Oxfam trials location-based messaging app

In a bid to spead awareness of its activities to a new cohort, Oxfam has launched a campaign on the smartphone app Traces

What is it?

Launched on 4 August, Oxfam’s Traces campaign aims to spread awareness about the charity’s work by encouraging people who walk past the its 650 UK shops to view digital content about the charity. To view the content, users download an augmented messaging app called Traces, which is currently only available on the iPhone. When passing an Oxfam shop, users can open the app and use the camera in their phone to search the area for a virtual floating bubble which enables them to access secret digital messages from Oxfam. These currently consist of a one-minute video about the charity’s work followed by a link to a mobile donation page.

What else?

In time, Oxfam will consider making additional content available to users, such as videos of bands involved in the Oxjam Music Festival, links to Oxfam’s online shop for when high street stores are closed and links to petitions related to the charity’s campaigns.

How did it come about?

Matt Jerwood, digital fundraising lead at Oxfam, was introduced to Beau Lotto, the UCL neuroscientist who created the Traces app, and the pair exchanged ideas about how it could be used to help Oxfam. A month later, Jerwood had a meeting with the technical and marketing team for the Traces app and came up with what Oxfam sees as a new form of distribution for its content.

How successful has it been?

The campaign has achieved coverage in the sector press but Oxfam says it has not yet approached the national press to try to get publicity for it. The charity declined to say how many people had viewed its material through the app during the its first few days, saying simply that it had "quite a bit of interest" so far but not a great amount of activity. Oxfam plans to assess the results of the campaign in November and says it is "realistic" in its expectations.

What the charity says:

 "For us this is an opportunity to try new technologies," says Jerwood. "It is something really quite different. The location-based angle is a unique difference to existing forms of social media; we're always open to trying new forms of digital fundraising and are interested to see how this goes. The prevalence of smartphones and the stickiness of using location as an angle for engaging with content attracted us to this unique proposition."

Third Sector verdict:

The marketing of this campaign has been low-key: national newspapers have not been approached, which seems a missed opportunity, and it is unclear how the charity expects to gain users for this innovation without advertising it more widely. However, the charity says it would be happy just to be discovered by existing users of Traces, which seems like a sensible approach, because it may enable the charity to form a connection with new supporters. The campaign will also enable Oxfam to learn more about location-based marketing and experiment in a low-risk way with new ideas. 

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