This campaign was all about challenges – from origin to creative concept to execution.
The first challenge was existential: COVID decimated funding to Phare, a small arts/education nonprofit that’s educated thousands of disadvantaged Cambodian children and launched hundreds of artistic careers. 60% of our income came from our flagship animal-free circus – popular with tourists including Angelina Jolie and Harrison Ford – but COVID meant it couldn't operate. Even after voluntary pay cuts and service reductions, Phare faced imminent, permanent closure.
How could we save Phare, when travel restrictions made traditional fundraising events impossible? How could we grab global attention as a small nonprofit in a small country, and illustrate our determination to keep going despite adversity?
We did what we do best: dug deep and got creative. We set ourselves the ultimate challenge: winning a Guinness World Record by challenging our performers to put on a 24-hour non-stop circus performance. This drew on our brand strengths of creativity and performance, putting them on a global stage, and creating a monster campaign hook.
Because Guinness stipulated a 24-hour audience, we utilised social/traditional media to challenge the public too. If people joined live or online, they’d be part of the record-breaking team – and could donate while they were there!
The campaign ran from 2021 to 2022 with four objectives:
The campaign drew on the same creativity and resilience which inspired 8 young Cambodians to found Phare in a Thai refugee camp 28 years earlier. Cambodia’s artists and teachers had been murdered in the Khmer Rouge genocide, so Phare was created to restore education, culture and hope. This new campaign would again protect Cambodia’s culture.
The team adopted a “jiu-jitsu” creative strategy, turning challenges thrown our way into advantages. Given the funding situation, outside agencies weren't an option, so passionate volunteers worked with our students and in-house team to harness the power of social media and overcome all problems with creativity.
Challenge: marketing budget under $500.
Solution: adopted DIY aesthetic making a virtue of limited resources. Existing footage was re-edited into beautiful short films teasing the challenge, students and artists flooded our channels with stories of how Phare changed their life, and free tools like Facebook Events helped secure attendance. The message to the public was join our performers in this challenge and make history
Challenge: COVID travel restrictions made it impossible to host a traditional in-person fundraiser.
Solution: livestreamed the challenge, providing rare live entertainment to people in lockdowns around the world, while encouraging them to donate through our online platforms, using money saved from commuting. With no money for specialist streaming, we used YouTube and Facebook's free services, promoted across social media. Thanks to viral content and extensive publicity in Cambodia, mobile provider Cellcard provided a backup mobile phone tower, while promoting the challenge through their social media and in-house influencers for free.
Challenge: fierce competition from thousands of other struggling non-profits seeking help during COVID.
Solution: used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok to post videos, case studies, teasers and infographics positioning the challenge as a rare, inspiring “good news” story during dark times, triggering thousands of shares/mentions on social media, while generating mass traditional media coverage on six continents (Antarctica evaded us).
Challenge: near impossibility of performing for 24 hours.
Solution: used audacity of the attempt to highlight the resilience and creativity of our 90 performers in artist profiles which featured across social and traditional media, providing a powerful reason for livestream viewers to donate online to the organisation that trained and employs them.
Challenge: no budget for official Guinness adjudication.
Solution: we organised evidence collation ourselves (the free option!), recruiting Buddhist monks and teachers to attend as trusted witnesses, adding to the uniquely Cambodian atmosphere of the livestream and social media content. Knowing it would take Guinness many months to assess 131 pages and 26 hours of video evidence, we turned this into an opportunity for two international announcements on social/traditional media, one promoting 2021's attempt, another announcing 2022's official confirmation - two bites of the cherry!
Challenge: no budget to promote Guinness’ final decision.
Solution: our students created a DIY “surprise” video where performers gathered for a "briefing", covertly filmed and given the news: their shock and joy was shared on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, and by news outlets globally.
The campaign met all objectives and smashed targets.
OBJECTIVE 1 – MEET CHALLENGE AND SET RECORD
OBJECTIVE 2 – GRAB GLOBAL ATTENTION
OBJECTIVE 3 – RAISE $50,000
OBJECTIVE 4 – EXPAND INTERNATIONAL AWARENESS
All delivered on a shoestring budget. Paid promotions and content creation cost under $500. Event budget was $15,000, including payment to performers.
As a result, Phare survived the pandemic, continuing to educate and train hundreds of children. Phare still faces major fundraising challenges, with tourism and circus income lower than pre-pandemic levels, but meeting this challenge gave us the breathing space to survive and march towards our 30th anniversary.