Autism Speaks bets on color theme in new campaign

NEW YORK: Iconic landmarks around the globe will "Light It Up Blue" in support of World Autism Day April 2, as part of a campaign from Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization dedicated to funding autism research and increasing awareness of the disorder.

NEW YORK: Iconic landmarks around the globe will “Light It Up Blue” in support of World Autism Day April 2, as part of a campaign from Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization dedicated to funding autism research and increasing awareness of the disorder.

On the eve of World Autism Day, more than 100 landmarks in 14 countries will be lit up blue, including the Empire State Building, Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), CN Tower, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Blue is the color of the puzzle piece in the Autism Speaks logo, but the Light it Up Blue campaign marks the first time it has organized around the color.

“I saw what breast cancer research was doing in October with the color pink.  It occurred to me that blue is a highly recognizable color associated with autism,” Pat Kemp, EVP, awareness and events, Autism Speaks, told PRWeek. “I thought, ‘We can do this.' All we're doing is asking these organizations to change a light bulb.”

Autism Speaks organized the “Light It Up Blue” campaign with its PR firms Rubenstein PR, which communicated with landmarks in the US, and Brown Lloyd James (BLJ), which did the same outside the US.

A number of Autism Speaks corporate partners will also participate in “Light It Up”, including Toys “R” US, Dollar General, and chocolatier Lindt & Sprüngli by holding in-store fundraising efforts and events during the month of April. For example, on Saturday April 3, actress Holly Robinson Peete, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, and their daughter Ryan Elizabeth will autograph purchased copies of their new books which recount the family's journey with autism (Ryan's twin brother RJ has autism). Robinson Peete sits on the Autism Speaks board of directors. 

A Web site, www.lightitupblue.org, supports the effort. Blue State Digital worked with Austin Speaks to promote the initiative through the organization's social media properties, including Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter. Through those channels, Austin Speaks is encouraging people to do their part by, for instance, changing their Facebook profile pic to the Light It Up Blue logo or posting pictures of themselves on Flickr wearing blue. The Web site also encourages people to come up with their own ways to go blue in April.  “It could be doing something as simple as changing your porch light to the color blue. We want others to help us shine the light on autism,” said Kemp.

“We feel autism has become a national health crisis,” he added. “Over the past two decades, autism has increased in prevalence by 600%. In the last two years, it has increased by 57%.”

With the campaign, Autism Speaks also aims to provide much needed education about the disorder. Kemp says it is a largely misunderstood disorder, in part because of misinformation. For example, medical journal The Lancet recently retracted a controversial 1998 paper about autism.

“Everyone wants a silver bullet that explains it, but we're pretty convinced that it is a very complex neurological disorder,” said Kemp. “So there is not going to be one answer.”

That's why Autism Speaks has partnered with Doctor Radio on Sirius XM. “Later in April, we will provide Doctor Radio with experts in the field in different categories, who will address issues explaining what autism is to early childhood intervention,” Kemp said. “The programs will include a Q&A session. There are so many people out there who need the information and need it told to them simply.”

To build momentum beyond World Autism Day, media outreach will also continue throughout April, added Kemp.

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