From nuclear power to pistachio nuts, many industries have launched sustained national advertising campaigns—with varying results. PCI has partnered with the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) since 2011 in a highly effective annual Advanced Biofuel Initiative, or ABI—a national educational campaign to increase awareness and promote the use of biodiesel. Here are five things other industries can learn from NBB’s campaign.
If you are not already engaged in an awareness campaign for your industry, you’re probably at least thinking about one. Industries ranging from nuclear power to pistachio nuts have been promoted through professional, sustained, nationwide advertising campaigns. Some of the resulting slogans – notoriously, “got milk?” and “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner” have even entered the popular lexicon.
Not all industry awareness campaigns have succeeded, however. Competition for the attention of key audiences is intense. Breaking through requires a powerful strategy, great execution, and patience. For every “got milk?” there are many other campaigns that have been forgotten or abandoned along the way.
In 2011 the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) – the national membership association for those who produce an alternative fuel for diesel engines from soybean oil and other renewable sources – launched its Advanced Biofuel Initiative, or ABI, a national educational campaign designed to increase awareness and promote the use of biodiesel. Here are five things other industries can learn from the NBB’s campaign – modest in size but highly effective in meeting its industry’s goals.
1. Go All In.
There are no two ways about it. If you want your campaign to be seen, you are going to have to pay for advertising; and advertising is expensive. Getting the placements you want at the times you want them is going to come at a price. An industry campaign of any size is going to require an annual investment of several million dollars in media. Any less is not going to deliver your message with sufficient reach and frequency to “move the needle” in awareness. Your industry must be prepared to make a commitment of that size.
The reason for this is simple – few people will take notice of or remember an ad until they have seen it several times. An industry maxim is “seven times in seven ways” – meaning that a consumer must receive information many times over, and in several different forms, before action is likely to result.
The good news is that most industry awareness campaigns are a form of cooperative advertising, through which multiple members of the industry pool their resources so that the burden does not fall too heavily on any one company. Various mechanisms have been established for this. The recreation vehicle industry’s “Go RVing” campaign is primarily supported by an assessment upon new units built by Recreation Vehicle Industry Association members, while the “REALTOR®” campaign depends on an annual special assessment paid by all members of the National Association of Realtors.
The Advanced Biofuel Initiative was funded in large part through a collaborative of national and state soybean and canola checkoff programs, the National Soybean Checkoff program, an assessment collected when soybeans are sold. Per bean, the cost is low; in aggregate there is enough to provide the NBB with a pot large enough to support a respectable national ad buy.
2. Do Your Research.
Market research has its limitations – it has been pointed out that focus groups gave us “New Coke.” But when a messaging campaign really needs to hit home, it can be well worth the effort to find out where your audience is living.
The “got milk?” campaign was born of market research. Milk producers had poured millions into commodity advertising stressing that milk was “good for you,” but the results were poor. The reason, revealed by research, is that well more than 90% of consumers already believed milk was healthy. What they were forgetting was how good milk can be with peanut butter, cookies, and other essentials.
The NBB also conducted market research before implementing the Advanced Biofuel Initiative. The findings had a dramatic impact upon the direction and content of the advertising that followed. Consumers and influencers alike, the research showed, thought biodiesel was a fine idea. They just didn’t believe it was real. It would be crucial for the awareness messaging to demonstrate that biodiesel was a real, practical fuel that was already displacing more than a billion gallons of fossil fuel every year. The resulting campaign was simplified to place less emphasis on enumerating the benefits of biodiesel and much more on the fact that biodiesel is “here, now.” The theme continues into the third year of the campaign.
Effective ad campaigns answer two basic questions very clearly: #1, who are we talking to? and #2, what do we want them to do? The more specific and limited the answers in each case, the more effective a campaign at any level of spending can be.
This can be a huge challenge in a cooperative advertising campaign, where multiple funders may have multiple ideas about what audiences must be reached and what messages must be delivered. But it pays to be a little ruthless about targeting.
