A Holiday Campaign That Serves the Public Well

Like any holiday, big or small, Independence Day creates for marketers an opportunity to gain consumer attention. But just as a seasonal bridal gown sample sale may seem like a good idea at first, the result is usually a mêlée that leaves everyone fully drained, somewhat bruised, and often empty-handed.

Because so many brands use major holidays as validation for launching special offers and time-sensitive promotions, this type of campaign planning takes extra effort. You have to bring a little more to the (picnic) table in order to cut through the clutter. It isn’t about exploiting a cultural event or pledging false – and therefore inevitably transparent – allegiances, as these could harm the perception of your brand. It’s about capitalizing on the mentality of the masses in a way that’s justified.


This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) launched a multi-channel Fourth of July public service campaign that’s ideally suited to the holiday. Together with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Ad Council, the organization set out to educate consumers about food safety, particularly in relation to the summer pastime of cooking and eating outdoors. At the heart of the campaign is a four-pronged message to safe food handling: clean, separate, cook, chill.

JWT New York, which worked pro bono to develop the web, TV, print, radio, and social media creative, was tasked with producing a campaign that gelled with the associations of the holiday while also achieving its important purpose. Few other holidays represent as appropriate a backdrop for a message about food safety in terms of relevance and timing, and this came through to the consumer. Delivering the campaign when interest in the topic is naturally at its highest not only engenders consumer interest and adds impact to the message, but it helps to endear the advertiser – who clearly understands the collective mindset – to consumers.


A well-scheduled campaign does not, however, a success make. There has to be more to the strategy than relevance alone, and that’s where irreverence comes into play. To hold its own in the holiday advertising fray, a campaign must be able to differentiate itself. One way to do this is through humor.

While the underlying message of the Food Safe Families campaign is far from funny (food poisoning affects some 48 million Americans every year), the way in which it’s represented is certainly intended to make consumers laugh. Through tongue-in-cheek ad copy and creative that features amusing literal representations of the four food safety steps, the advertiser is able to deliver its missive in a way that consumers are sure to remember.

In one video that’s running on TV as well as on the USDA Food Safety’s YouTube channel, a woman orders a live chicken to stay on one side of the room while relegating a bunch of raw carrots to the other. The message: separate raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards. Associating this rule with a visual that stays with consumers increases the chances that they’ll follow it. It also significantly boosts the video’s viral potential online.



The target audience for the Food Safe Families campaign is English- and Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers who cook on a regular basis, and through JWT New York as well as The Ad Council’s publisher partnerships FSIS could rest assured that these consumers would be reached. Among the publishers who committed to support the online creative was MSNBC, but banners are also running on numerous ad networks and sites that donated ad space for the cause. “The goal of the Food Safe Families campaign is to raise awareness of the risks of food poisoning and motivate consumers, particularly parents, to take specific actions to…keep their families healthy,” says Ellyn Fisher, VP of PR and social media for The Ad Council. “The campaign needed to give them accurate and specific steps to take, and a reason to do so.”

Another way this was achieved is through social media and a presence on both Facebook and Twitter. Both platforms are being used to provide additional food safety tips while inviting users to explore the campaign (“Happy July 4! Keep it happy by not serving those burgers rare. Cook ’em to 160 deg”).


Whether you’re promoting a new product or a public service cause, employing these strategies can help to differentiate your holiday campaign. But be careful. If the association makes sense, consumers will reward you for it. If it doesn’t, well, your brand could be cooked.

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