Communication strategies to promote positive messages and empower disenfranchised youth.
“These projects can actually have an impact on a kid’s life and steer him or her in the right direction.”
–Brian Biery, Program Director, Flintridge Operating Foundation
In Spring 2008, Designmatters and the Department of Advertising partnered with Flintridge Operating Foundation for a transdisciplinary studio in support of the Foundation’s Northwest Empowering Communities, Helping Others (NW ECHO) program. NW ECHO is a partnership between 23 community- and faith-based organizations in Northwest Pasadena/Altadena that offer after-school programs and services for underserved youth.
The goal of this studio was to develop positive communication campaigns that would deter youth from violent, gang-related activities by encouraging involvement in local community-based programs and providing an alternative outlet for youth activity.
The studio’s research was guided by Flintridge Operating Foundation’s Program Director, Brian Biery, along with representatives from NW ECHO partner organizations and local youth, all contributing feedback at key points throughout the length of the studio. In conducting their research, students worked directly with NW ECHO partners and visited their after-school programs, interviewed many young people served by the organizations, and made site-visits at schools, local parks, and other popular youth establishments. Collecting research and data on youth behavior and interests laid the foundation for five distinct campaigns that also work jointly as a multi-faceted outreach effort.
“These are ad campaigns that intervene in their thinking. It works as a peer-to-peer campaign, meaning that the youth create it and communicate it to their peers.”
–Elena Salij, Advertising Chair
• Present Tense Campaign: This campaign was inspired by the observation that kids get in trouble because they have nothing to do: if their boredom can be channeled into positive directions, they’re less likely to stray into anti-social behavior. In this campaign, buttons, stickers, and viral videos are distributed among youth. Each item contains an invitation for kids to text the word ‘BORED’ to a central number, to receive text messages about neighborhood activities happening that day.
• Out There Campaign: Recognizing the truism that hopelessness is the result of not recognizing one’s options, trading cards and posters present kids with a range of cool and unexpected occupations—from pyrotechnician to cereal-box writer—that they might eventually pursue. Youth are invited to visit a related MySpace site for more information about the occupations, including how they might take positive steps to prepare for these, or other, futures.
• Dilemmas Campaign: This campaign is based on the premise that staying out of gangs is the result of a series of small decisions that every kid makes every day: Do I go to the mall or to school? Do I shoplift this candy bar or pay for it? The campaign consists of a self-contained board game: as the player moves through the game, he is confronted with a series of dilemmas; as he makes wiser or less-wise choices, he advances or falls back in the board game. The game will demonstrate to kids that even a minor wrong choice can have destructive reverberations.
• Stand Revolution Campaign: The aim of this campaign is to warn young people about the ‘Urban Violence Industry’—the corporate interests that profit from cultivating and reinforcing gang culture in urban neighborhoods. Posters and flyers (employing stylized black, red, and white images) reveal little-known facts about the corporations that trade on thug-life imagery to sell products; they also invite the reader to visit a MySpace site to get more information and share their views.
• Zine Campaign: This campaign consists of the publication of a ‘zine ’—a small-circulation, informal magazine that includes images, comics, neighborhood news and maps, information about partner programs, and affirmative messages designed to encourage kids who are resisting gang culture. Schools or local newsstands could distribute these youth made zine. The zine could be designed and published centrally, or by kids who are involved in the after-school programs; partner programs could take turns ‘sponsoring’ issues of the zine, including content consistent with their programs’ themes and goals.
Students presented Flintridge Operating Foundation and NW ECHO partners with instructions on how to implement and sustain each of these campaigns, thus making them available for immediate use in the community. The Foundation has already begun implementing the Out There Campaign by creating live MySpace sites for 16 different careers. The Dilemmas game is currently available for downloading from their website. The buttons and “Bored” text message system developed in the Present Tense Campaign are also in the midst of implementation by the partners. The “Bored” PSAs are currenting running on Crown City News (CCN), on Pasadena Cable Channel 56, every Monday night. Stay tuned for more updates on the campaigns in action.