The Zombie of Public Awareness Campaigns

According to the National Institutes of Health, 20 percent of Americans sleep less than six hours each night.  This can lead to mistakes in the workplaces, costing American businesses billions of dollars each year.

That’s why the Better Sleep Council (BSC), a trade association representing the mattress industry, declared May as national “Stop Zombieitis!” awareness month.

The BSC sought to use social networks to identify and educate those who complain of the symptoms of “zombieitis” – feeling like death, exhaustion, irritability, and a slow gait.

“Linking sleep deprivation to zombies is a clever idea, especially for a social media campaign,” said Sparklight President Joseph LaMountain.  “Millions are sleep deprived and zombies are a popular online meme, so this was a great opportunity for BSC to reach a wide audience with its messages.”

But that hasn’t really happened.  The campaign website was not intuitive and took several visits to understand.  Their three YouTube videos were seen fewer than 700 times while the “Stop Zombieitis” Facebook group counted fewer than 600 friends and hardly any engagement with members.

“What the BSC discovered is that it takes more than just a clever idea for an awareness campaign to work,” LaMountain said.  “Putting a couple videos online, creating a Facebook page, and hoping that your video goes viral is not the best strategy.”

As representatives of the mattress industry, the BSC could have aggressively reached consumers through retail outlets, manufacturers lists of customers and delivery trucks.  They could have used targeted online advertising (Facebook and Google AdWords) and reached out to niche “horror” blogs to gain traction.

“Social media is a great tool for reaching people,” LaMountain said, “but it’s not enough to simply post your content online and wait for the masses to arrive.  It has to be part of a comprehensive marketing and communications plan if it’s going to work.”

The Future of Advertising?

Some two decades ago, writes Michael Serazio for The Atlantic, in a sly yet silly vignette from Wayne’s World, Mike Myers and Rob Lowe exchange testy remarks about a sponsor’s gauche intrusion into Wayne’s cable access show. Reclining nearby in mullet-to-toe Reebok gear, Garth, Wayne’s companion and co-host, laments, “It’s like people only do things because they get paid. And that’s just really sad.”

This weekend, Morgan Spurlock, documentarian provocateur last seen eating his way to angina in 2004’s Super Size Me, gives that same joke full-length treatment in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a film financed by and about “advertainment”—the increasingly pervasive nexus of commercialization and entertainment.

Knowingly or not, Serazio writes, Spurlock’s wink-wink meta-narrative on promotional culture speaks to a much more serious, simmering crisis of faith in the media industry today. No longer able to depend on traditional institutions of advertising to get their message across, corporations need a vessel. No longer able to depend on the publishing and programming apparatus that long supported them, creators of pop culture need a patron.

And thanks to profound economic and technological transformations, audiences’ ability to filter out advertising from their lives—via TiVo, satellite radio, national Do Not Call registries, spam filters, and the like—may one day result in all content becoming branded content.

On one level, Serazio writes, we have no one but ourselves to blame. The more we steel against marketer entreaty in familiar venues—armed with our DVRs and pop-up blockers—and the more that we refuse to pay for editorial content, be it entertainment or journalistic, the more the media and advertising industries will need to wind up in bed together in order to survive.

And the ongoing development of such branded material could be a harbinger for how these businesses are funded and managed—redefining their roles in, rules for, and relationship to popular content.

But if advertising is, indeed, “geographically imperialistic,” and the growth of word-of-mouth marketing over the past decade is any indication—whereby brands try to seed buzz in our everyday conversations—we may well be facing the next creepy horizon of commercial colonization: “real life product placement.”

A Word About those Clipboard Wielding Hippies

In today’s AdAge, Peter Madden decries the use of “clipboard wielding hippies” for canvassing supporters on the streets of Philadelphia.  The title of his editorial pretty much says it all: “Anti-Social Marketing Makes Me Dislike Your Charity.”

Everyone’s focusing on social media these days.  And in many ways, social media is great because it reduces the barriers to interpersonal communications.  But it doesn’t eliminate them.  And with the high volume of electronic communications being generated today, how else can an organization reach its target audience?

