GSD&M Recalls the Famous as Kids at the YMCA

A GSD&M campaign, which broke on Christmas Day, helps the YMCA celebrate its 150th anniversary in America.

The Young Men’s Christian Association, established in London in 1844, began seven years later in this country in Boston. Television ads celebrating the organization’s sesquicentennial birthday are the first major national campaign created by an outside agency in the Y’s long history, said YMCA director of association advancement Dan Maier. “GSD&M was selected specifically because their approach is similar to the Y—very positive and very fun,” he said.

Three television spots show Martin Luther King Jr., former Senator John Glenn and actress Susan Sarandon, moving backwards in film clips to early childhoods spent at the Y. In one ad, text interspliced with footage of Dr. King states: “Before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize/ Before he spoke the words ‘I have a dream’/ Before he was an ordained pastor/He was just another kid at the Y.” It ends with a photo of King as a child swimming at a Y pool and the tagline, “What will it do for your kid?”

The estimated $5 million advertising campaign will run on network TV and 10 national cable channels through February. The series will reappear in April on Oprah through a Kimberly-Clarke sponsorship and again in July, supported by J.C. Penney. Print and radio are other components of the campaign.

Audrey Pudder, account supervisor at GSD&M in Austin, Texas, said the agency approached the YMCA independently, in the absence of a review, and was awarded the project following a series of discussions.

Pudder said she expects the scope of GSD&M’s relationship with the Chicago-based client to remain limited, given the organization’s nonprofit status.

“We are doing some small things for them, working on an after-school program,” she said.

The YMCA’s anniversary celebrations will also include a general meeting in New Orleans and the nation’s largest collective run. The latter will be conducted simultaneously at YMCAs across the U.S. on June 2.