May 8, 2013
Clever marketing campaign goes psycho on student debt

I was lucky enough to graduate college without student debt. I didn’t
really think about it much then, but now, as I plan for my two kids to
go to college, I am grateful my parents made it possible for me and want
to do the same for my kids. The harsh reality is that the national
student debt is a whopping $1Trillion and climbing and affects almost 15
million people under the age of 30. Sending two kids to a private
college 4-year college will cost me about $500,000, give or take and
require lots of trade-offs, including retiring and having a life. For
most kids today, the consistent rise in tuition costs is forcing them
into the ongoing pain and horror of student loans and ongoing debt. Not a
pretty picture.

So, what’s a kid to do? American Student Assistance (ASA),
a Boston nonprofit, has created SALT, a free, student debt management
resource that helps students take control of their loans and their debt.
Think of it as a path to relief for student burdened with college
loans. Tho, getting students to pay attention to the topic of paying off
their loans is no easy feat. What kid has the extra money laying around
to do it? It can feel easier to just ignore it and maybe it will go
away. ASA knows that these are the realities for people dealing with
student loans and decided to change up how they were going to grab the
attention of this growing audience.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 7.31.40 PM

of creating just a Facebook page or a new social media campaign, ASA
decided to go psycho. Psycho thriller, to be exact. Sue Burton, Managing
Director of SALT Consumer Marketing and Product Development and
long-time friend and colleague, connected with her audience through the
medium kids love: film. Not just another YouTube or College Humor video,
but a real short film directed by Sundance-award winners, Borderline Films. Titled The Red, this 8-minute film acknowledges the anxiety many young people feel when faced with the massive burden of student loans, and shows how,
the free student debt resource created by ASA, can provide a path to
relief. There was a creative teaser campaign leading up to last week’s
premiere, which was revealed and sold out in Boston, Chicago, Seattle,
Tampa and Washington, DC. SS+K, the NY agency that created the film and
the broader awareness campaign, was smart enough to bundle The Red viewing with a free viewing of Iron Man 3…on opening night. Up until the premiere, The Red was
promoted as just a film, and the big student debt connection was made
for the first time at the premier at the Lowes Boston Common. I was
lucky enough to be Sue’s distinguished red carpet guest and here’s what
she told me:

“There’s no lack of financial information in the world.
It doesn’t motivate students because it’s dry and fact-based. Money —
and debt in particular — is emotional. We interviewed students all over
the country and saw that they were emotionally paralyzed by their debt
and craving relief.

We made a movie to connect with that emotional journey and to inspire
positive action on a personal basis. We wanted to be remarkable — to
stand out and provoke a conversation. The media reports on the student
loan problem as one big number ($1Trillion) . It’s really millions of
individual stories. Yes, we need to change college financing at a policy
level, but today we can create meaningful change by facing our own red –
one student at at time. SALT provides students with the relief they
need by helping them borrow less, borrow smart, and repay well.”


The film is directed by Borderline Films trio, Antonio Campos, Sean
Durkin and Josh Mond, who recently won the Dramatic Feature Directing
Award at Sundance for their thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene.
The film is surrounded by an integrated media plan along with a $10,000
cash sweepstake and other great prizes. The stage is now set for the
brand to spread awareness and the real proof will be converting the
awareness to sign-ups. For smaller brands and budgets, hiring a Sundance
film crew and fancy NY agency is most likely out of the realm of
possibility. But, thinking differently about how to cut through the
noise and connect with your audience is how all marketers need to
deliver on building brand awareness.

Remember, it’s only a brand once people start talking about it. Get clever and get ‘em talking.

Michelle Heath
is a marketing consultant with Growth Street Marketing and the former
CMO / VP of Marketing at Currensee and Matchmine.  You can find this
blog post, as well as additional content on her blog located here.  You can also follow Michelle on Twitter (@michelleheath) by clicking here.