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Creating awareness: how do you meet the communication challenge of the century?

It first glance, Spiderman, Gumby and Pokey, and more than 100 milk-mustache-wearing celebrities have nothing in common. But a closer look reveals that the superhero, claymation duo and famous personalities are central to successful awareness programs, one created by AGF Mutual Funds and the other by California milk processors.

Creating awareness is an important first step toward building audience understanding, influencing opinion and motivating behaviour. But there's a lot more than meets the eye to executing a successful awareness campaign and a lot more to it than enlisting the help of recognizable faces. Commanding audience attention is not as easy as it might appear.


Over-communication is a way of life. Information bombards the senses from every conceivable source, every waking moment of the day. Communication channels have mushroomed. Not only are there more choices within mediums, but also more mediums to choose from.

At the end of 2002, global use of the Internet was pegged at more than 600 million people--a number that increases every day. At 500,000 words, it would take the average person 28 hours to read a Sunday edition of The New York limes. An 8-ounce container of cereal carries about 1,500 words of copy, and General Motors spends US$365,000 a day to promote Chevrolet in the U.S. market. A 30-second commercial on the popular sitcom 'Friends" costs an average of US$455,700, followed closely by "ER" and "Survivor." But if any old prime time slot will do, the average cost for 30 seconds of airtime is US$115,799.

And that's just the external environment. The internal environment is no less inundated. The competition for share of mind has never been greater. Yet the channels are congested and only a tiny fraction of messages actually get through. Make no mistake, the human mind is capable of holding only so much information.


Communicators are face to face with an important challenge: In an information-overloaded society, how do you command attention in a way that creates and anchors awareness? Much of the advertising industry's success has been guided by these seven principles.

1. Without research, you're only guessing. Alice's Cheshire cat said, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will do." The success or failure of awareness campaigns depends on the skill of the strategist to clearly understand the audience-who they are, what they think and how to influence their perceptions. Brand gurus call this "finding a window into the mind."

Enter audience research, Although there is much controversy about the validity of research and different methods, so far no one has come up with a better idea. How do you know what the audience thinks? You ask. How do you know what will influence choice? You study. How do you know whether the message is meaningful and memorable? You test.

2. Answer the question "What's in it for me?" Competing for audience attention is not for the faint of heart. People come in all shapes and sizes, with pre-conceived ideas and opinions that influence your ability to deliver a message.

The human mind operates like a computer, with one important difference: A computer accepts whatever you key into it. The mind does not. The human mind rejects information that doesn't match prior knowledge or experience. The easiest way to create awareness is to build on something that is already familiar. Make it relevant. Make it real. Make it personal. Effective communication answers "What's in it for me?" or "Why should I care?"

3. People respond to emotion. Forget the logic. Find the emotional hot buttons. Make the audience feel something.

Logic-based communication presents the facts but does not engage the audience. Ideas that create an emotional experience build a personal connection with each individual. Awareness is more easily gained if you can touch the audience with a memory. Effective communication first speaks to the heart. The head and hands will follow.

4. Keep the creative focus on strategy. Develop a creative brief to keep you focused. A creative brief links the strategy to the creative execution of the messages. It is here that all the analytical thinking is transformed into razor-sharp direction that becomes a foundation for the creative idea that will drive the message home.

Completing a creative brief is easy, providing you've done your homework:

* Why are you communicating?

* What is the strategy trying to achieve?

* Who are you talking to?

* What do you know about them?

* What do they think?

* What do you want them to think?

5. Less is more. Keep the idea simple and the execution free of clutter and verbosity. The reading vocabulary of the average person is about 8,000 words. The speaking vocabulary is less. Add limited time and competing agendas to the mix and there is no doubt that only the strong survive. Cutting through the clutter depends heavily on the writer's ability to serve up a sharply focused message that gets right to the point.

6. Align the media with the audience. Use a rifle, not a shotgun. With all the noise in the environment, getting the right message to the right audience has never been as challenging. The strategy? Be selective in the choice of media vehicles and channels.

Segment the market, define the audience and find out where they live. What are their media habits--favourite magazines, television programs, radio preferences? Are they likely to be online? Would you find your audience at a football game, in a coffee shop or both?

7. Once is never enough. Frequency builds top-of-mind awareness. Audiences must receive the same message a minimum of four times before it starts to sink in.

Combining above-and below-the-line tactics, use a variety of vehicles to deliver the message. A multimedia campaign anchored by television might be supported by outdoor and print. But don't stop there. Reinforce the program with media relations and special events.

Visible, consistent messages delivered over an extended period of time are more likely to be noticed and remembered. That is why people choose Heinz[R] over other ketchup or Kleenex[R] over other brands of tissue. The audience is constantly reminded to think of the brand name first. The same principle holds true for awareness initiatives.


