The best of non-profit advertising and marketing for social causes

How can an empty can feed so many

How can an empty can feed so many


The Rhode Island Community Food Bank (USA) was facing its most challenging set of circumstances since opening its doors in 1982: The worst economic downturn in generations. Unprecedented demand at their pantries. A donor base under strain with an average age over sixty years old.

It was clear to everyone at agency Nail Communications that a huge jolt of awareness, energy and donations needed to be generated from a larger, younger audience. And it was also clear that this wasn’t going to happen with the typical “tear-jerker” pro-bono TV spot that the stations ran in whatever slots their paying customers didn’t want.

Starting with the insight that there is no more potent time to introduce the issue of hunger to someone than when they are surrounded by food, Nail set out to find a completely new way to address this ancient problem.
The solution was not to create an ad or even a campaign, but an entire brand. A food brand that was a metaphor for hunger and that could live amongst the huge bounty of food that so many of us take for granted.

Picking up all the familiar cues of food marketing, Nail created a brand called Nothing. Placed in supermarkets, these empty cans of Nothing stand in stark, powerful contrast to the bursting shelves around them. But these empty cans are more than simply a reminder of the problem, they are also part of the solution. Because you can put them into your shopping cart and buy them like any product. And when you do, the $2.99 purchase price goes to the RI Community Food Bank.

Launching with a teaser campaign, the brand was then rolled out like any other food brand with TV, radio, on-line, ads in circulars and more. With distribution in nearly two hundred locations, the first 40,000 cans went on sale last week.

The campaign work and details of the launch can be explored at

Radio ad:




The brand (more at Flickr):




TV ads:

To help Rhode Islanders understand hunger, invited them to take a taste test:

Rhode Island Community Food Bank
Nail Communications
Additional credits:
Creative Director: Alec Beckett and Brian Gross
Art Director: Laura Crigler
Copywriter: Mark Habke

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