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Using A Mobile Soap Opera To Bring The Message Of Safe Sex To Teens

thmbnls_start.gifEffectively communicating a “safe sex” message to 15 – 18 year olds could be a difficult task, especially as they are often wary of mainstream media.

So the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) in the UK turned to mobile marketing to help them connect with this hard to reach group.

thmbnls is a free, 22 episode mobile soap opera that was launched earlier this year and which is a key element in DCSF’s overall Want Respect? Wear a Condom campaign.

The thmbnls campaign

The Central Office of Information (COI) is the UK government’s center for marketing and communications. COI works with government departments and the public sector to produce information campaigns on issues that affect the lives of every citizen – from health and education to benefits, rights and welfare.

thmbnls_logo.gifCOI worked with agencies Incentivated, i-Level and 20:20 London to put together the thmbnls campaign. The campaign aims to reduce teenage pregnancy and the incidence of STIs in 15-18 year olds by aligning condom usage with respect.

This weekly drama series focuses on the lives of six teenagers and challenges the audience to watch, interact and share their opinions with the cast and other viewers. The diverse cast is made up from local youth groups, and their real-life attributes and believable back stories mean they are able to deliver subtle safe sex messages that truly impact and hold relevance with young people.

Every Friday at 7pm

thmbnls_screen.gifDuring the course of the campaign, episodes are released every Friday evening at 7pm, and are available exclusively through mobile internet. The timing is intended to make it more likely that the teens will look at the episode and discuss it with their friends.

Fans of the series can sign up to receive an SMS reminder every time an episode is released. There is also a vCalendar application which can be download and which sounds the alarm on their mobile as a reminder to download the next episode.

(the video from this week’s episode can be seen at the bottom of this post).

Really Free

One big issue with any sort of mobile video to date is the cost of data transfer – especially with teenage consumers. However, thmbnls has been set up to be completely free.

The agencies negotiated with all the UK operators so that all data charges are zero-rated for this campaign. This includes even the SMS alerts and WAP browsing sessions for viewers on contract and pay as you go plans.

Viewer Engagement

A lot of effort has been made to increase the effectiveness of this campaign by making it more interactive with the viewers. One of the interesting features is the use of on-the-fly mobile video personalization. This means that the video clips that are downloaded to a particular user can be customized just for that person. For example, a viewer’s name might appear in a character’s mobile phone book, or on a poster or in graffiti featured in soap opera.

Also, viewers can vote on issues and dilemmas faced by characters to direct future story line. They can also sign up to receive voice messages or to have SMS dialogues with the thmbls characters.

The campaign also included some wallpapers and fun animations, such as this one of a juggling crab.

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Emma Cowan at COI commented, ““It’s a really exciting project as it enables us to reach the audience in a powerful and personal way. Because it’s unchartered territory, it’s been challenging to work with so many parties and agencies to ensure that it’s free to the user, as well as get the word out to the audience to get them to sign up.”

Consumer uptake

COI used mobile advertising as well as PR and online advertising to drive sign-up for this campaign. Banner ads were run on all 6 UK operator portals in the UK – Vodafone, T-Mobile, 3, O2, Virgin, and Orange.

In the first couple of months since launch, almost a quarter of a million people visited the site.

thmbnls_respect.jpgCowan concluded, “The ‘Want Respect? Use a Condom‘ campaign is targeted at 16-18 year olds, so the promotion of thmbnls has been very focussed. We’re reaching our audience directly through targeted advertising… We are very pleased with the number of young people who have engaged with thmbnls both through the website and by subscribing to the drama, both of which are increasing daily.”

Episode #18 of thmbnls
[kml_flashembed movie="" width="320" height="265" wmode="transparent" /]

12.05.2009    Tags: , ,
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