The more funds you can concentrate upon those people who really matter, the more likely you will reach them with sufficient frequency to make a difference in their attitude. The cleaner your message, the more likely that it will get through.
The NBB has been particularly clear about its focus for the Advanced Biofuel Initiative. From the beginning, the campaign was targeted at “affluent news seekers in the Mid-Atlantic” – those judged by ABI stakeholders to be the most influential, or conversely the most detrimental, to industry goals to make biodiesel an ever-more-important contributor to the country’s energy supply and energy security. Clear targeting enables the NBB to concentrate on television, radio, and print outlets that are most likely to attract this audience. A finite ad budget goes further because it can be devoted to programs like Face the Nation and Meet the Press and to publications like Politico and The Hill, rather than to more general – and expensive – venues.
4. Call Them to Action.
As an outcome, “awareness” is not specific enough, even for an awareness campaign. A target audience can become aware of something, and still fail to take action or change behavior as a result. A truly effective campaign will motivate the target audience to do – or stop doing – something.
The Advanced Biofuel Initiative was designed to educate its audience and to secure biodiesel’s role as a part of the country’s long-term energy picture. But the ABI campaign needed a more immediate call to action. Television, radio, print, and online ads urge policymakers and consumers to “Visit AmericasAdvancedBiofuel.org to learn more.” There, they can explore information about biodiesel in much greater detail than could be included in any advertisement.
5. Measure Your Results.
It is notoriously difficult to measure the impact of any advertising campaign. Traditionally, advertisers have relied on “impressions,” the number of people who should have been exposed to the campaign in any particular medium. Impressions, of course, do not necessarily translate to any measurable increase in sales or positive perceptions. Too many other factors are at work. Other types of direct measurement, such as telephone surveys, can in some cases cost more than the advertising they are designed to measure.
Still, the funders of an industry awareness campaign deserve and will likely demand to know whether their money is going to good use. Luckily, the advent of digital advertising has made it easier to track consumer behavior. Individual landing pages or special phone numbers can be set up and aligned with different ads, so that it is possible to tell which media investments are driving the most visits to the microsite or call center. The National Biodiesel Board was able to demonstrate a 9% increase in awareness of biodiesel among key audience members as a result of the Advanced Biofuel Initiative’s inaugural year.
Finally and above all, it’s important to remember that your campaign will be facing heavy competition for the attention of your key audience members. Your industry awareness spots or ads will be fighting with those of many other industries – not to mention the best commercial advertising for products and services – to make an impact. Yours will have to stand out, and be as good as or better than the best Madison Avenue has to offer.
For that reason, it does not pay to scrimp. You need outstanding creative concepts, punchy copy, unique photography, edgy graphic design, and superior film production if your campaign is going to get noticed. You don’t want to spend the tens of thousands it takes to secure favorable media placements and then run ho-hum or amateurish material.
PCI has been privileged to conduct market research, produce the television, print, and digital assets for all three years of the Advanced Biofuel Initiative, and to design the microsite for 2012 and 2013 as well. In the first year, streets in Dallas were shut down to film scenes with city fire trucks, school buses, and city vehicles operating on biodiesel blends. In 2012 an automotive- style ad showed a biodiesel-powered vehicle that set the world land speed record for pickup trucks traversing a raceway, in order to demonstrate the high performance possible with biodiesel. The 2013 ABI campaign introduces an ominous world without choices, to suggest that dependence upon petroleum as the only source of transportation fuel makes America vulnerable. The commercial spot, which will debut on major networks in June 2013, was filmed on location in Baltimore and Washington, DC. In each year, the National Biodiesel Board has received distinctive, creative advertising that has been able to make a measurable difference in the perceptions of its key target audience.
Not every industry needs or can fund an industry awareness campaign. Those who have done them right – including the dairy, realty, recreation vehicle, and biodiesel industries – have found them to be of lasting benefit.