Progressive Group Deploys Web Video and Mobile Student Debt Effort

The proverbial glass ceiling may be preventing women from career advancement, but in its just-launched “Debt Hits Hard” campaign, the Center for American Progress is using other invisible barriers to symbolize obstacles caused by student debt. The organization’s youth-oriented division, Campus Progress, is running interactive video banners targeted to .edu domains, and has incorporated a mobile component to the campaign.

“Most of our students are dealing with some sort of finance burden having to do with education, so for us it was a natural step,” said Emily Hawkins, issue campaign manager for Campus Progress, a group reaching out to college students to promote issues important to the political left, such as climate change. “Clearly [online video is] the kind of media that these students are paying attention to,” she added.

Klipmart video spots running on The Washington Post and Slate.com sites allow users to watch all three 30-second video creatives and submit their e-mail addresses and zip codes. In one spot, a high school student slams into a transparent barricade when trying to enter his guidance counselor’s office to discuss college plans. “Between 2001 and 2010, 2 million academically qualified students will not go to college because they can’t afford it,” explains an announcer. In another, an invisible shield prevents a young man from smooching his would-be fiancé.

In addition to the .edu-targeted video banners, Flash ads are being served to 18-30 year-olds through the SpecificMedia ad network. The Web ads started Monday and will run through if not beyond election day, according to Hawkins.

Emily Hawkins, issue campaign manager for Campus Progress, admits older demographic segments are also interested in the student debt issue. However, “They’re not necessarily the people who are going to be engaged in the actual campaign,” she said, noting the objective is to reach “the people who could use this as a rallying point.”

The video spots, also viewable on YouTube and other sites, prompt people to text the word “debt” to 30644 to get involved with the effort. Mobile messengers soon receive a text response directing them to reply with their e-mail addresses and zip codes to “tell Congress to take action.” The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of financial aid services in low-income communities, cut student loan interest rates and raise the Pell Grant minimum.

The text element may have the most impact when it comes to the movie theater ads the group began running last week in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Columbus, St. Louis, and Nashville. “The idea was to give a call to action,” said Michael Bassik, VP Internet advertising MSHC Partners, a political consulting firm that helped develop and produce the campaign’s mobile and Web components. ‘”It’s much more rapid-response oriented.”

Text messaging is new in the political and issue advocacy campaign world, at least when it comes to more top-down campaigns. “This is not something considered a staple piece of a political campaign strategy,” said Bassik. Those who submit their e-mail addresses and zip codes will have their names listed in missives to be sent to state government officials, political candidates, university presidents, and others.

These are not what Bassik would refer to as “petitions to nowhere to no one,” or e-mail acquisition campaigns disguised as online petition drives, a strategy he said is often employed by advocacy groups. Instead, he continued, “This is an actual example of people using cell phones and the Web to reach their Members of Congress.”

Hawkins affirmed the legitimacy of such mass-messaging efforts, noting, “I think there’s merit in figuring out how to pull together the collective opinion on this stuff.”

A Web search on the term “student debt” results in countless ads for loan consolidation services. It also turns up links to other organizations aiming to alleviate the student loan albatross, including Student Debt Alert and The Project on Student Debt. Last Thursday, the Campus Progress campaign launched sponsored search listings on LookSmart, Yahoo and Google using “more obscure” terms based on debt consolidation, and names of the country’s most expensive colleges, according to Bassik.

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