Chicago’s Blood Shortage Inspires Creative Solutions

COMMUNITY AREA #7: Lincoln Park — Vitalant Chicago and Chicago’s “Blood Line”

Whether it’s a morning commute on the Red Line or a scenic view of the city on the Orange Line, Chicago’s “L” trains are truly the arteries powering the heart of Chicago. The ad agency We Are Unlimited and the folks at Vitalant took this symbolism more literally in their most recent ad campaign to call the city’s commuters to action.

Running from early January to mid February, one of Chicago’s most traversed trains, The Red Line, has been rebranded into “The Blood Line” in an effort to inform and motivate Chicagoans to donate blood during a time of year where blood supplies are at their lowest.

Marketing Director, Kathleen Meyer of Vitalant and Mark Mulhern, the CEO of We Are Unlimited sat down with Chicago Ideas to discuss the inspiration behind the ad and why it’s so important we pay attention.

Tell us more about Vitalant and how it transforms lives.

Kathleen Meyer: Vitalant, formerly LifeSource, is a blood bank that serves Chicagoland hospitals, but is also part of a national network of blood banks. This means that we have the ability to send blood where it is most needed, especially during tragedies like natural disasters or acts of violence. We collect blood at our donation centers and blood drives, process it at our lab in Rosemont, then distribute it to the hospitals we work with all with the mission of providing for patients in need and saving lives. “Patients in need” can mean trauma victims or people who have surgeries, but also those undergoing routine treatments for cancer or illnesses like sickle cell disease who require blood. We transform the lives of donors by empowering them to save lives – one blood donation can save three lives. We transform the lives of recipients and their families by providing much needed blood products to them when they need it.

Why is the Red Line being transformed into “The Blood Line”?

 Mark Mulhern: After learning about the city’s critical shortage of blood, we felt that as a Chicago advertising agency the best way we could help would be to exercise our talents and see how creative thinking could raise awareness of the issue and drive donations.

 To make an impact, we needed an idea that would capture the city’s imagination. The resulting idea: turn the CTA Red Line (a city landmark AND a major transit artery) into The Blood Line by using the full range of media opportunities (platform posters, in-train posters, digital boards) to impactfully communicate Chicago’s blood shortage. Beyond driving awareness, the campaign is designed  to drive blood donations too. Parking Vitalant’s blood donation trucks steps away from high traffic train stations is a simple way to enable people to turn good intentions into action with minimal change to their daily routine. By bringing attention to the issue and making it easier to donate we hope to make a big impact on Chicago’s blood shortage.

What is your goal behind this massive call to action?

Mulhern: As an agency, our goal was twofold: 1) To use our collective creativity to give something back to the great city of Chicago 2) To prove that creative thinking can solve big problems. Specifically, collect more blood in January than ever before and get Chicago’s blood supply back on track.

Are you optimistic that change will be made with the help of “The Blood Line”?

Meyer: We are optimistic that the Blood Line will help educate people who may have never donated on the importance of blood donation and how easy it is, and will empower people to make a difference in Chicago through the act of blood donation. Most of us know someone who needed blood. My mother needed blood during a transplant surgery. My grandpa recently needed blood because of a health complication. People need blood a lot more often than we realize and we don’t often think about where that blood comes from. It’s just there – in the hospital, ready to be used. But there’s a lot that goes into getting that blood on the shelf, ready for transfusion, and this campaign is certainly a way to get people talking about blood donation and to take action.  

What is the most effective ways for Chicagoans to actively get involved?

Meyer: Donate at one of the Blood Line blood drives or visit a Vitalant donation center. Follow @bloodlinechicago and @vitalantil on Instagram. Visit to learn more about blood donation or go here to see all of our local donation sites. Donate now to help the current blood shortage in the city, but also donate again later this year once you’re eligible again – you can donate multiple times per year. Blood doesn’t last forever and can only come from volunteer blood donors.


The 77 Project is a storytelling and media project presented in partnership with Xfinity with additional support from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help redefine the narrative of our neighborhoods from the inside out. We’ll spend the remainder of 2018 shining a light on organizations and individuals in each of the 77 community areas of Chicago who are making a positive impact. Know someone we should speak with? Recommend them here.

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