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The secrets to creating a powerful PSE (public service experience)

Meet Graham, an example of a powerful public service experience

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Time’s Up. #MeToo. The opioid crisis. The nation is rallying behind these topical tragedies and advocating for change.

The expectation is on cause marketers and private sector brands to take a stance too. As a result, public service campaigns will probably double or triple in the coming year. But to make a difference, these programs must be powerful, original and memorable – strong enough to get attention and produce results. People must ‘experience’ the cause so that it creates a deeper emotional connection and resonates, versus merely being told about its importance.

To determine what creates the best cause marketing campaigns, I analyzed 50 finalists in Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Good in recent years. Then, I overlaid this data with consumer perceptions and research on the neuroscience of behavior change. “The Elements of an Effective Cause Marketing Campaign” was first published in the Harvard Business Review.Recently, I revisited a few campaigns from the last year, and five essential characteristics continue to show up. They are what shape the most memorable campaigns and are what marketers must focus on to make their work effective:

Simple and inspiring messaging. What you call your campaign matters. Each of the winning campaigns had a compelling, straightforward handle. For example, 2017’s Meet Graham. The idea was incredibly simple: What would a human being, designed to survive a car crash at 30 km/h (18.6 mph), look like? Graham was created by a fine artist who worked with a trauma surgeon and car crash investigator. Its purpose was to get drivers to recognize their vulnerability in even low-speed crashes and to commit to reducing road deaths and serious injuries in the next five years.

Strong visual storytelling. Studies show people read only about 20% of today’s web pages and are driven more by an image or short video than they are by a text-based, entirely rational appeal. For example, the Ad Council’s Love has No Labels campaign, a collaborative effort of brands including Coca-Cola, P&G, State Farm, Wells Fargo and Google, focuses on combating bias through love. It’s most recent Veteran’s Day campaign was a strong social and content marketing effort with poignant videos and personal narratives. To date, the campaign boasts broad awareness among about 60% of Americans.

A physical element or exhibit.There’s a place for including a feature that people can experience in the real world. The Arbella Insurance Foundation’s Distractology follows this model. In its 10th year with its 2018 mobile tour underway, the program has trained over 15,000 drivers in the Northeast, teaching them to avoid and ignore road distractions. Distractology’s simulator demonstrates the impact of distracted driving – such as sending a text or taking a selfie. Almost 20% of those who go through the exhibit and online course are less likely to have a major or minor accident and 25% less likely to get a traffic violation.

Strong emphasis on social sharing and earned media.Powerful campaigns don’t rely on one type of storytelling; they provide multiple media types designed specifically for what’s effective in each social channel. Time’s Up does this. After the spread of #MeToo on social channels, hashtag activism exploded and widely covered in the press. Time’s Up, which advocates for victims of sexual harassment or workplace inequality, harnessed this passion and turned talk into action. In addition to active social efforts, the movement launched videos and events that encourage women to tell their personal stories and actively get involved in the movement. It’s worked well too. Millions of dollars have been raised and inspired its first vertical industry effort spinoff, Time’s Up Advertising.

Focus on a big issue coupled with a request for small personal action. The Gun Shop, created for States United to PreventGun Violence, was established to get first-time buyers to think twice before purchasing a gun. The group displayed actual firearms used in a wide range of tragedies. 80% of visitors changed their minds, and the non-profit saw a 1,250% increase in signatures.

Marketers must recognize that these elements add up to PSEs (public service experiences) vs. PSAs (public service announcements). These steps, coupled with a focus on using real stories and real facts will bring a public service campaign to life and inspire action. The appetite is growing for more thought -provoking campaigns, but if brands don’t execute them in new enticing ways, these initiatives will fizzle.

Joe Panepinto, PhD. is a senior vice president and director of strategy at Jack Morton and an adjunct professor at Boston University’s School of Communication

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