Ad Council Goes Social Route to Prevent High School Dropouts

Online ad prices may be going up, but the Advertising Council, which just launched an extension of its high school dropout prevention campaign, gets them free from the likes of Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and Google. In conjunction with WPP’s JWT New York, the Council has launched an extension of its ongoing effort to keep kids in school via a new Web site and the most social media-friendly effort to date for the ongoing campaign.

In addition to traditional media components, the campaign involves mobile text messaging, display ads and search, as well as Web video and social media placements on MySpace, Facebook and YouTube.

“What really drove it this year [with JWT] was going where the kids are,” said Ad Council SVP Interactive Services Barbara Shimaitis. Though the U.S. Army-sponsored high school dropout prevention initiative has been online for years, it’s become more communal and interactive recently, especially since the Council began working with JWT on the project three years ago.

“Up until three years ago it was a very static campaign, very traditional Web site fulfillment,” said Shimaitis.

Now Facebook, MySpace and YouTube feature profile pages and content dedicated to the so-called “Boost Up” campaign. The profile pages and the BoostUp.org site feature stories and videos about ten kids who may not graduate with their high school classes in 2008 as a result of troubles with drugs, pregnancy, abuse, or other barriers. The teens, chosen by JWT, have been given disposable video cameras to record moments in their lives related to their school struggles.

Content including those videos and commentary from the social sites will be included on the BoostUp site, according to Shimaitis. “We’re trying to be as true as we possibly can as far as the content goes�. We’re trying really hard to let go of control,” she said, adding only offensive content involving racism or profanity will be removed.

Comments on the MySpace profile urge the Boost crew to stay in school, though some are less direct than others, such as one that exclaims, “WHAT UP BOOST UP! It’s Mike G! Spreadin’ the word like wild fire!”

In addition to sending encouraging notes to the teens from the campaign, friends, parents and other supporters of at-risk youth can send inspiration via text and e-mail to anyone through the BoostUp site. “Give Kiara the boost to graduate. Send her a message at BoostUp.org,” reads a banner ad currently running online to promote the initiative.

According to Shimaitis, the Ad Council has access to donated Web media from many of the top ad networks. In Q2 of this year, more than 400 million impressions of older ads for the high school dropout effort ran on the Web, Shimaitis told ClickZ News.

Like a pro bono upfront, in the beginning of each year online media outlets such as MSN, Yahoo, AOL or large ad networks commit inventory or dollar amounts to be dedicated to Ad Council ads.

“That helps us with our media planning,” said Shimaitis, who added the Council’s media team also conducts outreach efforts to garner donated ad placements. Sponsors of Ad Council campaigns are provided with reports on ad impressions, sites ads ran on, click-through rates and other data.

Always the high school dropout prevention initiative sponsor, the U.S. Army flips the bill for hard campaign costs such as ad production. Through the sponsorship, the Army aims to promote education.

When campaigns first launch, they’re more likely to be picked up by media outlets, Shimaitis said. Today, for example, a search on Google for “High school drop out” results in a top sponsored link to the BoostUp site. “Teach kids the importance of their education. Learn how you can help,” notes the ad, provided through the Google Grant program.

Interactive elements of the Boost campaign will continue to expand, with a “Countdown to Graduation” widget for inclusion on Facebook pages, set to launch at the end of January.

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