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In Canada, one in three kids have experienced some form of bullying. That’s higher than the US and one of the highest in the world. Every year, technology further enables school bullies to extend their torment outside of playgrounds, meaning that their victims have few places to escape. 

With little or no media budgetTouchéPHD was tasked with engaging influencers, activists and press outlets with this important message.  

Its experience of working in cause-related categories demonstrably shows that – regardless of the message/issue - action and reaction amongst those it is targeting is far greater amongst those who have had personal experience of it. That would make targeting adults with a message about the relatively modern phenomenon of online bullying even trickier. 

Added to that, the most popular ‘influencers’ in Canada are inundated with both commercial and not-for-profit requests to get involved in media campaigns. What could the agency do to get them talking about this low budget message? 

That’s when it decided that giving influencers a taste of what online bullying feels like would be the core of the media strategy. 


TouchéPHD believed that its influential target audience would be more inclined to take actions against bullying if it could make them feel what bullied victims feel.  

Retargeting banners ads already behave like cyber bullies: They relentlessly follow you everywhere you go. Therefore, it used that same retargeting ad strategy to send hostile messages to influencers. The strategy made them feel what it feels like to be bullied first hand.  

To do that, the strategy turned three common media behaviours on their heads: 

1Used one of the most reviled media targeting techniques, cookie retargeting – those ads that follow you around the internet trying to sell you sneakers you looked that ONE TIME - for good.  
2. Secondly, it would break all the frequency rules of online media – enhancing the bullying effect by uncapping the number of times the target influencers saw its messages. 
3. And finally, the ads wouldn’t be emotional messages with the Canadian Safe School Network logo and a call to action on them. They would be obtuse, personal, in-your-face and would have no brand logo or message to indicate where they’d come from.  

The agency believed that breaking those rules would be the way to meet the business objectives with a very limited budget.  


The strategy came to life through three different steps, leveraging data and the power of retargeting:  

1Sent out an email to CSSN’s network of influencers, activists and PR regarding an upcoming anti-bullying event. Within it, the agency placed a pixel on the RSVP page a few weeks in advance to give a hyper qualified target pool. Once they clicked, it was trapped; they were “cookied”.  

2Days later, the target became the victims. It targeted Canada’s most popular influencers over and over with hostile ad banners, with messages such as “You are ugly” and “Your life is a joke.” These ads had no frequency cap. The influencer ‘victims’ saw as many as 60 bully ads on a given day, recreating the inescapable feeling some kids experience every day.  The messages became more and more intense as the frequency of exposure increased…Until the cyber bullying experiment was revealed to the influencers.  

3. The influencer “victims” then quickly shared their bullying experience with their followers. That’s how CSSN’s prevention message reached millions of Canadian population with little to no budget.  

A campaign like this that broke the accepted rules of media targeting mean that finding a willing media partner wasn’t easy. However, AOL – a crusader for online security in its own right - was up for the challenge and a team of tech specialists were put in place to bypass the automated optimisation platforms and allow it to deliver its message at the extremely high frequency level required. 


The strategy to use programmatic to ‘bully’ those who could spread the message for CSSN really paid off.  

The campaign greatly impacted the “victims”: 83% of all targeted bloggers and influencers shared their experience through their blogs. The campaign generated an astonishing 23 million earned impressions – in a country of 30 million people. 

Click through rates on the ads were as high as 14% (the category average is 0,01%) 

Finally, donations to CSSN increased by 37% from the previous year – more than three times the objective set before campaign launch!  

All of this was only possible by a campaign that broke ‘the rules’ and through sheer passion for the cause, ran roughshod over the media politics and policies that usually come as standard.

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The Canadian Safe School Network
May - May 2016
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