Do Offline Charities Hold Promise for Digital Branded Content?

Robin Hood Foundation and United Airlines test the concept

When guests arrived at New York's Javits Center last week for the Robin Hood Foundation's annual gala, they may have been surprised to see that United Airlines was sponsoring the event, including its logo splashed on digital screens around the facility and branded print materials on dinner tables.

It was the first year that the charity brought in a sponsor for the May 12 shindig, which raised $101 million to fight poverty in New York. It's also the first time that the charity simultaneously ran two satellite events. While Robin Hood Foundation founder Paul Tudor Jones spoke to 4,000 donors (who paid anywhere between $3,000 and $25,000 for tickets) at the Javits, spinoff parties at the Midtown nightclub Lavo and the Dream Hotel in Chelsea entertained a collective crowd of roughly 1,000 younger attendees who paid $150 for a ticket.

It's part of Robin Hood's larger goal to appeal to a new crop of millennial donors—which it has dubbed Philanthropic Young Things—that the charity will lean heavily on in the coming years to drive its organization forward.

Behind the scenes during last week's event was Trigger Media-owned InsideHook, a company aimed at men founded by Andy Russell in 2012. InsideHook's team of editors, photographers and videographers gathered footage and other creative to put together branded content package for United.

Today, InsideHook is pushing out an email to more than 100,000 subscribers in New York with a link to behind-the-scenes footage from the Robin Hood Gala. The team created a YouTube video by interviewing three buzzy Robin Hood members—NFL football player Eli Manning, board member (and iHeartMedia president) Bob Pittman and the aforementioned Jones. United's logo appears in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen during the clip.

While branded content has become mainstream for big-name brands like Starbucks and MillerCoors, focusing on content created from a nonprofit event is an interesting twist for United. Whether or not consumers will react positively to the play will be worth watching.

Russell said that the airline was the right sponsor since New York is one of its biggest markets. "The fact that the mission of Robin Hood [is] to unite the most powerful philanthropists of the current day with the most important philanthropists of the future unites those groups to form an army that creates a movement," he said.

Next year, the goal is to run 20 Robin Hood Foundation events at the same time during the gala.

"What it adds up to is a truly unique marketing and branding campaign that resonates for United, is valuable to our consumers and valuable to anyone who inspires to have an impact on society," Russell said.