MSF ware­house: vir­tu­al cat­a­logue and mass mar­ket­ing campaign

March 03, 2011
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
November, 2010

SOFII’s view

As with most fundraising methods, digital fundraising can be successful if it is done properly and works with the core values of the charity. Combined with an innovative and unusual marketing campaign, MSF and Stephen Thomas achieved well-deserved success.

Creator / originator

Stephen Thomas Ltd (ST).


After realising the ever-increasing power of digital space and the growing prominence of e-retail, MSF decided to focus its efforts for this campaign online. Stephen Thomas Ltd proposed the idea of a virtual gift catalogue where prospective MSF supporters can view the actual products that MSF uses in its field projects and when they buy an item make a donation for its value to support MSF's work around the world. They can also make a purchase as a virtual gift to a loved one.

Knowing that it is not just enough to ‘build it and they will come’, Stephen Thomas developed an integrated teaser marketing campaign to raise awareness of the catalogue, generate media interest and drive traffic to the website.

Special characteristics

A new brand identity was developed around the MSF warehouse and an e-commerce website was built specially for the MSF warehouse.Together with MSF, Stephen Thomas selected the products and wrote their descriptions. They also added other interesting features such as a wish list, an individual account function, a send-an-e-card option and impulse items to buy at the checkout. This was all supported by a robust content management system.

Products available to buy from the MSF warehouse include items ranging from cholera kits and antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS to Land Cruisers and doctors’ missions.

A four-week mass marketing campaign in Toronto, Canada, was conceived to generate media buzz and drive traffic to the MSF warehouse website. Despite a limited budget, a strong and memorable tease-and-reveal campaign was developed. To highlight the delivery of life-saving products to the field, a shipping crate icon was designed and produced. Full size crates were produced and appeared on the top of bus shelters around Toronto. During the first week, the crates were stencilled with the word, ‘Destination?’ During week two, a name of a country in which MSF does their life-saving work was added, such as ‘Destination: Haiti’ or ‘Destination: Congo’.

A bus shelter poster underneath each crate drove traffic to a unique URL link called ‘’. This site had a daily updated blog where the crate told the story of its life as a lonely, lost box looking for a purpose. The idea was to encourage people to find a meaning for the crate’s existence.

In the final phase (weeks three and four), the crate was given the words and promoted it as the solution to holiday shopping for gifts.

Additional support advertising was purchased in the free commuter newspapers. A social media press release was also issued as well as Google and Facebook campaigns. A series of MSF warehouse branded emails were also sent to all MSF’s existing supporters.

Influence / impact

The MSF warehouse campaign received many positive mentions in traditional media; a prominent call-out in Canada’s Globe and Mail and the international newspaper, Epoch Times; interviews on CBC English and French radio stations plus a television interview on the Business News Network (BNN Canada). Additionally, local bloggers became interested in the story and picked it up. Through this marketing and PR campaign, MSF was able to strengthen its brand and attract donations through the MSF warehouse.


In just six weeks, the MSF warehouse achieved positive return on investment, covering all the costs of the website development and mass marketing campaign, and more. The average donation was over CAD 140, which is approximately double the average received on their regular donation page. A post-campaign survey was conducted and found that 96.5 per cent of respondents found the MSF warehouse site easy to use and more than 95 per cent would recommend the MSF warehouse to their friends. Plans are underway for updates to the MSF warehouse and continued marketing initiatives to raise funds through the online catalogue.


The MSF warehouse shows that digital fundraising does work when it’s done properly. In this case, the MSF Warehouse website was custom developed based on e-commerce best practices and an understanding of MSF’s core business needs. It is a great example of an online catalogue that has a great user experience, is consistent with the MSF brand and is significantly different from other online catalogues. A gutsy, integrated mass marketing and PR campaign raised awareness and drove traffic to the site – which boosted results and had the side effect of strengthening the MSF brand.

View original image
MSF supporters were able to view a virtual gift catalogue in which they were able to buy the actual products that MSF uses in the field. To highlight how important it is to deliver life-saving products into the field, a shipping crate icon was designed and produced.
View original image
During the four-week marketing campaign, real crates were made and placed on top of bus shelters throughout Toronto. They were stencilled with words such as ‘Destination: Haiti’ to highlight the countries in which MSF do their life-saving work.
A special microsite was designed which can be viewed by clicking the image above.