Today, the organization provides relief during war, natural disasters and other calamities. In addition to its disaster-relief program, the American Red Cross collects and distributes almost half the nation's blood supply.
A non-profit organization, the American Red Cross receives money for its programs from fund-raising activities and contributions from individual and corporate donors. Its advertising efforts consist of broadcast and print public service announcements along with ads in new media.
Before the advent of radio, TV and the Internet, the American Red Cross' advertising, promotions and calls to action reached people via posters. From World War I through the mid-1950s, artists such as James Montgomery Flagg, N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and James Chandler Christy created works for the Federal Committee on Public Information and the War Advertising Council, encouraging patriotism in wartime and publicizing Red Cross programs. These efforts increased citizen involvement.
"The Greatest Mother in the World," a poster from 1918, featured a woman in a Red Cross uniform holding a stretcher bearing a wounded soldier. "Knit Your Bit: Our Boys Need Sox," also from 1918, encouraged citizens to make clothing for soldiers overseas. "For Their Sake, Join Now," from 1936, reflected the needs of the Dust Bowl and Depression years. The boy and girl shown represent victims of fires, floods and other disasters. "Blood Saves Lives," in 1948, showed a man giving blood, attended by a nurse. "Mobilize for Defense" was popular in 1951, during the Korean War.
The Advertising Council of America worked with the American Red Cross starting in 1946, assisted by the New York-based agency Sullivan, Stauffer, Colwell & Bayles. In 1957, the American Red Cross chose J. Walter Thompson Co. as its ad agency. JWT launched a campaign that featured images of youthful volunteers in action.
In 1970, JWT sought to spotlight unity, caring and brotherhood in its "Roll up Your Sleeves" campaign. The ads featured African-American boys in a city park and Native American youngsters in southwestern settings.
After the advent of AIDS in the mid-1980s, the American Red Cross invested in improved technology and screening procedures for its blood collection programs. An intensive AIDS education program (correcting, among other misconceptions, the erroneous belief that the act of donating blood placed one at risk for the disease) and PSAs about the blood-screening process helped bolster public faith in the safety of the blood supply.
In the early 1990s, the American Red Cross increased its efforts to secure corporate sponsorship. A total of $4 million, donated by FedEx Corp., Anheuser-Busch Cos., MCI Corp. and American Express Co., was used to develop and purchase spots for the "Help Can't Wait" campaign by Kaplan Thaler Group. "We'll Be There," a campaign by Kaplan Thaler launched in 1998, reinforced the organization's reputation for effective, caring relief efforts.
The Red Cross avoids the use of guilt and scare tactics in its PSAs. For example, when D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles created the PSA called "The Gift" in 1995, the agency emphasized the confidentiality of the blood donation process as well as its life-saving importance. The PSA showed strangers from all walks of life giving each other a wrapped box with a ribbon, symbolizing the 22,000 daily blood donations the Red Cross needs to service hospitals nationwide.