We can all agree that being approached on the street for a donation or petition signature is annoying.  But the simple fact is, these tactics work.  There’s a reason why the Church of Latter Day Saints, with its millions of missionaries, is one of the fastest growing religions in the world.   And why successful politicians spend much of their energy canvassing door-to-door and making thousands of phone calls to potential voters.

The very word evangelism (as in brand evangelist) comes from the early Christian church and their tactic of “going out into the world and spreading the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

The challenge?  These tactics are hard to organize because people are reluctant to volunteer for them.  Believe me, we had a heck of a time recruiting volunteers to participate in Friends of Mimi Carter phone banks in 2008.  But for groups that can pull this off, and make it part of their integrated marketing campaigns, the payoffs can be substantial.

3 Questions You Must Answer

Strategic planning is essential to any marketing and communications initiative.  When working on a new initiative, we always start by asking three basic questions:

1. What Are You Trying to Achieve? – Many groups don’t have clearly defined goals, or have ones that are loosely tied to their mission.  Clearly articulated, mission-specific SMART goals are essential.  Rather than a goal of “helping the homeless” we greatly prefer “enacting a law in 2010 that creates 10 new homeless shelters” or “raising $50,000 in 2010 for temporary housing.”

2. How Will You Achieve Your Goal? – Strategy is like a  road map.  There are many ways to get from point A to B.  Which will you take?  Defining your route ensures prevents costly and time-wasting detours and dead ends.  Just make sure your strategy actually leads to the achievement of your goal, unlike what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2008.

3. What Will You Do? – Once you have a goal and strategy, what tactics will you employ?  Will you start a blog, buy advertising or start a newsletter?  And what can your customers do to spread the word?  As with strategy, make sure your tactics actually achieve your goal and don’t run counter to your strategy like John McCain in 2008.  Media coverage might make you feel good, but if it doesn’t achieve your goal of increasing sales, why bother?

Strategic planning is a critical first step in any campaign.  By developing an integrated campaign along these lines you can significantly increase your chances of success.

Feel Your Boobies: Now That’s Interesting!

A successful grassroots campaign needs many things.  An interesting idea, concept or slogan is one of them.

People pay attention to interesting things and ignore what’s boring.  Sometimes a product name is so interesting that it carries the weight of an entire grassroots campaign.   “Feel Your Boobies” is a good example of what a powerful name can accomplish.

“Feel Your Boobies” was founded in 2004 after 33-year old Leigh Hurst was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She found her lump by simply “feeling her boobies” one day.  To encourage other women to follow suit, she made a t-shirt for friends that simply said “Feel Your Boobies.”

Five years later, the “Feel Your Boobies” t-shirt has sprouted a Foundation with annual revenue of $150,000 and more than 100,000 Facebook followers.  The FYB Foundation has a strong online campaign that helps spread awareness about the importance of breast cancer self-examination and the Foundation.

A lot of this success has to do with the name. According to Leigh, she “didn’t plan on starting a non-profit or campaign, but then when I saw the impact the slogan was having on young women, I realized that there was a purpose and benefit to the way I was promoting self-awareness.”

If Leigh’s original t-shirt had read “Examine Your Breasts Annually” it would be one among many groups raising awareness of cancer.  But now, thanks to the visibility her clever name generated, the Feel Your Boobies campaign has a budget and the ability to reach many more people than their peers.

As Leigh puts it, “many young women tune out messages about breast cancer because they don’t believe they are at risk or the messages are too clinical. We’re here to give you ‘a friendly reminder when you least expect it’. So get feeling girls, and remind a friend to do the same.”

What’s next for the Foundation?  “We’ve been fortunate enough to evolve organically using primarily only money that we raise through our merchandise sales,” Hurst says.  “We’d like to look into licensing opportunities with brands like Victoria’s Secret PINK and other young/hip brands that could work with us on a large national scale.”

You too can also improve your every-day marketing and communications by simply being interesting.  Companies and organizations need personality and irreverence.  I’m not suggesting you need to change your company name or image.  Just that the next time you speak out, spice it up a little bit.

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