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  • Writer's pictureMr Bigleys

Controversial Foster Home Hires Big Time Ad Agency

It's no secret that foster homes and the adoption industry have lagged when it comes to their marketing. One foster home, though, appears to be taking the first steps to change that narrative. The foster home we speak of is St. Bernadine's (SBF) of Providence, Rhode Island.

The monumental decision was made by the head nun, Jean Rindlaub. Before she found Jesus, Jean had been a high-level executive at an advertising firm. She knew the power a tremendous adverting campaign could hold, so she decided to hire one of the largest advertising firms in the world, Leo Burnett.

Following their first campaign together, adoptions skyrocketed 64% from the year prior. To get a better insight on how they were able to reach such success, Mr Bigleys traveled to

Providence, Rhode Island, to hear more for himself.

I sat down with the Creative Director in charge of the campaign, Blu Goran. I asked Mr. Goran to explain how it all started. Blu said, "After being hired by Ms. Jean and SBF, I decided to take a step back and look at foster homes as a whole. The first thing that really came to my attention was their name — Foster Home. It was an old, outdated term. Hearing the word made you think of broken kids. We ran through many different options but decided on changing it to "The Prodigy House."

It was a genius move. "The Prodigy House" no longer reminded the public of soulless, unadoptable, red-headed children. It was now home to children full of potential.

I asked him where he looked next. Blu answered, "Next was to take a look at the stats. In fact, every change we made was completely data driven. We got rid of the term "Foster Home" so naturally, rebranding "Foster Kids" was next. The numbers showed us that 73% of foster kids are 10 and younger. Obviously, the younger they are, the easier they are to sell or adopt or whatever.

We determined it'd be fitting to call them "The Prodigies." On the other end was the kid's ages 11 and up. These were the kids most likely to stay around for a while. They were established, had their own personalities, and were viewed as a more difficult adoption option. We considered calling them things like veterans, sages, wizards, etc. But after surveying the names with multiple control groups, they found that those terms created the perception that the kids were old. We agreed on "The Intellectuals" which scored highest amongst the groups.

The labels were now in place. But rebranding the names of the home and children weren't going to make any significant changes alone. Blu and his team ran through many ideas, some of which may still be in play in the future. He said they thought about placing the kids in front of a Whole Food's like the humane society does with dogs at PetSmart. They considered a Tinder-like app that matched parents with kids. The team even examined a potential trade-in program where adoptive parents could trade their 10-year-old or under, and get half off on an "Intellectual." They saw it as flipping a veteran player for a younger prospect, but the idea was turned down by Ms. Jean.

"It all clicked when we began to look at the demographics," states Blu. "A few things really stuck out to us. First, we saw that women with rotten eggs who had tried using infertility drugs were 10 times more likely to adopt. Our creative team developed an ingenious print ad with the headline, "Smells Like Rotten Eggs." It goes on to sell the patient on adoption rather than taking fertility drugs. Luckily, we were able to scrape up enough money to compensate a lobbying firm to pay off doctors in exchange to place the ad inside the pamphlet that they handed out to their patients."

Next, they saw that 46% of adopted children live with families whose income is no higher than 2 times the poverty rate. This was an alluring stat since an adoption costs, on average, $43,000. That's a huge price to pay for a used kid. Maybe a used BMW M-Series, but a kid? How do you go about selling an, arguably, overpriced child? What Blu and his team did next was revolutionary.

Blu said, "We had to reframe the way the customer or parent or whatever, thought about adopting a kid to rationalize the cost. We hired a finance guy, Jim, to help come up with a way to convince these families to view the kids as an investment. Think of it this way: The average kid costs $14,000 per year. That means from ages 0 to 18, a new kid will cost you $252,000. A refurbished kid, on the other hand, is adopted at the average age of 10. That means that even after adoption fees, you're getting a $97,000 discount. Not only that but, by adopting a recycled child, you'll always have that psychological leverage over them — Like you saved them. They'll take care of you in your old age, possibly even help pay for your retirement if they're successful. And even if the investment ends up a dud, you only really have to keep them for 8 years. That's nothing. Same lifespan as a big dog."

Hearing that come out of Blu's mouth sounded harsh, but numbers-wise…the guy had a point. I was sold on the idea. I asked if I could go to the Prodigy House and pick out one of my own. That's when Blu told me about their last stage of the rebrand: Improving the customer experience.

They redid the SBF's entire website and even added a shopping cart for faster checkout. As for the people who still enjoy brick and mortars, Blu had another idea. He said, "The stats showed that nearly 73% of adoptive parents are white. So what better way to bring in flocks of white people than transform the inside of the Prodigy Home into a brewery."

The idea was to create their own brand of beer under the label, "Prodigy Beer Co." They knew that by using the power of alcohol, they could reach the customer on an emotional level. The Prodigy House Brewery would place the youngest, most adoptable children at the beginning of the brew tour, and put the older, hand-me-down children, at the end. By being at the end, the older kids increased their chances of being adopted by the boozed-up customers.

End's up, that was the only bad idea Blu's team had. Sixty-five percent of all children adopted at the end were returned within a week. Blu blamed this on a phenomenon called buyers remorse. The good news is that the brewery itself made a killing. They no longer allow adoptions during brewery hours, but their beer is now sold in liquor stores and bars nationwide. They've announced that they'll be dropping a new IPA this fall by the name of "Red Headed Step Child." All the money goes to the Prodigy House, which allowed it to sell out during the presale...

Anyhow, what Blu's team did has been both heavily praised as well as criticized. Is it morally ethical to treat these children as mere products? Should we really be manipulating people through advertising to adopt a child, or should we continue to pretend like these nearly new children don't exist? In reality, it's too early to say for sure. All I know is that after a few of those brews, adopting little Henry seemed like a fantastic idea. That is until I woke up a father. To be honest, I'm just grateful the kid is crate trained. And shit, at least he's already 12. Only 6 more years of this and I can finally release him...

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