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Kars4Kids gears up for another marketing blitz

Screenshot of Kars 4 Kids commercial
Photo: Screengrab from YouTube

They're baaa-aack: Kars4Kids has cast another commercial, and the iconic jingle that has drawn such ire will likely remain the same, as the controversial nonprofit gears up for a new marketing push.

Why it matters: Kars4Kids, which saw contributions soar after its nationwide TV commercial debuted in 2014, owes a lot of its success to TV and radio advertising. But most people don't know that the charity's primary goal is to encourage secular Jews to become more religious, which it does through a summer camp in the Catskills and other programs.

  • A 2017 review by Minnesota found that despite soliciting car donations across the country, the proceeds overwhelmingly benefit children in the Northeast.
  • Lori Swanson, the former Minnesota attorney general who conducted the investigation, told Axios that the charity should be more upfront about its limited focus "so people can make informed choices about where their money is going."
  • Other attorneys general have investigated Kars4Kids and faulted it for neglecting to say in its commercials what the charity does or who benefits.

Driving the news: Kars4Kids has cast five children for a new commercial, but Wendy Kirwan, the charity's director of public relations, says there are no concrete plans for when it will be shot. Any new ad will just "update the visuals" while everything else will remain the same.

  • A casting call earlier this year sought children ages 6-13, including a male lead who "will be lip syncing to the jingle (1-877 KARS 4 KIDS...with different words)."
  • Kirwan says that was for a different video that incorporates the jingle, but won't appear on television.

Background: In its financial filings, Kars4Kids says its purpose is to fund "educational, developmental and recreational programs for Jewish youth and their families," but that's not clear in its advertising — only near the bottom of its website.

  • The charity gives about half of its funds to Oorah, an affiliated organization that shares the same chief executive as Kars4Kids.
  • Kars 4 Kids has also been criticized for investing in failed real estate projects.

Kirwan tells Axios that while Oorah's year-round programming is held in upstate New York, the organization operates youth groups in 10 states and children from "nearly every state" benefit from its other programs, including tuition assistance.

  • "Our advertising focuses on the service aspect of it. And then when they are actually in that donation process is where we kind of bring in more information about what their car will be funding," Kirwan tells Axios.
  • In a survey, 80% of Kars4Kids donors said the need to get rid of a car quickly or getting a tax deduction was a significant factor in their decision to donate.
  • "In 30 seconds, you have to tell people we accept your car, tax deductible, that we pick it up for free," Shmuli Rosenberg, who produced the current Kars4Kids' TV commercial, tells Axios.

The bottom line: Kirwan says the charity does not plan to be more explicit about its cause in any future commercials.

Bonus earworm: The New York Post interviewed the kids in the TV commercial and found that they don't really play those instruments.