Picture Spiderman in full costume on a golf course cursing a sand trap just over the next hill. Two seniors are nodding their heads in understanding as Spiderman stomps off, golf club in hand. The announcer presents the idea: "Eventually everyone retires--even superheroes."

This AGF Mutual Funds campaign was designed to create an awareness of retirement options among Canadians aged 50-plus, and portrayed such cultural icons as Gumby and Pokey, Spiderman and Santa Claus as new retirees.

Like most successful campaigns, this one was research-based. The audience believed that if they hadn't already put enough money away for their retirement, it was too late to start. Toronto-based AGF wanted to deliver a message to the contrary: it's never too late or too early to start saving for retirement.

With a targeted message delivered by familiar and fondly remembered characters, AGF was able to build awareness of its brand in the highly competitive mutual funds market. Five years ago, unaided awareness of the company polled between 3 and 6 percent. By 2001, it had jumped to 68 percent. AGF is now tied with Fidelity as the No. 1 mutual fund company in Canada.


Got Milk?[R] is an American classic. Almost everyone who has seen the campaign has a favourite ad. Yours might be the one that shows a history buff with a mouth full of peanut butter who loses US$10,000 in a radio contest because he's run out of milk and can't say "Aaron Burr." Or, perhaps it is the minister who stuffs himself with devil's-food cake and then becomes violently upset because the vending machine won't give up milk.

Desperation might seem like a strange emotion to portray, but it represents the strategic underpinning for one of the most successful awareness campaigns.

What is it about this campaign that commands attention regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic position? The answer comes from a place where regular people, with all their longings and obsessions, are reminded just how bad the world would be without milk. Can you imagine pouring apple juice on cereal or dunking cookies in iced tea? Got Milk? works for one simple reason: It is relevant and meaningful.

Milk once dominated the beverage business. It was fresh, natural, readily available and affordable, and its only competition was orange juice and tap water.


Focused on the supply side, the industry became complacent and put the business on autopilot. But times changed. More women began working outside the home, families were eating out more often and people were experimenting with other beverages. Fewer meals were served at the kitchen table, and milk was one of the casualties.

The industry also ignored two little companies: Coca-Cola and McDonald's. Coke was focused on making its soft drink the No. 1 choice of consumers around the world, while McDonald's launched the fast-food war, diverting hundreds of millions of meals away from the kitchen counter to the restaurant counter. People were not likely to drink milk while wolfing down fries. The competition for "share of mouth" was heating up, and milk was losing.

In 1993, the milk processors of California decided to take charge of their destiny and formed the California Milk Processor Board. The board was tasked with finding an advertising agency to create a campaign to increase Californians' milk consumption. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco won the account using just two presentation boards. One read "Milk Deprivation" and the other read "Got Milk?"

The campaign kicked off with a commercial that caught the reaction of an unassuming milk-deprived audience. The agency's refrigerator was emptied of milk, a hole was cut in the back wall and a video camera was installed. Dozens of people, used to starting their day with cereal, were left stranded without milk. Dozens more, mouths full of cookies or brownies, found that their afternoon snack had been destroyed. Their reaction ran raw and unedited, and at the end of the spot, the "Got Milk?" tagline appeared.


In 1994, celebrities began sporting the now-famous milk mustache in print ads. This campaign, jointly funded by U.S. fluid milk processors and American dairy farmers, has increased awareness of milk by showcasing more than a hundred celebrities in the eight years since. Consistent use of the Got Milk? positioning statement has not only helped the product regain awareness but also firmly positioned it as a top beverage of choice, increasing national sales.

In July 2002, media reported that milk drinking among teen-agers increased for the first time in six years. Annual milk consumption per capita among teens in 2001 reached 22 gallons, a 3 percent increase from 2000. This rise signals a significant upturn, considering that milk consumption by teens has steadily declined for the last two decades. In addition, milk's share of the teen market increased from 23.4 percent in 2000 to 25.1 percent in 2001.

Another study comparing the Got Milk? campaign to other popular beverages showed that mega-brands such as Coke, Pepsi and Budweiser generated less than 17 percent recall of their taglines among consumers. By contrast, Got Milk? was remembered by 50 percent.

The campaign's success can be attributed to creativity and continuity. The slogan mentions the product by name. It is short and memorable, has a strong call to action and reinforces the message conveyed in all communication vehicles.

RELATED ARTICLE: Our program speaks for itself.

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Claire Watson, ABC, APR, is director of corporate communication for Farm Credit Canada, Canada's largest agricultural term lender, based in Regina, Saskatchewan. She can be reached at
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Author:Watson, Claire
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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