2017 Winners

Bully Ads

Canadian Safe School Network

Gold Media Agency of the Year: Touché!

In Canada, one in three kids have experienced some form of bullying. That’s higher than the U.S. and one of the highest in the world. Every year, technology further enables school bullies to extend their torment outside of playgrounds, meaning their victims have few places to escape to.

With little or no media budget, the Canadian Safe School Network tasked agency Touché! with engaging influencers, activists and press outlets with this important message.

The agency’s experience of working in cause-related categories showed that regardless of the message/issue, action and reaction amongst those being targeted is far greater amongst those who have personally experienced it. That would make targeting adults with a message about the relatively modern phenomenon of online bullying even trickier.
That’s when the agency decided that giving influencers a taste of what online bullying feels like would be the core of its media strategy.

The belief was that the influential target audience would be more inclined to take action against bullying if they could feel what bullied victims feel.

Retargeting banners ads already behave like cyber bullies in that they relentlessly follow you everywhere you go. So the agency used that same retargeting ad strategy to send hostile messages to influencers, making them feel what it is like to be bullied first hand.

To do that, the strategy turned three common media behaviours on their heads:

1) The team used one of the most reviled media targeting techniques, cookie retargeting – e.g. those ads that follow you around the internet trying to sell you sneakers you looked at that one time – for good.

2) They broke all the frequency rules of online media – enhancing the bullying effect by uncapping the number of times the target influencers saw the messages.

3) Finally, the ads wouldn’t be emotional messages with the CSSN logo and a call to action on them. They would be obtuse, personal, in-your-face and would have no brand logo or message to indicate where they’d come from.

The team believed that breaking those rules would be the way to meet the business objectives with a very limited budget.

The strategy came to life through three different steps, leveraging data and the power of retargeting:

1) The team sent out an email to CSSN’s network of influencers, activists and PR individuals regarding an upcoming anti-bullying event. Within it, a pixel was placed on the RSVP page a few weeks in advance to give the team a hyper qualified target pool. Once they clicked, they were “cookied.”

2) Days later, the target became the victims. The team targeted Canada’s most popular influencers repeatedly with hostile ad banners, with messages such as “You are ugly” and “Your life is a joke.” These ads had no frequency cap. The influencer “victims” saw as many as 60 bully ads on a given day, recreating the inescapable feeling some kids experience every day. The messages became more intense as the frequency of exposure increased, until the cyber bullying experiment was revealed to the influencers.

3) The influencer “victims” then quickly shared their bullying experience with their followers, with CSSN’s prevention message reaching millions of the Canadian population with little to no budget.

A campaign like this that broke the accepted rules of media targeting meant that finding a willing media partner wasn’t easy. However, AOL, a crusader for online security in its own right, was up for the challenge and a team of tech specialists were put in place to bypass the automated optimization platforms and allow the agency to deliver the message at the extremely high frequency level required.

The strategy to use programmatic to ‘bully’ those who could spread the campaign message paid off.

-The campaign had a big impact on the “victims”: 83% of all targeted bloggers and influencers shared their experience through their blogs. The campaign generated an astonishing 23 million earned impressions.
-Click through rates on the ads were as high as 14% (the category average is 0.01%).
-Finally, donations to CSSN increased by 37% from the previous year – more than three times the objective set before campaign launch.

All of this was only possible by a campaign that broke ‘the rules’ and through sheer passion for the cause, ran roughshod over the media politics and policies that usually come as standard.