Don’t Toy With the Marine Corps
A U.S. Marine in his dress blues remains stone-faced as a young boy looks up and asks him if he’s Santa Claus.
“Heard you might be him,” the boy says. “If you are him, here’s my list.”
Finally, the serviceman acknowledges the boy, opening his white-gloved hand to take the list. Walking away, the boy says, “He is Santa Claus.”
That public service announcement for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program has been melting hearts and opening wallets for 10 years, continuing the tradition that has allowed the 60-year-old organization to bring more than 386 million shiny, new toys to more than 177 million children across the country.
In 1947, the year it was founded, Toys for Tots collected and distributed 5,000 toys. By 2007, that number had grown to 16.7 million.
The organization has thrived — despite a major setback 15 years ago following a public relations and fundraising debacle — with a good, old-fashioned fundraising strategy that includes conservative budgeting, a strong brand, corporate partnerships and a killer direct-marketing campaign.
Retired Marine Maj. Bill Grein, vice president of marketing and development for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, believes the “Are You Santa Claus?” public service announcement is what helped persuade Toys “R” Us to become one of the organization’s most valuable partners.
The organization met with the toy titan’s marketing people about four years ago, which led to Toys “R” Us instituting a checkout-swipe program that allows customers to add a $1, $5 or $10 donation to their bills that goes to Toys for Tots. The program has raised more than $3 million a year for the past four years, Grein says.
“We went up and talked to them and their marketing people and made a presentation,” he explains. “We played our PSA, and I think it melted some hearts at Toys ‘R’ Us.”
Related story: Marine Toys for Tots Foundation