As the ABC Entertainment marketing team prepared for the third season premiere of The Conners, the group decided to use its advertising budget to not only promote the show, but aid some needy viewers.
"The Conner family has been so representative of the American family, and the show is able to tell stories of economic struggles with humor," says Erin Weir, senior vice president of marketing strategy for ABC Entertainment. "We knew that many people were impacted last year by the pandemic, and were going through experiences parallel to the stories The Conners have told over the years."
In this season's opener ("Keep On Truckin' Six Feet Apart"), the family would be dealing with the pandemic and its financial fallout on each member.
A week before the October 21 premiere, 'The Conners $100K Mortgage Giveaway' contest kicked off, offering five lucky winners $20,000 each to help with mortgages, bills, and/or general living expenses. The contest was touted in on-air promos, social media and on digital platforms, and affiliates ran spots locally.
Viewers were asked to send in a one-to-two-minute video explaining why they needed help, and winners would be announced Thanksgiving Eve on Good Morning America.
Thousands of entries from across the country arrived in the two-week contest period.
"We were emotionally blown away," Weir says. "The stories we heard were riveting, and it was hard to select the final winners. But to see what the series has meant to our viewers was great. The contest became so meaningful to us, the show, the producers and talent. They wanted to drive as much support to our viewers as possible."
The contest judges were members of the ABC Marketing Group partnerships team, with input from the show's producers. Entries were evaluated on how well people communicated, the reasons people gave for why they should receive the money, and whether the contestant reflected the spirit of the Conners on the show, Weir says.
The cast recorded a video about the contest, and executive producer Sara Gilbert (who also plays Darlene Conner on the show) announced the results on GMA.
To keep things a surprise, the five winners were initially told that they were finalists being featured on GMA. When Gilbert appeared, to tell them they had each won $20,000, the winners were stunned, and grateful.
The winners included:
* Courtney Ross of Valley Stream, N.Y., who secretly nominated her mother, a nurse and single mom who raised Ross on her own, becoming her daughter's biggest inspiration;
* Shane Martin of San Francisco, Calif., who is blind. Martin had recently lost his job and health care insurance;
* Patricia Plowman of Newman, Ga., who said her family is just like the Conners. She and her husband had moved back home with their newborn child, and her father is in failing health with dementia. They re-financed the home, but still have years left on the mortgage, and Plowman wanted to ease the burden on her dad and family;
* Amy Marshall of Asheville, N.C., a small business owner, was not eligible for government assistance. Her partner is a healthcare worker, and Marshall worried that they were going to lose their business and all that they had worked for, and
* Ray Herndon of Colorado Springs, Colo. and his wife work in the mental health care field. They have a young child and wanted to use the money to build a center to help the mentally ill homeless population.
Gilbert says she wanted to fly to each winner's home to personally award the prizes, but that wasn't possible because of COVID.
"So many people are suffering right now, and it was such an exciting opportunity to give money away," Gilbert says. "Everyone's feeling the suffering of our country, and our neighbors. The thing I loved about the contest was the possibility that it could inspire others to help, as well."
The actress, who supports No Kid Hungry, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and World Food Programme, says the contest inspired her to increase her donations to the food charities. In addition to those organizations, she also gave to an individual who was struggling financially because of the pandemic.
"It's a matter of any of us, at any time, being in that same situation," Gilbert says.
Weir says she would like to offer the contest again since the need continues to be great nationwide.
"There are many such stories out there, and the Conners don't shy away from the struggles people are going through," Weir says. "Being able to shine a light on their stories is the headline on this."