CAMPAIGN: Consumer PR - Yahoo! takes to the streets in spam fight

Client: Yahoo! UK & Ireland PR Team: Cow Communications Campaign: Launch of national Dump the Junk Day Timescale: Apri - May 2003 Budget: within retainer fees

If you opened your email in-box this morning to find legitimate messages outnumbered by strangers offering you free gifts, breast enhancers and easy ways to make a quick million, you weren't alone.

Almost half of all emails received are now believed to be spam - unsolicited bulk email - which is estimated to cost businesses £5bn each year in lost time and wasted resources.

The Government's e-Commerce Minister Stephen Timms has warned that the problem threatens public confidence in email as a communications tool.

The issue is already being tackled: computer giant Microsoft recently announced that it blocks 2.4 billion junk messages to its MSN and Hotmail subscribers every day, while AOL has launched legal action against 12 individuals and companies it accused of sending spam.

Objectives

To localise Yahoo!'s global anti-spam day, raise public awareness of junk email and empower net users to act against it. To highlight Yahoo!'s own anti-spam product, SpamGuard, and its advice microsite. To draw attention to the security benefits of Yahoo! Mail. To develop long-term awareness of the Yahoo! Mail brand.

Strategy and Plan

The campaign's target audience was vast - all business and home users of email in the UK and Ireland - which meant the campaign had to work on several levels to find elements that would appeal to each media outlet.

Cow Communications opted to combine relevant statistics, celebrity backing and a public competition to generate interest across all consumer media.

The agency commissioned a UK study on the frustration caused by spam, which complemented a Europe-wide research project on junk email published by Yahoo!.

Once the results were in - including details that more than 25 per cent of survey respondents had been fooled into opening junk mail, while more than half are unwittingly perpetuating the cycle of spam by replying to it - were included in the two press releases issued to announce Dump the Junk Day. One was aimed at broadsheet and broadcast media, while the other focused on the tabloid and lifestyle media.

Drawing on popular culture, the team brought Big Brother psychologist Geoffrey Beattie on board to discuss the stressful effects of junk email, while ensuring e-Commerce Minister Stephen Timms agreed to support the campaign and provide interviews on the subject of spam.

For Dump the Junk day itself, 22 May, Cow brought in actor and former EastEnders street cleaner Dean Gaffney to join Yahoo-branded teams of dustmen in using household rubbish as a promotional medium, providing the celebrity and tabloid press with a relevant photo opportunity.

The team trawled the streets of northwest London with rubbish bags, bins and dustbin lorries bearing the Yahoo! Dump the Junk logo, giving consumers tips on how to avoid junk email.

On the same day, office workers were urged to 'name and shame' colleagues guilty of spamming, in the Dump the Junk Awards. The 'winner' will be named the UK's worst email spammer, and sent on a 'netiquette' course.

Businesses, meanwhile, were encouraged to nominate email guardians, who would run anti-spam tutorials, and a Yahoo! microsite was built to give advice on avoiding junk email and drive traffic to Yahoo! and Yahoo! Mail.

Measurement and Evaluation

Seven national newspapers, including the Daily Mirror, News of the World, Daily Express, The Guardian and The Independent covered the Dump the Junk Day, with many of the stories giving prominence to the research findings, particularly that 94 per cent of the British public find junk mail annoying.

A further seven pieces of TV coverage were generated, including on five, ITV News Channel and BBC Breakfast, while BBC Radio coverage extended across Radio Five Live, Radio 1, 2 and 4. An additional 42 regional stations ran the story.

And although the event was only promoted in the UK and Ireland, it received coverage from as far afield as Greece, Japan and Brazil.

Results

While Yahoo! had not set specific targets for the number of people it wanted to reach with the campaign, evaluation company For What It's Worth estimated that the core message reached 50 million people.

The specific microsite was visited by almost 40,000 people during May, with 10,000 on Dump the Junk Day alone, and more than 1,000 people submitted entries to the awards. Results are still being collated on how many businesses have run anti-spam tutorials as a result of the campaign.

'Spam was an issue we were already covering, and the Yahoo! campaign was therefore incredibly topical,' said Will Sturgeon, who wrote about Dump the Junk Day for website Silicon.com, one of 33 online media outlets who picked up the story.

'It was all about the timing,' he added. 'If we'd have received this as a potential story six months earlier, we'd have possibly dismissed it as merely a PR stunt, but at the time it seemed like a genuine effort to fight spam, which I don't think enough people take seriously.'

For the tabloids, interest was stirred by the opportunity to give EastEnders fans a look at one of the soap's former actors.

'We covered it just because he was in it,' admitted the Daily Mirror's 3am columnist Jessica Callan.

Yahoo! Mail Europe head of marketing John Webb said that while there was no evidence yet that fewer spam messages are being sent or opened as a result of the campaign, ongoing public education, improved technology and changes to the law would continue to play a role in attempting to do so.

But he added that elements of the UK and Ireland campaign - such as the use of rubbish as media, and the anti-spam tutorials - would be replicated in other countries on next year's global anti-spam day.

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