The US Census Bureau reports that 18- to 24-year-olds are the largest group of non-voting Americans - less than one in five (19.4%) voted in the 2002 midterm elections, compared with over half of those age 25 and older.
The Advertising Council aimed to educate young adults about the voting process and the importance of voting in the 2006 midterms.
"We had an incredible lack of awareness to overcome in a very short period of time," says Ellyn Fisher, Ad Council director of corporate communications.
Environics Communications (EC) worked with the Ad Council in conjunction with the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to extend and enhance nonpartisan PSAs created by Atlanta ad agency WestWayn and to get young people to vote.
The PSAs looked like traditional political ads, yet candidates were all inanimate objects or animals and thus used humor to drive the question: "If you're not voting, then who are you electing?"
The team utilized media relations, a youth spokesperson, and grassroots outreach to build PSA momentum and drive people to the Web site PayAttention.org for additional information, including voter registration forms.
Research and polling helped the team devise media pitches.
"Statistics showed that young adults weren't informed about the political process, didn't know much about midterms, weren't registered to vote, and didn't have a good voting track record," says EC SAE Jacquelyn Cooper. "There was a lot at stake. [Up for election were] all 435 House members, one-third of the Senate, and 36 governors."
It helped that 2006 was the 35th anniversary of 18-year-olds gaining the right to vote. EC also leveraged the creativity of the campaign to capture media attention. Reporters were sent "campaign" buttons for several of the mock political candidates in the PSAs.
Additional efforts included an RMT with an FVAP spokesperson and a youth spokesperson; grassroots college outreach; and interactive and viral elements on the Web site.
"We saw extraordinarily dramatic results and behavior change very quickly - people went to the Web site, they downloaded voter registration forms, and they voted," Fisher says. "We attribute that to the unique creative and the PR strategy."
Print and radio impressions totaled more than 9.5 million. Online coverage reached more than 34 million unique visitors per month. The Web site had more than 242,000 unique visitors, with the voter registration form downloaded nearly 2,000 times.
Preliminary data from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement indicates that voter turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds was up at least 2 million vs. 2002.
The Ad Council will work with the FVAP on another youth voter campaign for the 2008 election.
EC later this year will help the Ad Council launch a nutrition education PSA campaign sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture.
PR team: Advertising Council and Environics Communications (both of Washington and New York), and sponsor Federal Voting Assistance Program (Washington)
Campaign: Pay Attention & Vote
Duration: July 11 to November 7, 2006
Budget: More than $75,000
This campaign did a great job capturing the attention of young people and the media. Certainly, the creativity of the PSAs was impactful, but it's doubtful the campaign would have been as effective without the expansion of messaging provided by PR.
Facts and statistics provided by target-audience polling and research surrounding the political stakes of last year's midterms were extremely helpful in media relations. A near-perfect mix of creativity and facts about an important issue propelled success. Youth involvement in the political process is extremely important - hopefully we'll see additional efforts around next year's presidential elections.