6 Must-Haves for Your Social Marketing Campaign

We’re excited to be partnering with the Ad Council to bring you this post from their blog AdLibbing!

Since I first joined the Ad Council in 2006, I’ve seen the world of both paid advertising and social marketing evolve exponentially. While this growth has resulted in countless opportunities to spread the word, increase engagement and drive social change, it can be challenging at times to break through all of the noise and clutter. We follow best practices to help ensure that our campaigns will have the greatest impact, which may be helpful as you implement your own communications programs.

Do your research–know the issue and target

Before developing a communications strategy, make sure you understand the issue at hand. Be as comprehensive as possible (within reason and budget) and work as much of the following into your initial research phase:

  • Conduct an audit of issue-related data and past campaigns
  • Conduct interviews with the target audience to get a better sense of their current mindset, existing barriers, and potential motivators
  • Conduct interviews with experts to hear different perspectives

For our Children’s Oral Health campaign, we set out to develop a national PSA campaign that would educate underserved parents about the importance of good oral care, and motivate them to help their kids have healthy mouths.

Through our initial literature review of the issue and discussions with leading dental organizations, we learned key background information that spoke to the breadth of the issue. For example, dental decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease in the U.S.

Our challenge was to find a way into the lives of these extremely busy, overwhelmed parents, and get this issue on their radar, so we performed exploratory research to learn more about the target, including:

  • One-on-one interviews with lower income parents
  • Quantitative message testing
  • Interviews with pediatric dentists

Identify one simple message

While the world of advertising and marketing has changed significantly over the years, the fundamentals of driving social impact remain the same: take an extremely complex issue  and create a single-minded message that motivates people to change their behaviors.

Using key learnings from our research, we work with our volunteer agencies to develop creative briefs for each campaign that lead us to that one simple message. For Children’s Oral Health, we identified a clear call-to-action = backed by oral health experts: “make sure your kids brush their teeth for two minutes, twice a day,” or “2min2x.”

Develop compelling content

Creative needs to be compelling in order to be memorable. With our Children’s Oral Health campaign, our ad agencies Grey and Wing developed a concept that drives home a key insight that’s both entertaining and highly relevant to parents: kids spend time doing silly things like watching goofy online videos or dressing up their dog, Spike. Surely they have time to brush their teeth. These charming PSAs acted as the foundation for a fully integrated campaign.

Test! Get feedback from external creatives and your intended target

The more research and input, the better. Leverage your organization’s board members who may have contacts in the advertising or creative industries to gain outside feedback during creative development. And, if budget permits, conduct focus groups with the target to ensure that the creative idea is clear and motivating.

In the case of our Children’s Oral Health campaign, the creative idea and messaging were all backed by an advisory panel of creative executives in the advertising industry and by consumer qualitative testing. So, we were confident that our creative would resonate.

Leverage platforms that reach and engage your target

With the growth of digital and social media, opportunities to communicate your message are endless. Determine whether you want to go far and wide, narrow and deep–or both! We have found that surrounding the primary target audience with the main message gives us the greatest chance to move people.

With our core message, “Brush two minutes, twice a day,” we expanded the Children’s Oral Health program to various touch points ideal for generating broad exposure as well as reaching our core target, including: an in-school curriculum, a mobile game app called Toothsavers, an SMS campaign, and working with celebrities who resonate with our target, such as Laila Ali.

We’ve also identified opportunities to creatively tie the campaign messaging to key times of year.  For instance, we created National Brush Day (November 1st) to play off of existing discussions about sugary Halloween candy and redirect parents’ focus to healthy teeth.

Establish KPIs and evaluate regularly

Our evaluation framework includes measuring exposure, recognition, engagement, and impact. While the framework is consistent across campaigns, the KPIs are unique to the objectives of each initiative.

We look at a number of variables for Children’s Oral Health, including results for each individual program within the campaign. Our ultimate goals are to increase the duration and frequency of brushing–which tie back directly to the call-to-action. We field tracking surveys to measure these key goals. And the good news is, in just one year, we’re already moving the needle.

Our campaign website has received over 1.7 million visitors, and the Toothsavers app has been downloaded over 120,000 times. Over half of all parents we surveyed had seen or heard our ads. And, most important, we’ve significantly increased the percentage of parents in our target who report that their child is brushing at least twice a day and for two minutes.


Megan Sigesmund is a Campaign Director at the Ad Council, responsible for overseeing the development, implementation, and evaluation of several fully integrated PSA campaigns, websites and social media programs. Campaigns include Autism Speaks’ Autism Awareness campaign, the EPA’s Childhood Asthma campaign, the Children’s Oral Health campaign, Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Disaster Relief initiatives.