Making our first ad campaign

How we tapped into the brains of our LinkedIn network to help create our first ever outdoor campaign

6min read

Spill does an advertising

18 months ago, Spill was just an idea in our co-founders’ heads. Since then we’ve come a long way: our app has been taken on by the likes of Monzo and Hargreaves Lansdown, we’ve added great features to the product like Keyboard and Insights, and we’re getting great signs of product-market fit: 50% of everyone who messages on Spill is still messaging after six months.

Insights, our newest feature, lets you highlight pieces of wisdom from your counsellor

Revenue was also ticking up nicely. We’d hired more salespeople, invested in LinkedIn ads, and started going to the right exhibitions and trade shows. Selling Spill through businesses — and therefore removing the price barrier to individual users — seemed to have been the right decision, even though at the time it had been a controversial one internally.

We’d all left our jobs because we were passionate about breaking down the barriers to therapy and changing how people view it; we hadn’t left our jobs just to create a nice piece of corporate software. But after many heated discussions we had a realisation: just because our business model involves us partnering with organisations doesn’t mean we can’t behave like a consumer brand.

In fact, many of the brands we are obsessed with could be loosely termed ‘B2B2C’. Impossible Foods (until literally this week) only sold their ‘bleeding’ vegetarian burgers to restaurants, making them a B2B company. But the brand issued a rallying cry — that “the cow has been around for millions of years, and it’s never been a good technology for making meat”— which struck a chord with consumers and led them to pressure restaurant chains into stocking Impossible burgers. Even people who didn’t engage with the product started interacting with the brand because they believed in the kind of future Impossible was outlining. As the company’s Creative Director Sasha Markova puts it, “the point of the advertising is not to get people to buy the burger, but to join the mission”.

'Impossible foods mission statement'

So, after some heated company arguments, we decided to spend £100k on our first proper ad campaign; a long-term, brand-building campaign with the aim of promoting our bigger mission rather than trying to generate short-term sales for Spill. This is the big shift in the perception of therapy that we’re trying to accelerate:

Therapy perception shift from mentally ill to humans with feelings

Why £100k? We’d read Binet and Field’s IPA paper on media effectiveness — practically a bible in the ad industry — which shows that long-term success is most likely when a company splits its marketing spending 60:40 on brand building activity vs. short-term sales generation activity. That split roughly accounted to £100k for us, having earlier in the year secured our first round of VC funding. Given that we were trying to change people’s perceptions on quite a big topic, we also needed enough budget to hit Londoners (our core audience) with multiple impressions from multiple channels, so the campaign felt bigger than it was. This was why we chose to go for a two-week blitz rather than an always-on slow-burner. Well, that and the Oatly campaign, which we basically modelled ours after because it’s just sheer genius.

To choose channels we again looked to Binet and Field, as their analysis examines the largest historical bank of campaigns available — over 20 years’ worth. Although TV is the most effective medium, we chose outdoor and press as they were almost as effective over the long term but without the significant creative production costs required (film shoots, sound studios, and all that stuff).

Binet & Field, IPA, ‘Media in Focus’ (2017)

Binet & Field, IPA, ‘Media in Focus’ (2017). Yellow annotations added

Within these, we wanted formats with a longer dwell time so we chose a four-side cover wrap of Time Out (it’s more likely to be taken home, read for longer and acted upon than other free London reads), across-platform tube ads (which have a 3min average dwell time), inside bus shelters (6min dwell time) and then some billboards, outside bus shelters and Instagram feed ads thrown in to ensure we got enough reach.

Ad campaign options

We looked at various options for press but felt Time Out offered the best value given our objectives

The Time Out cover wrap was the centrepiece of our media mix, and we re-jigged the other channels until we felt we had a good balance. Nurture at JC Deceaux were a great partner, specifically set up to help start-ups with their first outdoor campaigns.

Ad campaign budget breakdown

Now that we had our media, we realised the hard task had begun: working out what to say! Spill has never been one to use photography, and as we’re a brand literally selling therapeutic power of words it felt obvious to go with copy-led ads.

