The startling new CDC data that came out a few weeks ago—one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder—got me to thinking about how we use stats in our PSAs. I think our ongoing Autism Awareness campaign, in partnership with Autism Speaks, is one of the best uses of stats in social marketing.
Since we launched the campaign over 6 years ago, the PSAs have featured a “one-in” number, contrasting the prevalence of autism with the likelihood that your child will become a Grammy-award winning singer, a pro-athlete or a top fashion designer. It works well because we’re able to incorporate a personal story, a celebrity with a personal connection to autism.
Here’s one of our latest featuring Tommy Hilfiger:
The Autism campaign is one of our most successful recent efforts and it has helped raise significant awareness about the prevalence of autism and encourage parents to talk to their children’s doctors about it.
At the Ad Council we typically only use stats when we’re aiming to educate the public about the prevalence of an issue. Usually our goals are to change attitudes and behaviors and we’ve found greater success when the advertising is more emotional rather than rational. Also, people often don’t believe stats or identify with numbers.
I think the best-known stat is that one in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. It’s so memorable and effective that there’s even a 1 in 8 Foundation designed to help fight breast cancer. Consistent messaging from various organizations over the years has helped create widespread awareness and I think it works because it feels so personal and, at the time the stat came out, so unexpected. It made you realize that if it’s that many women, I could really know someone who is at risk.
But numbers can also be scary and ultimately paralyzing, which can cause your target audience to tune out which is why so many organizations—including us—don’t use stats specifically to motivate change.
And, you have to worry about “Disease Olympics,” or information overload. Also, there are often many caveats to stats so it’s hard to boil them down to a single succinct statement that is applicable to all.
Here are a few tips if you’re thinking about using a “one in” stat:
- Try to include a personal story or anecdote to humanize it
- Test the strategy with your target audience to see if it resonates before you produce the PSAs. At the Ad Council, we always do focus group testing.
- Even if your stats are very compelling, don’t feel like you need to include them in the creative; we often use stats as support points in our outreach materials and in our PR/social media efforts.
- Stay on top of the data. Of course, one of the challenges in including numbers is that you have to always be ready to revise the creative when the numbers change, which is what we’re working on now with Autism Speaks. This can be costly and you need to be ready to make the change at a moment’s notice.
Does your organization use stats? Do they work?