a flurry of emails to our global medical partners and cleft community members, and varied our strategy to include street teams on four different continents to gather photos in person. We also worked with our friends at InspireMore, an outlet for positive news, to run a sweepstakes based on photo submissions.
The numbers picked up as the deadline drew closer—but with a week to go, we knew it wasn’t going to be a comfortable win. In the final two days, Dentsply Sirona came through in the clutch: At their annual conference, the company’s head of sustainability stood on the main stage and urged the crowd of thousands to stand up and submit their photo to the album with her in real time. On World Smile Day in Worcester, our Guinness World Records judge announced that our efforts had succeeded. With 21,274 smiles collected, we had set a new Guinness World Records title!
Besides setting a new Guinness World Records title, we also surpassed our original KPIs for social media and PR. Engagement on Smile Train’s World Smile Day social media posts increased across all channels YoY, including 225% more impressions on Instagram. US and UK email and direct marketing revenue grew 253%. Further successful engagement came from celebrities encouraging their followers to join and a US press blitz that reached over 160M people.
But, from our perspective, the greatest success was how this campaign united our global community. In setting this record, our medical partners, patients, families, cleft community, and supporters came together as one to celebrate one special thing that makes them unique and that they all share—their beautiful smiles!