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Red beer, takeout coupons and big giveaways deployed to recruit more blood donors

Three Magnets Brewing co-owner Sara Reilly and her father Jim Elsner, a blood transfusion recipient, pose on the canning line with the limited run It Takes All Types Red IPA.
Tom Banse
NW News Network
Three Magnets Brewing co-owner Sara Reilly and her father Jim Elsner, a blood transfusion recipient, pose on the canning line with the limited run It Takes All Types Red IPA.

Alcohol and blood donation don't seem at first glance to go together. But that pairing is one of several creative strategies deployed by major Pacific Northwest blood centers to drum up more donors this spring.

The national blood supply has been in a constant state of near-crisis since the coronavirus pandemic started. Traditional blood drives are harder to pull off with people working from home. Some donors are still reluctant to sit in a chair indoors among strangers to give blood. (Masks and appointments are still required for COVID-19 safety.)

You can only shout “emergency” so many times before it loses effect. So, blood banks must over and over invent new ways to recruit donors.

Sometimes the unlikeliest relationships result “in the best serendipity,” said Bloodworks Northwest marketing consultant Tim Owen to begin an explanation that ended with… red beer.

“It’s asymmetrical marketing,” Owen said in an interview on the back porch of Three Magnets Brewing in Olympia. “How do you surprise and delight from an unexpected angle” to get consumers to engage, he asked.

On Wednesday, a mobile canning line set up outside Three Magnets churned out four-packs of a limited edition India Pale Ale. The microbrewery's co-owner, Sara Reilly, said she hopes the blood orange-infused beer serves as a conversation starter that leads some drinkers to book a blood donation appointment later.

"It Takes All Types is the name of the beer,” Reilly said. “And it takes all ways of reaching out to the community to let people know what needs to happen, which is more blood donations."

The special beer made in collaboration with Lucky Envelope Brewing of Seattle has personal resonance for Reilly. Her father, Jim Elsner, is alive today because of blood transfusions he received during a heart transplant almost a decade ago. Elsner swung by the brewery to watch the clackety-clack of the canning operation and sniff the rich aromas.

“I think it’s kind of a fun way of doing it,” Elsner said. “Everyone can wrap their head around it. It’s not too difficult.”

“Simply giving blood occasionally can make a big difference in someone’s life,” Elsner continued. “It can happen to any of us, not just a heart transplant patient. Something terrible happens and suddenly you need that blood.”

Bloodworks Northwest spokesperson John Yeager said the brewery partnership is one element of a larger awareness campaign in conjunction with the restaurant, beer and winery sector. The spring campaign, dubbed “Savor Life, Save a Life,” has a goal to recruit 10,000 new and re-engaged donors by July. The effort is more than halfway to the goal with 5,570 new donors approaching the campaign midpoint.

“We're well on our way to making this," Yeager said proudly.

Other elements of the campaign include an upcoming promotion to give $20 coupons to new blood donors from UberEats in greater Seattle and Portland. Blood donors are also eligible for restaurant and market prize giveaways.

The American Red Cross, whose regional chapters in the Northwest are also major collectors of blood, was offering a free Red Cross T-shirt to blood donors this spring until supplies ran out.

The next promotion is a national contest to win a travel camper trailer that can sleep eight. Seattle-based Red Cross spokesperson Betsy Robertson said everyone who comes in to give blood, platelets or plasma between April 19 and May 19 would be automatically entered to win the prize, which was donated by Suburban Propane. During the promotion period, the Red Cross is also offering $10 e-gift cards to a merchant of the donor’s choice to everyone who gives blood through the nonprofit.

Oh, and about that red beer. Unlike the colorful can label which includes a QR code linking to Bloodworks Northwest, the beer brewers took a subtle approach with the amber liquid inside. The traditional Northwest-style IPA has a slight ruby tint, mainly from the choice of malts and grain. Lucky Envelope’s brewmaster brought his skill working on fruit-infused beers to deliver the blood orange element as a subdued tasting note most apparent on the beer’s finish.

The limited edition It Takes All Types IPA is available on tap at select locations in Olympia and Seattle. It could show up in bottle shops from Eugene to Bellingham for about one month and can be ordered online for delivery to addresses in Washington state.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.