Poo for brew? Ad firm spurs colon cancer checks with beer giveaway campaign

This limited edition beer by DuClaw Brewing Co. is at the center of a cross-promotional campaign by Richmond ad agency Elevation. (Images courtesy of Elevation)

If unicorns defecating and breaking wind offends you, stop reading this now.

It was the cross-promotion prospect of two brands known for such things — Squatty Potty, a toilet stool company famous for its viral video of unicorns doing their business; and DuClaw Brewing Co., a Baltimore-based brewer that makes a sour beer called Unicorn Farts — that led to the latest output from Richmond ad agency Elevation, which turned it all into an awareness campaign for colorectal health.

Part beer giveaway, part product advertisement and part tie-in with Colon Cancer Awareness Month, the campaign — christened the Give a Crap Challenge — offers a limited edition beer as motivation for getting a colon cancer screening.

Participants can sign up through midnight this Sunday to be eligible to win one of 100 six-packs for sending a stool sample to be checked using an at-home testing kit.

By Thursday morning, 24 hours after the campaign went live, more than 1,700 people had signed up for the challenge, and the campaign’s website had logged more than 7,000 visits – all from pre-launch publicity and word-of-mouth from company teasers.

And it all started with Corey Lane, an account manager at Elevation, sitting in on a Baltimore marketing group webinar and catching wind that DuClaw was looking to partner with Squatty Potty to promote its Sour Me Unicorn Farts pilot batch – a series of brews inspired not by Squatty Potty but by a similar-named doughnut at Baltimore’s Diablo Doughnuts.

None of those companies are clients of Elevation, but Lane saw an opportunity to tie them all together as a pro bono benefit for the national Colon Cancer Foundation, which he had previously worked with on a project.

“That was the ‘what,’” Lane said, referring to the brands’ cross-promotion. “But they needed a ‘why,’ and I saw that opportunity to fit in the Colon Cancer Foundation as the ‘why,’ in terms of why our partnership made sense.

Elevation’s Frank Gilliam, left, and Corey Lane.

“That’s one of the cool things about this: everybody involved is working in good faith,” he said. “No one has contracts with each other. We just see this awesome idea that it all supports the Colon Cancer Foundation, and we all dove in to make it happen.”

But first, he had to sell the idea not only to the companies, which were all game, but also to Frank Gilliam and Aaron Dotson, his bosses at Elevation, an agency known for perhaps more family-friendly fare such as its ads for Virginia Green, starring a Jack Russell Terrier, and its “Tuition Monster” spots for Virginia529.

“We said this is the craziest, most awesome idea ever, and if this works, we’ve got to get behind this,” Gilliam said.

“It was such a pure thing that doesn’t happen very often, that connection of the different parties. This was certainly a perfect storm of opportunity, and of course, this being Colon Cancer Awareness Month,” he said. “And it’s the perfect audience too, to get people to think about this, because the earlier you test, the earlier it’s found and the more treatable it is.”

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., and Gilliam and Lane noted that it’s typically treatable early but fatal if left undetected.

Of those who signed up or visited the site since the launch, Lane said analytics showed that about a third were 45 or older, considered a high-risk range for colon cancer.

“So we’re reaching the right people,” Lane said Thursday. “And then, another third is those younger people that just need to be aware of it moving forward.”

Challenge winners receive a six-pack and a two-sided info card.

Added Gilliam: “This was just a great opportunity to provide some education on a serious subject in a fun way. Obviously we’re doing this not only for the fun of it, but we hope that people pay attention and get the message and we can remind them of the importance of this sort of healthcare.”

But oh did they have some fun with this one, as Lane noted.

“So many poop jokes over the last few months. Lots of toilet humor,” he said, laughing.

“The good thing was that we had the precedent that was established from Squatty Potty, and even DuClaw – other popular beers they put out like Dirty Little Freak and Sweet Baby Jesus. There was a tone established from the onset here, and it gave us a lot of latitude.”

Working with copywriter Brian Burton and recent hire Chris Fullman, who handled web development, Gilliam conceptualized the website and an explainer video that Squatty Potty produced. Elevation also produced marketing materials for the random drawing, which is slated to be held in a few weeks.

Elevation estimated the value of the work it put in, from concepting, planning, partnerships and implementation, at between $25,000 and $50,000.

Those selected in the drawing will receive a six-pack of the limited edition beer – a graham-cracker-infused, edible-glitter-filled variation of Sour Me Unicorn Farts called “Thanks for Giving a Crap” – as well as a Squatty Potty stool, an Everlywell FIT Colon Cancer Screening Kit, and an info card with more on colon cancer and prevention.

The limited edition beer offered in the campaign is a variation of DuClaw’s Sour Me Unicorn Farts brew.

Donations for the beer and test kit are also accepted — what Burton coined the campaign’s “poop-hole loophole” — though supplies are indeed limited, as only 400 six-packs were produced. Donations are a minimum of $85 and benefit the Colon Cancer Foundation.

As of Thursday, Lane said 22 people had made donations, raising more than $3,000 for the foundation. As for the 1,717 participants and counting who have signed up to take the challenge, Gilliam said with a laugh, “What people will do for beer, right?”

“It sounds weird to phrase it this way, but that’s one of the best outcomes that we can hope for out of this,” Lane added, “that if someone says, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll poop in a box to get some free beer, that sounds fun.’ But we actually end up catching something that could save their lives. That’s sort of the silver lining to this whole thing, is that it does have a serious undertone.”

It’s also fitting that the campaign lends itself to so much bathroom humor, as Lane said it looks like that’s where it’s getting received.

“As we were looking at the analytics, we realized that a really high percentage of traffic to the website — 72 percent — was actually from a mobile device,” he said. “So, in a case of art imitating life, most of these visitors are probably joining from the toilet.”

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Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
6 months ago

I didn’t want to read this one but curiosity overwhelmed me. I’ve lost one of my best friends to colorectal cancer in Bob Koch, and lost another friend in Michael Hunt, President of Genesis Properties. Each was detected at the point that the cancer was in its fourth stage. They both fought hard to win but the enemy is relentless and the treatment almost as brutal as the cancer itself. If you are over 45 and reluctant to get an exam for it, you are potentially condemning yourself to a slow painful death. Don’t hesitate.

Margaret Thompson
Margaret Thompson
6 months ago

Kudos to the brilliant team at Elevation – you’ve done it again and in spectacular form!