We knew we could do long copy in Time Out (we had four sides to play with after all), but for the majority of our channels we wanted to distill our thinking down to one thought to maximise the chances of it sinking in. Analysis of thousands of campaigns tested with consumers by Millward Brown on their Link database shows the importance of being single-minded:

Millward Brown Link database number of messages per campaign

So we wanted a single line. But in order to change perceptions, we wanted a line that would make people think again. Not a clever ‘ad-y’ headline with some wordplay or a pun, but what we ended up calling a ‘shower thought’: a perception-changing fact-disguised-as-an-opinion that makes you sit up and go “wait…huh?”. We set the bar pretty high for our inspiration…

Perception changing ad exmaples, incl Oatly, Fever-Tree and Cancer Researcg UK

Our perception-changing obsessions: Oatly, Fever-Tree and Cancer Research UK

So the brief, after a few arguments and rewrites, was as follows:

The brief

With that, it was time to generate some lines. A whole lot of lines. I spent a couple of weeks trying to write alone, which wasn’t very fruitful. Other members of the team got stuck in. Friends and ex-colleagues were consulted. We brainstormed with the whole Spill gang. We tried everything.

Spill employees brainstorming copy

When Spillers became copywriters

We ended up with a Word document of potential lines that was 13 pages long. Some people had favourites, but we felt like we hadn’t got the line. The one that made everyone sit up and go “that’s it!”. Having stared at lines for so long, we had lost all sense of what was good. We needed help.

Some examples of the hundreds of lines we wrote

Pages and pages: we wrote over 1,000 potential advertising lines during those few weeks

So, as the deadline for submitting ad copy approached, we decided to ask our LinkedIn connections to pitch in and help out. We had been skeptical to do traditional market research with consumers as we purposely wanted to make them feel a bit uncomfortable. But getting input from people on LinkedIn felt like the best bits of market research combined with the best bits of free consultancy: many of our connections work in business and marketing. We put out a Typeform with eight potential lines and asked for qualitative, constructive input.

One of our Typeform questions

One of our Typeform questions

The response was overwhelming: over 400 people took the time to give their input. We spent a whole day going through the responses one by one and found the themes were surprisingly consistent, both in terms of the general and the particular.

Two of the lines that we thought were more playful — ‘Therapy. For everyone who hasn’t completed life yet’ and ‘ If you’re alive, therapy can help with that’ — made nearly everyone think of suicide, which isn’t ideal for a tube ad. Mentioning ‘the elite’, which we thought could give a sense of an enemy to rally against, felt like it was bringing in unnecessary class conflict.

Overall, lines worked better when people felt they were being spoken to on the same level. Questions worked best at making people think, and framing things positively stopped it all feeling too doom-and-gloom.

We coded the lines based on intensity of reaction, and kept the results in a table rather than as an overall 1–5 score because we wanted to avoid lines that had a lot of ‘meh’ reactions. A line with both strong positive and strong negative reactions would at least make people talk.

Typeform results

The results of around 200 Typeform responses, coded according to sentiment and intensity

Luckily, the ‘Therapy. Self-discovery without having to travel through Thailand’ line had a lot of strong positive reactions and few negative ones. People liked its knowing and humorous tone, and it made them see therapy as less of a serious treatment. Obama and Federer came in second, but the strength of the negative reactions — around them both being rich men, and so therapy seeming potentially an unnecessary luxury— made it problematic. As our second line we therefore went with a more positive re-jig of the big therapy statements/questions (#4 and #5): ‘Therapy. What would the world look like if everyone did it?’

A Spill billboard

The Spill Timeout cover

The campaign just dropped this week so it’s too early to analyse the results. We’ll be back with another post when they come in, though, to see if it was all worth it. But in the meantime the Spill team are happy with where we ended up, and excited to have discovered a new (and free…) consultancy resource in the form of our LinkedIn network. It won’t be the last time we ask them to get involved in shaping Spill’s future.

Providing mental health support beats reading about it.