Ypulse Interview: Hilary Baris, The Partnership For A Drug-Free America & Pauline Malcolm-John, WeeWorld

weeworldToday’s Ypulse Interview is with Hilary Baris, Digital Media & Marketing Director for The Partnership for a Drug-Free America and Pauline Malcolm-John, VP of Brand Marketing Initiatives for WeeWorld. Both were on the team behind a recent joint campaign to educate teens about substance abuse prevention by directing WeeWorld visitors to the site CheckYourself.com.

I reached out to learn about the partnership, but also to gain some more perspective on virtual worlds in the pro-social space. After our recent guest post inspired mixed responses in comments, I thought Ypulse readers would feel the same.

Disclosure: WeeWorld is a Ypulse sponsor.

Ypulse: What inspired Partnership for a Drug-Free America to launch a campaign in a virtual world?

Hilary Baris: We were inspired to launch a campaign in the virtual world, because of the popularity among teens, and the amount of time they spend on these type of sites. Given the goals, we had to ensure our messaging would reach teens in their preferred environment where they hang out and socialize.

YP: How did the actual campaign take shape? What type of input was involved from teen users?

HB: The Partnership identified the need to create something unique to reach and communicate with teens. The wreckED program, including videos and scenarios available on WeeWorld and www.checkyourself.com was tested among a group of teens across the country, as well as within focus groups.  It was a great collaboration and I worked closely with the talented team at WeeWorld to help us create our online identity, custom assets and environments.

Pauline Malcolm-John: For teens, we had to make PDFA’s message relevant in our environment without being preachy—making the audience want to learn more about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.  We created a dialogue between PDFA and the audience by taking their resident celebrity JT, a recovering drug user, and built a custom-designed WeeMee for him with his very own WeeWorld home page. Using his WeeMee to visually interact with a growing base of teen friends, JT, with the help of the Partnership, posted messages, showed videos and shared resources from PDFA.  Teens on WeeWorld were very receptive to JT and provided thousands of comments on his page!  JT, with over 20,000 friends,  is now the most popular non-celebrity in Weeworld history.

YP: What are some of the short-term and long-term goals?

HB: [Some of the short-term and long-term goals were to]

- Motivate teens to stop and think more about their behavior involving drugs and alcohol

- Educate teens about the realities and consequences of substance abuse

- Inspire teens to be proactive in looking “out for” friends who may be engaging in unhealthy behaviors

- Ultimately, the WeeWorld campaign goal was to help drive traffic to www.checkyourself.com, reach and engage with teens, inspire them to watch the video, and share the program with friends. We were thrilled to see by our results that we surpassed each of our goals.

YP: What role, if any, can adults (parents, teachers, etc.) take in these types of campaigns?

HB: Education and communication is the key. Parents should monitor their child’s activity and interaction online. They should know where their children hang out online, how much time they spend online, who they interact with and what the content of the site is about.

Adults that have regular interaction with a child have opportunities to observe changes in behavior that could signify a problem with drugs and alcohol. For more information about signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use, please visit www.drugfree.org

YP: Can you describe some of the challenges virtual worlds face with cause campaigns targeted at teen users?

PM: Virtual worlds or social games like WeeWorld provide a huge opportunity rather than a challenge to cause marketers due to the fun, viral and engaging platforms it provides. Social games help cause-related messages become an integrated part of the user’s experience. Teens come to WeeWorld for self expression, entertainment and to build a community.  We created custom items for PDFA that enabled users to express themselves and be entertained and ultimately made PDFA a part of the community where users could have an ongoing dialogue with the brand.  This type of integration is unrivaled, goes beyond the banner and gives the marketer “real” connection with an audience.

YP: What type of homework should be done by both the nonprofits and virtual worlds in this space?

PM: Non-profits should understand the scale and the engagement the social game category provides.  Social games or virtual worlds are where over a third of US teens are spending their time, and the time spent on sites like WeeWorld are staggering.  PDFA recognized the value of this growing category and relied on us to help them understand how to make their message relevant.  The best way to engage a teen audience on a virtual world or social game environment is to make the cause relevant within the communities without disrupting the user experience. Our users are here to play games and express themselves, so we listen to ours users and make sure we understand what they want and how they want to see it on our site.

Got something to say?

NEW YORK, NY 10001