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by Kate McMahon

With a Brit at its helm, Walgreens is pulling out all the social media stops to make the U.K. fundraiser Red Nose Day a success on this side of the Atlantic.

Walgreens, NBC Universal and M&Ms are partners in the inaugural Red Nose Day USA campaign, which will culminate in a star-studded three-hour live benefit on NBC on May 21st.

Red Nose Day bills itself as “a campaign dedicated to raising money for children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun and making people laugh.”

It has been doing just that with comedians, celebs, school kids and regular blokes in the U.K. every other year since 1988, and has raised more than 1 billion pounds for charity. That’s almost $1.57 billion in dollars.

The question is whether Americans will find the same humor in the bulbous, red foam noses, and if the effort will achieve the viral traction that made the Ice Bucket Challenge such a fund-raising phenomenon last summer.

Clearly Walgreens thinks so. It is the exclusive retailer of the campaign’s signature red noses, which sell for $1 each with 50 cents per sale going to a fund supporting pre-selected charity partners. (Sainsbury played that role in the U.K.)

U.K. Comic Relief pitched the idea in one meeting and Walgreens signed on as a sponsor that day, a spokeswoman told Advertising Age. This campaign is the first of its kind for Walgreens, the nation’s number one drugstore chain with more than 8,200 stores.

Obviously Red Nose Day was well known to Walgreen Co. President Alex Gourlay, a transplanted Brit who took over in 2013 after a 35-year-career with Alliance Boots. And Walgreens has a social media savvy partner in NBC, which has been heavily promoting Red Nose Day on The Today Show, The Voice and late-night programming. (Cue Matt Lauer cycling from Boston to New York to support Red Nose Day, and Blake Shelton and the Voice coaches donning the noses.)

The May 21st prime-time telecast boasts 65-plus celebs, including the "Today" and "Voice" casts, along with A-listers such as Will Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Neil Patrick Harris and Sir Ian McKellen, music by Coldplay and John Legend, and videos produced by Funny or Die.

A boffo lineup for certain, but will Americans watch, and donate? It’s noteworthy that the Muscular Dystrophy Association just announced it is canceling its legendary Labor Day Telethon, hosted for five decades by Jerry Lewis, to invest in “digital and mobile channels for consumer engagement and activation.”

Digital and mobile channels are crucial to the success of Red Nose Day, particularly among the Millennials. Walgreens and NBC are encouraging fans to snap selfies with their red noses and post on Instagram or Twitter and Facebook to win a trip to New York for the event. Shoppers in select markets can even take selfies at an in-store photo booth complete with backgrounds and props. Walgreens hasn’t released specific numbers but said it was well on the way to selling “millions” of said noses.

No nose? A free Red Nose Day app allows you to add a nose to photos and share on social media platforms. And M&Ms is pledging a $1 million donation and asking followers to post funny stories with the hashtag #MakeMLaugh.

It’s an ambitious and integrated campaign, and an opportunity for Walgreens to further its “happy and healthy” mantra, particularly after chief rival CVS cornered the media spotlight last year by banning tobacco products.

Will Red Nose Day translate to the States? We’ll know soon enough.


Comments? As always, send them to me at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
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