By Alyssa Lott

Nearly 390,000 people walk through Times Square in New York City daily, making it one of the busiest tourist attractions in the world. For advertisers, placing an ad here can net roughly 1.5 million impressions daily. It’s a high-profile opportunity for any advertiser and typically only reserved for big brands. But this past month, we did just that for three of our nonprofit clients — AIDS United, March For Our Lives, and Families Belong Together. An established relationship with our vendor allowed us to use eight billboards in Times Square at a discounted rate, creating an opportunity for those on a nonprofit budget.

All three client campaigns put a pressing advocacy issue into a consumer-centric space, impactfully disrupting the regular cadence of expected brand ads to capture the attention of passersby. Using the Times Square billboards as a keystone for larger organic digital and paid advertising campaigns helped us bring clients’ messages to new audiences outside of their normal reach.

There were unique parameters to consider while developing creative and strategy. Eight billboards were available, grouped into three different layouts, including different sizes for each screen. The video ads play several times an hour for 15 seconds each time. The fast-paced ads made us hone in on our core messaging, while the layout required us to adapt a design theme flexible to the specifications of each location. For each client, we built a tailored approach to best capitalize on this opportunity.

AIDS United
A proposed rule change to the Medicare Part D program put thousands of people living with HIV at risk, making it harder for them to get life-saving medication. In partnership with AIDS United, we launched a robust campaign to fight the proposed change, which included the release of the Times Square billboards, op-eds in national and local outlets in target states, outreach to reporters to inform them of the issue, and organic and promoted social media to drive action by people impacted by the issue. The billboards put a face to the issue, literally, featuring large-scale portraits of patient advocates to humanize the issue, and asked passersby to take action. Only a few weeks after our billboards launched, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released their final rule: all proposed changes to the program were withdrawn. We won the issue, helping those living with HIV continue to get access to the medications they need to live.

March For Our Lives
Since its creation in 2018, March For Our Lives (MFOL) has changed the calcified debate on gun violence. As their partner on many campaigns, we recognized that the Times Square billboards offered an opportunity for the group to reach new audiences. We decided the billboards would focus on the trauma experienced by too many survivors of gun violence: I saw my friend get shot. Alongside the launch of the billboards, we placed an exclusive op-ed with PRWeek, secured a live studio interview with Cheddar, and helped the campaign get picked up by a number of other outlets. We created a complete user experience by promoting our SMS code on the billboards, which provided opt-in users with additional information on the gun violence epidemic via messages from a MFOL co-founder, and we promoted the campaign as an effort to keep gun violence awareness prominent through social media and email.

Families Belong Together
The federal government’s inhumane policy of separating migrant families at the border angered the public like few issues before it. While the courts have effectively stopped the family separation policy, children continue to be torn from their families through new policies and actions — but most Americans don’t seem to know it. Families Belong Together is working to reunite families separated by these policies and benefits from the support of an informed public. So, we brought the message to Times Square alongside images of families that were then “ripped” in half, separating the family members in the photos. The striking imagery and messaging helped bring attention back to an issue that many Americans hadn’t recently considered or didn’t realize was not fully resolved.

The Takeaways
The ads generated a huge amount of awareness for each cause while driving significant volume to our clients’ digital properties. Key to our success was providing a life for this creative outside of Times Square, allowing the public to immediately take action or learn more about the issues than could be relayed in a 15 second ad. Seeing these billboards in person and watching the crowds take in meaningful messaging as it stretched up the sides of skyscrapers was powerful. It’s clear that using the Times Square billboards was an effective and valuable tactic for each client strategy, and we’re proud to continue to find new ways to shed light on the clients and causes we believe in.