The team behind our campaign for the Royal British Legion and GCHQ reveal the insights and creativity that went into the launch of the 2019 Poppy Appeal.
On October 24 2019 Operation Poppy descended – the culmination of three months’ work to launch the Royal British Legion’s annual Poppy Appeal, this year in partnership with Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK’s intelligence organisation.
The mission? Launch the Royal British Legion’s (RBL) annual Poppy Appeal through a high profile, newsworthy stunt that would kick-start the fundraising effort to support our Armed Forces community. We also needed to reflect the new partnership between the Poppy Appeal and GCHQ where members of the military work alongside civilian colleagues at the heart of the nation’s security.
Our research showed that younger audiences felt RBL’s work wasn’t as relevant to them as other charitable organisations that dealt with issues they could strongly connect with, such as homelessness and climate change. Many were unsure of the work that GCHQ did, and if they were aware, had concerns about privacy.
How were we to make both organisations relevant to our audience without alienating existing supporters while also educating them on the important work RBL and GCHQ do on a daily basis?
We went back to the insights. We needed to start telling the stories of the people supported through the appeal and the unseen service and sacrifice of Britain’s Armed Forces.
The covert nature of GCHQ’s work led us to creative idea grounded in secrecy and discovery, as famous faces from the worlds of music and entertainment were ‘deployed’ as part of Operation Poppy.
Undercover celebrities teamed up with some of the RBL’s 40,000 Poppy Appeal collectors to shine a light on how it supports serving and ex-serving personnel and their families. The celebrities did more than just lend their names, genuinely joining RBL collectors in raising funds at locations across the country, from Clacket Lane to the Lowry Centre.
We also used the campaign to tell the story of poppy collectors like nine-year-old Maisie Gardener from Yorkshire, who raises money to thank the legion for supporting her father. And ex-serviceman, Mark Cockram, who is out from 6am every day to raise money in thanks to the army for the life it gave him.
The fully integrated campaign ran on and offline, with the official launch taking place at London’s Kings Cross Station, where a pop-up HQ provided the background to media interviews celebrity reveals and genuine collecting. The identities of the celebrity poppy collectors were revealed throughout the day, while the public were invited to stay one step ahead by solving cryptic clues on social media developed by official GCHQ’s codebreakers to discover who the secret collectors were.
We generated thousands of engagements through social-media posts by TRBL, GCHQ, and a glitzy line-up of nine well-known celebrities involved: TV presenter Rachel Riley, comedian Eddie Izzard, actor Antony Cotton, investigative journalist Ross Kemp, TV presenter Ben Shephard, former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Philips, Dragon’s Den start Deborah Meaden, former boyband member JB Gill and TV presenter Jeff Brazier.
The campaign also secured widespread coverage across national and regional press, including BBC Breakfast, BBC News, ITV News, Good Morning Britain, This Morning, Sky Sunrise, Mail Online, The i, and the print and online editions of The Express, The Sun, and The Star.
The most rewarding part is helping those who serve. RBL director of fundraising Claire Rowcliffe remarked: “Our undercover celebrities and the puzzles were a fun and engaging way for the public to get involved in this year’s Poppy Appeal launch, but there is a serious message at its heart. Life for those in the Armed Forces community comes with a whole host of challenges and difficulties – from those that endure the daily sacrifice of being away from loved ones, to those carrying out roles that so often go unnoticed, such as at GCHQ.”
For the team at Pegasus, it’s been fun, fast-paced, and significant campaign to work on and one that has generated pride across the agency. And it was great to see it recognised wider, with PRWeek naming it one of its top public sector campaigns of 2019.