UN’s FreeRice.com needs sponsors to stop famine

With the help of Unilever and Yum! Brands, the United Nations World Food Programme's online vocab game has fed millions, 10 grains of rice at a time. Now, the site is redoubling its effort to attract new sponsors.

For four years FreeRice.com has offered wordsmiths an addictive vocabulary game that, with the help of international sponsors, helped feed 3.5 million people over the last four years. But the site, which is a part of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), needs new sponsors to keep going.

The game is attractive in its simplicity – the user has to match a word with its synonym. For every correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated, paid for by a sponsor whose banner ad appears at the bottom of the page. Recent international advertisers include Unilever and Yum! Brands (which owns chain restaurants including KFC and Taco Bell).

To attract new sponsors, the UN program has added games to the site, including quizzes on math and languages like French and Spanish. It will also be launching a Canadian trivia game in the near future, says Julie Marshall, Canadian communications consultant, for UN WFP. FreeRice.com’s Facebook page has more than 70,000 fans, and last year the organization launched a mobile app and a new information section on healthy foods, which can also be sponsored, says Marshall.

‘We can geographically target the campaign’ to an advertiser’s preferred market, says Marshall. The advertisement format will remain as a single banner on the site, which Marshall says helps keep the focus on the food program, and brings more attention to the single sponsor. ‘You can also, within the banner, explain how you as an organization are fighting hunger,’ says Marshall. Yum! Brands currently does this on the site, linking to its WFP campaign, promoted by spokesperson Christina Aguilera.

FreeRice.com is promoted in schools through the UN’s curriculum on international famine, which encourages teachers to get their students to play the game. Because of its focus on altruism, the site gains attracts media attention – most recently CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos played the game on The Hour in December, says Marshall.

FreeRice.com was voted one of Time magazine’s best 50 websites in 2008. Other recent additions to the site include a personal donation tracking feature, and the ability to play in teams which can engage competing classroom or departments in an office, she says.

The site receives about 800,000 unique visitors per week, according to Google Analytics, with Canada the second-most popular origin of visitors after the US. The approximate cost for an international advertiser is US$15,000 per week, which counts as a taxable donation.