Sep. 7th, 2006

Verb: its what congress does. Not.

BallUncle Sam is ending its edgy, guerilla Verb campaign which was designed to get kids to work out and eat less junk.

True to form, Congress is pulling the plug just as the program is demonstrating effectiveness. According to the medical journal Pediatrics, 9 and 10-year-old kids who had seen the Verb campaign reported one-third more physical activity during their free time than kids who hadn’t seen Verb. Among girls ages 9-13, the campaign boosted free-time physical activity by nearly 27%.

"Pediatricians and medical groups have sounded the alarm about the lack of activity and poor eating habits of America’s school children. About 13% of school children are overweight, according to the Surgeon General, who recommends children get at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity a day.

Part of the problem with Verb is that many adults weren’t aware of it. The campaign was specifically targeted at 9-to-13-year-olds, and ads aired around shows like Nickelodeon’s "SpongeBob SquarePants." Surveys showed 70% to 80% of school kids were aware of the Verb campaign, but the effort didn’t generate the same excitement among adults.

"There is not a tremendous amount of adult awareness of Verb, but we haven’t targeted them," says Stella Kusner, account director on the Verb campaign for Frankel, a Chicago marketing agency. "But without fail, every time we go out to schools or camps the adults and teachers are amazed at the excitement and brand recognition that kids have with Verb."

Verb also got off to a rocky start after critics complained the government was focusing too much on exercise and instead should be trying to improve kids’ eating habits to counter the advertising muscle of the junk-food industry. But the CDC has said it didn’t want to lecture children about what not to do, and instead wanted to focus on a positive message that celebrated physical activity…

The Verb campaign also included the Yellow Ball, a symbol of kids playing in the sun. The campaign is in the midst of distributing 500,000 yellow balls at schools, camps and family events. Each six-inch rubber ball has a number. Kids are asked to play with the ball and then log on to, fill out a "blog" about how they played with it, and pass the ball on to a friend. The goal is to let kids track where their yellow ball went and who played with it.

Currently there are about 350,000 yellow balls in circulation and 12,600 kids have "blogged" their ball. As direct-marketing campaigns go, the 4% blog response rate of the Yellow Ball campaign is "pretty good," says Ms. Kusner…"

"If no one comes forward it will cease to exist as it is today," says Ms. Kusner. "The good news is we’ve got a lot of people interested in advancing physical activity for kids."

Tara Parker-Pope in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal

Man, that sounds familiar. Great idea. Easy to grasp. Well executed. Show’s success.  But is killed because people outside the demo didn’t see the work.

Or is it just me?

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