Why 700 receiving blankets were laid out on the National Mall

March of Dimes wanted to make America's dangerously high maternal death rate visible across the country.

Why 700 receiving blankets were laid out on the National Mall

Company: March of Dimes
Campaign: #BlanketChange
Agency mix: Subject Matter (advertising, PR)
Duration: October 2018

March of Dimes laid out 700 receiving blankets on the National Mall in Washington, DC -- one for every mother in the U.S. who dies from pregnancy-related complications each year. The nonprofit organization works to improve the health of mothers and babies to prevent birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.

Planning for the campaign began in August. The goal was to galvanize the public around policies that would help lower the maternal death rate before the midterm elections.

"Mothers in the United States die every year due to very preventable complications," said Audrey Chang, SVP of strategic communications at Subject Matter. The campaign was designed to "challenge people to be aware of this, and make it a priority when they vote."

The campaign also aimed to get candidates and existing lawmakers’ attention, and push them to support policies that protect mothers, such as requiring that all health plans cover pre-existing conditions as well as maternity and newborn care.

"Ultimately we wanted to ask public officials to make a public commitment to support mothers and babies," Chang said.

To raise awareness of maternal death rates in the U.S., March of Dimes and Subject Matter settled on a visual method to represent the scale of the problem: receiving blankets, which babies get when they leave the hospital.

This year, "there will be 700 babies who will leave in receiving blankets, but they’ve lost their moms," Chang said.

700 blankets, one for each maternal death, were laid out on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on October 10, 2018, in order to capture the public’s attention before the midterms. In addition to the striking visual element, the event included a speech from a father whose wife had died in childbirth. In-person and satellite media tours were provided to a variety of outlets, many of them local TV stations across the country.

"Our focus was broadcast just because, with the blankets, it was a very visual thing," Chang said.

On the day of the event, March of Dimes launched a corresponding social media campaign, which included original posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The day after, USA Today ran an op-ed by Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, that covered the issue in-depth.

The campaign was covered by 84 local TV stations in 67 markets, including NBC affiliates in DC, New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

On social media, #BlanketChange was mentioned by more than a dozen members of Congress, notably Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tom Carper, (D-DE), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

A number of influencers in public policy and politics, including Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser, and reporters Jack Tapper, Walter Mossberg, and Gretchen Carlson, also posted about the campaign, as did celebrities such as Melissa Joan Hart and Jaime King.

Between October 10 and November 10, more than 3,200 posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook contained the hashtag #BlanketChange, while more than 750 tweets were sent to legislators demanding action. Additionally, there was a 45.6% growth in conversation around the topics #MaternalHealth and #MaternalMortality on social media in October compared to the same month a year before.

"We have the highest maternal death rate in the developed world," Chang said.

While heartbreaking, there’s a dark upside to the issue: "These deaths are preventable." Unlike many complex, multi-faceted problems that lack realistic solutions, policies can be "put in place that will decrease that number," Chang continued. "I think that’s really powerful."

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