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Red Nose Day has become a cross-platform, donation-minting, pop cultural holiday

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In late April 2019, fans of television signing competition The Voice tuned to see something truly unexpected on one episode: Host Caron Daly and celebrity judges Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton struggling to keep a straight face while wearing oversized red, bulbed noses. Daly’s was plain red. The other four were even decorated to look like emoji characters.

As Daily explained to the audience, these props all had names. The plain one was Red, while others went by Rusty, Ruby, Rojo, and Scarlet. But what exactly was going on? “It’s that time of year again,” Daly said. “It’s a huge NBC television event, it’s Red Nose Day, it’s returning May 23, and it’s important.” The emoji part of the gimmick was new, but celebs wearing red noses for a cause actually isn’t. At this point, it’s almost expected it to feel familiar.

Since it was imported to the U.S. from England in 2015, Red Nose Day has evolved into both a major charitable holiday specifically battling childhood poverty and a pop cultural phenomenon. Each year, in mid-April, Walgreens and Duane Reade stores start selling funny red noses for $2 a piece. All of those proceeds go to The Red Nose Day Fund, managed by Comic Relief USA, an independent nonprofit that shares a name and mission with a longer running U.K. group that for three decades has done its own version of this event. Then in late May, Comcast NBCUniversal airs a block of Red Nose Day branded prime-time programming featuring things like game show takeovers and different funny yet socially minded segments about the cause. That event encourages viewers to call or text in more donations that the fund will redistribute to charities already working on the childhood issue.

Over the last four years, that format has helped raise $150 million for children in poverty, in part because people who buy the noses can post their own selfies and feel like they’re in on the act. For the 2019 event, the nonprofit released five variations of its classic red nose (now dubbed Red). For kids, each one has a super power: For instance, Rojo,........

© Fast Company