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UNICEF, Giorgio Armani translate phone-less minutes to donations supporting clean water

February 28, 2014

The microsite

UNICEF and Giorgio Armani are tapping into consumers’ attachment to smartphones to raise awareness and money for the Tap Project, which provides clean water in countries such as Belize and Cameroon, and the campaign has gone viral, attracting more than 1.4 million unique visitors.

The campaign explains that today’s consumers tend to not be able to live without their smartphones, but by giving up their smartphone for ten minutes or longer, they can help provide consumers with something they truly cannot live without: Water. Giorgio Armani and other donors will provide funding for clean water based on the total number of phone-less minutes, and consumers can also donate on their own after participating in the challenge.

“The UNICEF program tries to get the public to pay attention to this crisis that’s happening and connect to it in a personal way,” said Rajesh Anandan, senior vice president of strategic partnerships and UNICEF ventures at U.S. Fund for UNICEF, New York. “We started several years ago where we asked restaurant patrons to donate a dollar when they had a glass of water.

“We’ve evolved that campaign over time, and if we’re going to be reaching anyone at scale in 2014 it’s got to be mobile,” he said. “Our strategy this year was to launch a mobile native campaign that essentially was trying to get people to pause for a minute or 30 as it were and just connect with this idea that there are kids around the world who don’t have safe water.

“The strategy was to tap into our innate desire to unplug. There’s a lot of noise around digital detox and how too much connectivity is not necessarily good for us. And we realized now that we launched the campaign that it really hit a nerve.”

Tap Project
When consumers go to on their smartphones’ browsers, they will be asked to go without their phone to help give clean water to children in need. When they select begin, the timer will start and occasional messages will pop up with interesting facts about water sanitation as well as real-time statistics on how consumers are interacting with the challenge.

A sample message will say, “Today, more people have access to phones than toilets” or “People have gone an average of 50 minutes without their phone.” Messages will also pop up encouraging consumers to keep going and encouraging a competitive spirit.

For instance, one message notes that the record for the longest time without a phone is 177:00:03. Other messages describe what consumers are doing on their phones; for example, in the first few minutes of the challenge, a message said that 1,440 food photos had been posted on Instagram in that time.

When a consumer moves the smartphone, the timer will stop and provide a ten second countdown that will let the consumer set down the phone again to continue or click to finish the challenge. If consumers click to finish the challenge, they will see how many days of clean water they donated based on how long they abstained from using their phone.

Every ten minutes of not touching the phone translates to a day’s worth of water for one child.

They can then share the challenge on Facebook or Twitter, try again or donate themselves. If they click on donate, they will be able to select from $5, $10, $25, $50 or $100, and the they will need to enter their payment information.

Consumers can also click on a link to learn more about the Tap Project and its national sponsors.

A screenshot of the mobile challenge

According to UNICEF, 768 million people around the world do not have safe, clean water to drink, and more than 2.5 billion people live without a proper toilet. With just $1, UNICEF can provide one child with access to safe, clean water for 40 days.

Tap Project was created in 2007 and has raised nearly $4.5 million for UNICEF’s water and sanitation programs in Belize, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Nicaragua, Côte d’Ivoire, Guatemala, Haiti, Iraq, Mauritania, Togo and Vietnam.

This year, UNICEF decided to make its annual campaign mobile-first, and before even starting a public relations push, the campaign has gone viral.

After just sending a few emails for a beta phase, the campaign already reached 12,000 users in the first day and 240,000 users by the third day. The campaign currently has 1,439,167 unique visitors with an average visit duration of 34.11 minutes.

The total visit duration is 62,943,614 minutes.

UNICEF is also seeing concrete results from the campaign already beyond spreading awareness. Many consumers are clicking through after the campaign to figure out how they can volunteer for UNICEF.

“What’s amazing is we haven’t even gone out with our PR push yet,” Mr. Anandan said. “Our official launch date was March 1, and it’s been so successful that we’ve had to think our whole PR strategy. None of our active PR has happened.

“This has been completely organic, and we’re seeing it going far outside the U.S.,” he said. “After New York and the Bay Area I think Hong Kong’s the next biggest city for people using it. It’s gone global. It spread very quickly, and we’re super excited.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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