ABC turns to talking posters for literacy message

The challenge
Faced with the challenge of boosting business at Toronto-based literacy foundation ABC Canada, strategists at TAXI knew they had to think laterally to come up with a campaign that would fly with the five million illiterate people in Canada.

The challenge

Faced with the challenge of boosting business at Toronto-based literacy foundation ABC Canada, strategists at TAXI knew they had to think laterally to come up with a campaign that would fly with the five million illiterate people in Canada.

ABC set two goals. The first, and most important, was to talk to people who could benefit from the programs that the foundation offers. According to ABC, fewer than 10% of Canadians who could benefit are currently enrolled, so this campaign aimed to boost that figure.

Secondly, the foundation wanted to reach the general public and raise awareness of the problem of illiteracy in Canada.

Adding to the challenge was the fact that as a registered charity, ABC relies on donations of media space, so media options were limited.

The strategy

Working pro bono, Toronto-based TAXI began with research to find out more about the issue of illiteracy and establish the best way to reach the target. Agency members visited a number of literacy programs and spent time talking to learners. They also reviewed research carried out by ABC on how learners feel about programs.

‘We found out that there is a great fear associated with adult literacy classes,’ says Zak Mroueh, creative director at TAXI. ‘Adults hate the idea of returning to a school-like environment, so we had to try and break through that barrier.’

TAXI decided that TV was the best medium to achieve this goal and avoid the barrier of written words. By creating a realistic depiction of a literacy class, the agency was able to speak directly to the learners using visual images.

To achieve its second goal of general-public awareness, TAXI will use image-driven print ads. Finally, as a means of drawing the public into the campaign and attracting media attention, the agency designed a one-off talking poster. This was supported by a press launch designed to attract free publicity via mainstream publications.

‘The different media components we have used work really well together to achieve the two different goals,’ explains Mroueh.

The execution

Toronto’s King St. subway station was chosen as the location to launch the interactive poster through a partnership with Viacom’s TDI and the Toronto Transit Commission. ‘This is a very high-impact feature that fits into the overall strategy of the campaign,’ says Mroueh. ‘This is a particularly good place to reach a high volume of people.’

The life-size poster features a blank piece of foolscap with a red button in the center. When a passerby presses the button, a voice recording explains that there are no words on the ad because ‘five-million adult Canadians would not be able to read them.’

The poster, which was launched on July 26, will remain in the station until late September. The platform will then be used to kick off the new print campaign, which features a piece of foolscap paper with the pale blue lines transformed into a maze, a brick wall or bars.

Use of the talking poster may also be expanded to other major markets in Canada.

TAXI has also sent the print ads to every major consumer publication in the country in the hope of scooping up as much ad space as possible. Outdoor billboards will be used on a smaller scale, as those ads are designed to target people who can already read.

The TV spot will be aired across the country thanks to ad space donated by individual stations and the Canadian Cable Television Association. Both the :30 and :60 versions feature the experience of one individual in the literacy program.

‘We came up with the idea for a very real-life depiction after conducting our research,’ says TAXI media planner Maxine Thomas. ‘It is a way of communicating the point that help is available in an inviting environment.’

Thomas says the ad will continue to run as long as possible, making use of any new donated space.

The results

It’s still early days, but according to ABC, the response has been very positive so far, both from the consumer media and the general public. Two articles featuring the talking billboard have appeared in The Toronto Star and a third was published in the Toronto Sun, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of exposure.

‘It’s not often that a charity can be on the leading edge of an advertising initiative,’ says ABC director of communications Alexandra Dunsmuir. ‘Everyone has been saying what a novel concept it is. [Illiterate people are] a very difficult target to reach, but this campaign is already making an impact on the word-weary general public.’

Many TV channels, including CBC and Discovery, have already agreed to feature the TV spots and Dunsmuir anticipates a significant increase in calls as a result of the ads. ‘Around 95% of our callers say that their decision to call was influenced by an advertisement,’ she says, ‘so we are hoping these spots will lead to a big response.’