Like many retailers, Fannie May Candies (Fannie May) had a lot riding on this holiday season: more than 50 percent of its sales, in fact. Fannie May looked to Dome Communications Inc (Dome) to create and execute an initiative that would break through the traditional holiday clutter and gain consumer attention. Dome’s answer was the first-ever “Give-a-Coin-Get-a-Coin” promotion, a four-week cause-related program that combined charity, old-fashioned charm and media celebrities as participants to garner ongoing coverage for Fannie May.  Dome brought together two established institutions, Fannie May and the Salvation Army, to create a win-win promotion that accomplished Fannie May’s objectives while generating charitable donations for the Salvation Army. In addition to driving traffic, spurring donations and strengthening Fannie May’s brand image, Dome managed to keep Fannie May in the news, both in print and on radio and television, throughout the saturated four-week period before the holidays.  


Dome’s challenge was to find a way to link two of Chicago’s most recognized brands in a holiday promotion that would benefit both groups, generate media attention and enhance store traffic and sales. With a small budget, Dome looked at unique ways to leverage Fannie May’s greatest asset—its product—to sustain the program over a four-week period. The financially-challenged Salvation Army also had something uniquely special they could offer: a charitable presence at many of Chicago’s premier street corners and suburban mall locations.


Through recent focus group findings, Dome learned that Fannie May is perceived as an old-fashioned company; Dome quickly turned that perception to Fannie May’s advantage, using the old-fashioned label to integrate charm, warmth and tradition into the company’s brand positioning, especially since 2000 also marked Fannie May’s 80th anniversary. Dome also researched Fannie May’s past relationships with charitable organizations to determine who would best complement the company’s Chicago heritage. Upon researching the Salvation Army, Dome found that there existed an annual “Celebrity Corner,” in which media personalities volunteer to ring the Salvation Army bell. However, the program was not well-publicized and failed to leverage the media’s involvement. Based on its research findings, Dome established the following objectives:

  • Garner significant local media coverage in the highly competitive weeks before the holidays 
  • Establish Fannie May as a philanthropic leader in the Chicago community 
  • Drive store traffic (secondary)


In creating the “Give-a-Coin-Get-a-Coin” promotion, Dome came up with a strategy that would reward consumers who donated to the Salvation Army with a chocolate Fannie May coin.  The Salvation Army provided the charity component, Fannie May provided the product, and the resulting initiative met everyone’s needs.

Dome targeted media celebrities across Chicago to ring the bell at Salvation Army buckets throughout the city, leveraging the wealth of product and the charity component to get media excited about participating. Involving the media as both spokespersons and traditional reporters, Dome initiated participation as well as coverage.  Media participating in the challenge were much more likely to mention it on-air, and the “Give-a-Coin-Get-a-Coin” name required further explanation, ensuring that media would mention Fannie May by name. Dome expanded the promotion to the suburban markets, ensuring suburban media coverage by employing local high school and college choirs as “old-fashioned” carolers in traditional costumes to sing in front of Fannie May stores in suburban markets. By placing the carolers in front of the Fannie May stores, Dome was able to meet its secondary objective of driving store traffic and sales.


To meet the established objectives, the “Give-a-Coin-Get-a-Coin” Holiday Program was broken into two stages:  

“Give-a-Coin-Get-a-Coin” Pre-Event:  Dome prepared for the celebrity challenge by first pitching key Chicago media, aggressively targeting high-profile on-air personalities for participation. Radio and television personalities throughout the city received personalized letters, phone calls, faxes and emails, positioning the program as a great audio/visual opportunity for the stations to mobilize their audiences and help give back to the community. Once the media celebrities were secured, Dome sent “Survival Kits” containing Fannie May product, mugs, hot cocoa and branded Fannie May scarves and gloves to wear during the event.  To ensure maximum coverage, Dome also sent the “Survival Kits” to each celebrity’s producer as well as pitching the event directly, resulting in several special holiday segments.

Give-a-Coin-Get-a-Coin” Event:  Dome carefully selected high-profile locations throughout the city on busy streets and corners, and scheduled the celebrity bell-ringers during the high-traffic early morning, lunchtime and drive-time hours. To ensure brand inclusion in media coverage, large 4’ X 4’ signs featuring both the Fannie May and Salvation Army logos were displayed next to the bell-ringing celebrities. Dome also created and placed smaller, personalized signs featuring each TV or radio station on the corresponding Salvation Army kettle. To further promote brand inclusion, Dome printed song folders for the attending choirs with the Fannie May logo, and altered the words to “Jingle Bells” to include Fannie May and its product line. And of course, each celebrity handed out dozens of Fannie May chocolate coins.

Additional Tactics:  As fewer media celebrities participated in the suburban bell-ringing at the Fannie May stores, Dome sent press releases and post-event photographs to local papers, resulting in several hits. In one instance, the president and CEO of Fannie May’s parent company, Archibald Candies, picked up his local morning paper and was greeted by a full-color front-page post-event photo of one of the choirs carrying branded folders in front of the Park Ridge Fannie May store.


Despite adverse weather conditions, the program was extremely successful in its first year.  Twenty-three media celebrities rang the bell for Fannie May and the Salvation Army, as thousands of consumers were impacted by the Fannie May brand.

Four of Chicago’s top five television stations participated and significant coverage was achieved through the three major broadcast networks, 100 percent of which featured the branded signage.  The radio coverage was extensive with five stations conducting 2-3 minute on-air interviews with a Fannie May representative (KISS-FM, US99, WLIT-FM, WXRT-FM and ESPN1000-AM).  Ten radio stations provided Fannie May and the Charity Challenge with on-air mentions prior to the event.  The Charity Challenge was also featured in the “Inc.” column of the Chicago Tribune, and Dome helped secure a full-page photograph and mention on the inside front cover of the Chicago Sun-Times on Christmas Day.  In addition, Dome secured front-page photos and stories in several suburban papers.
The final result was a comprehensive Chicago-based program that allowed Fannie May to enhance its brand awareness; position itself as a caring, philanthropic company; build relationships with key Chicago media personalities; and generate nearly eight million media impressions with a CPM of $2.60.