The Organic Marketer


Special Olympics Targets “SM” in New Campaign

Ads were designed by BBDO New York to challenge the public with language meant to be controversial. Slurs against ethnic groups points out how language can be harmful to all groups, including those with intellectual disabilities.

Ads were designed by BBDO New York to challenge the public with language meant to be controversial. Slurs against ethnic groups points out how language can be harmful to all groups, including those with intellectual disabilities.

This past March 31st was a significant day for the Special Olympics, not only as the launch of their national campaign, “Spread the Word to End the Word,” but also in the way they’ve embraced social media to inform the public, attract and retain supporters and spur on advocates to spread the word (the right one, that is!) and gain even more followers.

For those don’t know what “the word” refers to, it’s “retard,” the demeaning slang that refers to those afflicted that we now tend to term being mentally challenged or with intellectual disabilities.

The Special Olympics has been battling aggressively since last August when the movie, “Tropic Thunder,” caused controversy with its comedic use of the word. President Obama didn’t help matters when, on a recent appearance on Jay Leno’s TV show, he inadvertently brought the issue to light by stating that his poor bowling skills were “like the Special Olympics or something.”

According to a recent Chicago Tribune story, recent efforts to quash this term stemmed from a youth summit held at the Special Olympics Winter Games in Idaho this past February. Kirsten Seckler, spokeswoman for Special Olympics, said the idea for the “spread the word to end the word” campaign was wholly the work of kids — with disabilities and without — who were at the games.

Since then, BBDO New York has done excellent pro bono work to establish the campaign’s messaging and provide creative direction. Andrew Robertson, president and chief executive at BBDO Worldwide, has been on the board of the Special Olympics for five years. According to Robertson, the campaign was targeted to older teenagers in high school and early college and devised to be provocative enough to “jolt them into thinking, or rethinking, how hurtful the use of the word is.”

While the Special Olympics has used the traditional promotional methods you might expect, such as print ads (mostly targeting high school- and college-aged students), t-shirts, buttons and stickers, the most intriguing — and undeniably effective — efforts have come from the use of online social marketing and viral distribution strategies.

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