The Vero office in Myanmar has recently been involved in quite a few campaigns for NGOs and social business clients who are working to confront social and environmental issues in the country. One of them, the 6 Months Mothers’ Milk (6la) campaign, even won us our second and third regional awards last year.
But since they can’t all win awards, we’ve decided to give these campaigns some much-needed attention. We sat down with Solange Couturier, our Myanmar Planning and Operations Director, to discuss how the office approaches social campaigns and what they mean to herself, the team, and Myanmar society.
What are some of the unique differences, advantages, and challenges of social marketing campaigns, compared to commercial campaigns?
Even though the topics and goals seem very different, the approach can be quite similar and the creative process is basically the same. As with a commercial campaign, every brief starts with an issue that the client wants to overcome. Our job is to understand the client’s challenges, craft key messages, find the most relevant target audiences, and create a communication strategy that will make an impact. The main difference is that the impact is measured less by changes on the balance sheet, and more by changes in society, culture, and even law.
Social campaigns also have a positive impact on our team. They keep us motivated, give us purpose, and make people want to work hard and stay with us. Our team are young – 20 to 30 years old. Most live with their families, and I commonly hear from them about generational culture gaps. I understand that many of these issues are very important to the team, and social campaigns give them a chance to affect the national discourse. Plus, in some cases our team members became aware of – and even passionate about – these issues while working on the campaigns. It’s become something we discuss with prospective team members in interviews, as it generally makes people more excited to join us and signifies that we have a tolerant, open-minded, and accepting agency culture.
For Investing in Women, an initiative of the Australian government, we had a month dedicated to Paternity Leave. The national law says that men get 15 days leave due to the birth of a child, but many are unaware of this and don’t take it. It’s my hope that, if one of the men on our team has a child, he will not think twice about taking the time that he needs to be there for his family.
The biggest challenge is that many issues that affect peoples’ lives are not commonly discussed. In some cases that’s due to lack of available information, like with the data that Air Quality Yangon sought to make public. Other times it’s due to social norms and taboos, and we have to find novel ways to raise the issues without going too far. We don’t want to simply offend people, but rather to spark conversations.
For instance, we worked with Pan ka lay on their SoWhat?! campaign to change the stigma around menstruation. I’m from France, and if we have a group talking about menstruation it’s often in an activism context in which people are very straightforward. But in Myanmar, it has to be more educational, with social media posts based on the science behind menstruation showing that blood is a natural and necessary part of the process. We try to focus on positivity and providing facts, not simply criticizing existing beliefs.
That said, there are a lot of superstitions, like that a girl isn’t supposed to wash her hair during menstruation, and some girls don’t go to school at that time due to teasing. With those in mind, for this campaign we focused on targeting and changing the mindsets of young people who are going through these changes, for whom the discussion is both more urgent and less taboo.
How did you get started doing these social development projects, and what motivates you to continue with them?
There are a lot of issues in Myanmar society that are barely being addressed, so social campaigns here can make a big difference just by bringing those up. The challenge is finding the right people to spread the message at the right place and the right time.
It’s a unique market, where skillful use of social media and influencers can be the difference between a ripple and a wave. In just a few years, the internet has had a huge impact on Myanmar’s young population by enabling them to access more information and teach themselves. As a result, many youths in Myanmar genuinely believe that they can change their society for the better, and they have a strong desire to do so.
Our projects with Save the Children were our entry point into social campaigns. These originated from our collaboration with the agency Bridge, who specifically target social impact development projects and are very good at large campaign mapping involving a lot of media, branding, and targets.
At Vero, we’re skilled in the details and tactics of reaching people on social media, identifying audiences and PR formats to use, and engaging KOLs to take part.
In the case of the 6 Months Mothers’ Milk campaign, PR was super impactful. While mothers were our primary target audience in the 6 Months campaign, the issue of infant nutrition affects virtually everybody, and doctors supported the cause based on their knowledge of what is healthy for children. Vero designed the social media content, the PR strategy, and the use of key influencers to spread the message to a broader audience, while Bridge connected with doctors and organized activities like coming into schools and hospitals to talk about it. That combination turned out to be very effective.
