Recently, Ogilvy PR launched a national campaign called Girlfriends for Folate (GFF), which is designed to educate women of reproductive age about the importance of folate and folic acid (synthetic folate). Folate helps regenerate cells, and importantly, it also helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects (birth defects of the brain or spine).
While the GFF campaign targeted all women of reproductive age (18-45 years old), a special focus was placed on reaching women between the ages of 18-24, who represent nearly half of all unintended pregnancies in the U.S. Unfortunately, these women also have a very low awareness of folate/folic acid and why it’s important.
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Maternal Child Health assessed undergraduate student awareness of issues related to preconception health. Unsurprisingly, undergraduates had a much higher awareness of dangers associated with substance abuse and STDs than they did about the importance of folic acid. Only 36 percent of females correctly identified that folic acid has been proven effective in reducing the risk of neural tube defects and when asked to select from a list of things that were dangerous during pregnancy, 23 percent of participants checked folic acid!
So our challenge was big – how do we reach young women with an important preconception health message that will resonate with them given that pregnancy is the furthest thing from many of their minds? Here are a few tips, I’d like to share based on this recent campaign:
Speak Their Language: From the campaign’s inception, we tried to find ways to speak to young women in a language that would resonate with them. The name, Girlfriends for Folate, was chosen for two reasons. First, the campaign name’s acronym – ‘GFF’ – was a natural play on the popular acronym ‘BFF’. Secondly, the word ‘Girlfriends’ was chosen for a specific reason. Research shows that women are likely to share important health information with their friends, and we wanted to encourage women to pass along our message from one girlfriend to another.
The Right Spokesperson: It’s well known that young women are influenced by role models – especially celebrities. However, if the celebrity is not authentic and is not a fit for the campaign message, then the message isn’t going to resonate. Girlfriends for Folate featured TV personality and actress Vanessa Minnillo. What made Vanessa a great spokesperson was her passion for the topic and how she could relate to the message in her life. While she’s busy planning her wedding, she’s not ready to have children, but she is of reproductive age and wants to be prepared for this future event. Additionally, given Vanessa’s MTV background, she knows how to speak to young women and talked to them in their language by asking them to be her ‘GFF’ and help spread the word to their girlfriends.
Engage Women in a Relevant Cause: Research shows that the new generation of young women is eager to get behind a cause and contribute to society in a meaningful way. To engage young women in the Girlfriends for Folate campaign, a spirited cause-related competition was created. For every woman who visits www.girflriendsforfolate.com and becomes a GFF, $1 up to $25,000 will be given to the March of Dimes March for Babies, the organization’s largest fundraiser that raises funds to improve the health of babies. The U.S. region with the most “GFFs,” will get to walk with Vanessa at a local March for Babies walk and the GFF who raises the most money for March for Babies fundraiser will receive a special prize. The cause incentive is enabling us to engage women in learning more about folate and become involved in helping to spread an important public health message.
Be Present Where Young Women Already Are: We knew that reaching young women with a public health message would be challenging, so we wanted to make sure that we were in places where they normally visit and share information with girlfriends. As a result, it was a natural fit for the GFF campaign to live on Facebook where women are already accustomed to participating in challenges and causes. Additionally, the team partnered with the popular online destination and trendsetter, DailyCandy, to promote the contest to its young readership through dedicated e-mails and banner ads.
Target Media That Your Audience is Consuming: We knew that our public health message would be appealing to health reporters; however, we also knew that our audience was not reading newspapers, trades and newsweeklies. As a result, we placed special attention on reaching out to celebrity, lifestyle and women’s-focused outlets by highlighting the different elements in our campaign that were relevant to young women. The strategy was extremely successful resulting in stories and campaign-branded photos featured in People, US and Parade magazines, as well as segments on Access Hollywood Live, Rachel Ray and Fox & Friends.
The Girlfriends for Folate campaign is still ongoing, so if after reading this, you would like to become my GFF (and Vanessa’s), please visit http://girlfriendsforfolate.com.