3 lessons from the #LastSummer backlash

Earlier this year, the Motor Neurone Disease Association launched the #LastSummer campaign to follow up the Ice Bucket Challenge, however, not all of the materials were well received.

| 27th Jul 15

Earlier this year, the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) launched the #LastSummer campaign, which sought to draw attention to the charity’s work in the aftermath of the ice bucket challenge while raising awareness Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

“Last summer you rose to one challenge. Since then, many have been defeated by another,” read the headline on the campaign’s lead poster – the words that won branding agency Neo the campaign.

However, one of the agency’s three campaign posters struck the wrong note, as MND patient Michael Smith was pictured with the quote: “Last summer, I was the only person I knew who didn’t do the ice bucket challenge. Five months later I was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.”

The sentiment among social networks was clear: Smith’s message had been understood by some to mean that if you did not do the ice bucket challenge, you would develop the disease.

“”Do the ice bucket challenge. OR ELSE.” Because potential donors love being threatened, @mndassoc! #lastsummer” tweeted @cubetcetera.

Neo’s managing director Nicole Bradfield explained in the Guardian this morning the thinking behind the campaign, writing that her team had been “deflated” by the public reaction, which wasn’t what they had wanted or expected.

However, she added in a blog post for Neo, which has handled campaigns for Diabetes UK and MS Day, that the team has since thought a lot about its approach, and identified points to consider before launching its next campaign. Here are three lessons charities can take from #LastSummer:

Make a distinction between fundraising and awareness campaigns

After winning its pitch with the MNDA, Neo was set with a difficult task: it had to ride the wave of the ice bucket challenge in its campaign, but without resurrecting it, while highlighting the fact that half of the people diagnosed with the disease will die within two years.

Nowhere did the campaign ask for donations. However, it was interpreted that way. Bradfield said in the Guardian: “For agencies, the difference between a fundraising and an awareness building campaign often seems fundamental.”

However, those who view campaign posters typically aren’t making that distinction, and might expect any that any charity advertisement is asking for money.

Formally test your campaign

The #LastSummer campaign was accused of guilt-tripping those who may not have done the ice bucket challenge, or donate to the MND cause – exactly what the charity and Neo didn’t want.

Before sign off, Neo’s campaign poster passed the eyes of more than 100 people, but none of them had made the interpretation that caused the social media backlash.

“More formal testing might have drawn our attention to this interpretation of the headline for Michael’s poster,” Bradfield said in her blog post for Neo.

Ask how each component of your campaign will work on its own

Bradfield said that as an agency, it needs to think more about how individual elements of a campaign might be seen in isolation.

Fragments of a campaign will inevitably be reposted and retweeted on social media, which can work wonders for your cause, but if any salient parts of your message are left out, it could easily warp into something beyond recognition.

“It’s easy to look at the campaign as a whole and see it in terms of lead creative and supporting materials,” Bradfield said in a blog post on Neo’s website.

“That’s not necessarily the way a campaign is experienced, and every individual element needs to work in its own right and tell the correct story.”