Following that campaign, it was really the enthusiasm of our team for making a difference that drove us to seek out more social campaigns that we could help with.
What role do Influencers or KOLs play in your social campaigns?
Influencers have a lot of power to be agents of change in Myanmar, as we mentioned in our whitepaper. We need ambassadors to talk about these issues, and there’s nobody better than influencers to do it.
For 6la, we got 50 KOLs onboard for free, which is very uncommon in Myanmar. Usually KOLs here really want to be paid, and don’t even like to get products in exchange. But if you come to them with a project that has social impact and the potential to change Myanmar society for the better, they are often glad to take part because they have first-hand experience.
The Pride campaign we did with LGBTQI organization &Proud is another great example. This year, Myanmar’s Miss Universe contestant, Swe Zin Htet, came out as homosexual during the competition, in order to raise awareness of how LGBTQI rights and protections have been neglected in the country. She was the first in the history of the pageant to do so, and it created a lot of buzz. Then when she returned, she became the brand ambassador for the &Proud campaign, which was very fortunate for us. Her involvement provided a great opportunity for us to connect with people, and we organized several big interview opportunities between her and local media. By leveraging our good fortune, we were able to get 250 pieces published based on this campaign despite our small budget.
And for Girl Determined’s campaign against street harassment, we reached out to several KOLs – including Mary, a famous singer with over 700,000 Facebook followers – who volunteered to participate by posting covers of “Colorful Strength,” an anti-street harassment song created specifically for the campaign based on the experiences of adolescent girls in the group. In her video, Mary talked about what the campaign means to her and why she chose to be a part of it. It was a huge hit, with 18k engagements and over 680 comments, almost all supportive.
What has been the public response to these campaigns?
Even regarding controversial issues, our social listening activities show that public response has been mostly positive. There are always some critical voices, but most of the comments on social media are supportive. There has even been some real change based on these campaigns, which often happens when we target a specific issue and suggest concrete solutions.
For instance, the Save the Children/SHIFT campaign Air Quality Yangon were critical of the lack of transparency regarding data on air quality and pollution. After their campaign, the government began making that data public. Of course they didn’t cite the campaign directly, but the timing suggests that it had an impact.
Following the 6 Months Mother’s Milk campaign, KBZ, Myanmar’s largest bank, was one of the first to publicly respond by transforming their workplace to incorporate more breastfeeding areas.
&Proud were not allowed to hold their Pride parade in the street, so they hired a boat and did it on the river. Later, they held a 3-day event at a park in Yangon with a lot of public support. It was a surprise that the city allowed this to happen, which we hope is a sign that the winds are changing here, and perhaps next year a full parade will take to the city’s streets.
Have you faced any challenges in funding these campaigns?
There have been some, but we’ve been able to work around them.
Some projects are invested in by large international foundations, such as Investing in Women with the Australian government and Save the Children’s various programs.
When the SoWhat?! Campaign didn’t get as much funding as Pan ka lay expected, we had to change our plans. The budget was very small – enough to make some quality content, but not enough to ensure that it would be seen. So we chose to make Pan ka lay our only pro bono account, in order to let the founder use the funding she had for her studies and to boost the social media posts we created. We came up with 30 potential ideas, tested those in focus groups, and kept 10 of them, which resulted in 20 posts. We were able to be sure that our posts fit the expectations of the targets, because we had already tested them.
Pan ka lay’s founder, Henriette Ceyrac, is in touch with different donors, so we expect that eventually she will get funding to expand her operations. Meanwhile, we support her whenever we can, with consideration for the workload since we’re still a fairly small agency.
But this sort of pro bono work is great for engagement and morale in the office, and the connections it builds can potentially result in other work with paying clients. The NGO world is small, and many don’t have big budgets to spend on communications. We hope that the attention we bring to these causes will convince more large international organizations to get involved, and we would love to work with them when they do.