How Creative Happens: The CICF “Be IN” campaign

5 min read

How do you celebrate 100 years of helping build a city through philanthropy?

CICF was wrestling with that question a couple of years ago—and they invited us to wrestle along with them. But before we get into the grappling, some background is in order.

CICF stands for Central Indiana Community Foundation. It was formed in 1997. CICF comprises the Indianapolis Foundation (the community foundation serving Indianapolis) and Legacy Fund of Hamilton County, and several other community funds and foundations. The Indianapolis Foundation will turn 100, and Legacy Fund will turn 25, in 2016. CICF wanted to celebrate these milestones by bringing attention to the historical importance of visionary philanthropy to Central Indiana, while inspiring current-day people to be the visionary philanthropists of tomorrow. The only question is, how do you simultaneously honor the past and focus on the future?

The Campaign Theme:

First, we needed a theme—a big umbrella message that would unite all of the other messaging around the upcoming campaign and the numerous events that will accompany it. After a good bit of brainstorming and plenty of rejected ideas, we landed on “Be IN.” Why? It’s a beautifully simple call to action. And it’s the answer to an implied question: How can you make Central Indiana better, both today and down the road? The answer: Be IN. There’s force and meaning in those four little letters. That the “IN” also serves as a symbol for our region gives it another shade of meaning. And it lends itself to playful customization: Be INspired. Be INnovative. Be INtrepid. And finally, it looks great as a wordmark.

BeIN Logo

The Big Story:

CICF will be making a splash with several celebratory events over the next year and a half. First, though, it needed to build awareness and create excitement. In short, it needed to tell its story. And that story, we discovered, isn’t as much about CICF as it is about vision—and the visionary people who have made our city better, either through philanthropy or uncommonly good public works, over the past century. Well Done and CICF wanted to pay homage to those past visionaries, showing how visionary acts have transformed our community over the years. And we couldn’t just focus on the past. We also had to make sure our audience was prompted to think about how their own visionary ideas could help make a better future.

The Sausage-Making:

Our eventual winning concept for the print campaign didn’t exactly start out as a winner. It was a messy mash-up of sorts—historical photos of people from the early 1900s with the faces of current-day Indianapolis visionaries Photoshopped onto them. Then we laid a brightly colored circle over each visionary’s head, representing an explosion of creative, innovative thinking. It linked the past and present; the imagery was bold and arresting—we had it! 


Not quite. Looking back, it was a bit of a stretch. If the Photoshop work was done too well, it didn’t really work because it just looked like some contemporary man or woman in old-timey garb with some bright circles over his/her face. And if we tried to lower the level of the Photoshop quality, it just looked like a crappy Photoshop job. It was close-ish, yet oh-so-far.

The Epiphany:

Since Well Done Associate Creative Director and design whiz Amy McAdams-Gonzales is largely responsible for what happened next, I’ll give her the floor.


“Hey. Come here. Look at this picture. Dude looks like a total boss.”

I’m not sure if it was Matt or me who said this. I can’t even remember who found the photo. But, that image of George “Motherf*#!ing” Kessler that popped up in a Google Image search was the spark. I’ve looked at the image so much now it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t know who Kessler was (outside of using his Avenue regularly and living on his Ridge Drive for a portion of my life). But it lit the fuse for the creative work that evolved into the ad campaign that’s currently running in places like the Indianapolis Business Journal and Indianapolis Monthly.


What makes it work? The answer is the same as it always is: Who knows for sure? But we knew that the combination of bold headlines, modern (but tasteful!) design elements, and weighty historical photos somehow said a lot without boring people with a bunch of words. Somehow, the image of a historical visionary posing in his period clothes juxtaposed with a single descriptive headline and modern type design packed a powerful punch.

The Results:

But is the campaign working? We’re still smack in the middle of it, so it’s hard to say yet. We believe the ads create intrigue while making a strong call to action. But does that equal success?

We asked Mike Knight, Director of Communications at CICF. “We’ve had some great numbers for the subpage we’re directing people to,” he said. “So they’ve been very successful in getting people to our site where they learn more about the value of the Foundation.” Engagement in social media channels has also been exceptionally strong. If the level of interest continues to grow, you may even be able to buy your own Gustave Efroymson tote bag soon.


All well and good, you may say, but what exactly does a tote bag do for CICF?

As an organization with an uncommonly long selling cycle, merchandise like this plants seeds of awareness and creates conversation. That way, when the time comes for people to invest in their community through philanthropy, they’ll think of CICF. “We have to be present somehow in peoples’ lives for decades, so we’re not expecting people to suddenly pick up the phone and call,” Knight said. “If they do, that’s great. But it’s a long, steady hum of awareness and authenticity that we’re after.”