Why Guide Dogs put the focus on video with its Blind Hacks campaign for the visually impaired

Zone won the Branded Content category at The Drum Marketing Awards 2020 with its Blind Hacks campaign for charity Guide Dogs. Here, the team behind the entry reveal the challenges faced ad strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

Research by the charity Guide Dogs revealed that 70% of adults with sight loss receive no support within the first 12 months of diagnosis. To position the charity as an organisation that assists people at every stage of their sight loss journey, we needed to work out how to reach them at the first stages of life with vision impairment. How were they behaving online? What were they searching for? How could we practically assist them through digital?

To sustain itself Guide Dogs also needs support from a sighted audience, but this brings its own set of challenges. Chief among them is a ‘sympathy but ignorance’ issue with the public, as studies have recorded high levels of sympathy towards blind people, but little understanding of their actual conditions or their lives. As such, the charity recognises the need to build empathy among the public, connecting them with the cause and increasing their consideration to support Guide Dogs as their charity of choice.

Another complication for our team was Guide Dogs’ historical approach to its online content: characterised by a steady broadcast of uninspiring, organisational messaging that failed to meet audience interests and needs. Many of our potential viewers would have switched off from the charity’s content churn already, unconvinced that it could bring them something genuinely useful or entertaining.

The strategy

With the idea of Blind Hacks in its infancy, we needed to validate our thinking with both qualitative and quantitative research.

The qualitative side took the form of direct conversations with our contacts in the sight loss community to find out how they had negotiated daily tasks when they first began to lose their vision. Scores of interactions were logged with guide dog owners, charity staff, partially sighted individuals, accessibility experts, sighted guides and others. Via these fruitful conversations, we assembled a comprehensive list of tips and tricks that vision impaired people use in their everyday lives.

As a result, Blind Hacks became a community-led project. Tips from the community, for the community – shaped by individuals who truly understood each other’s circumstances. This element of the series also helped address another widely held sentiment that Guide Dogs is keen to combat: pity towards blind and vision impaired people. Blind Hacks showcased their ingenuity and positioned them as designers of the series, not merely the subjects, changing perceptions of people with sight loss and empowering them as a community.

In terms of the quantitative research, our team went about unpicking search terms and user journeys associated with people suffering from the early stages of sight loss and seeking support. They also assessed online trends relevant to our idea, which revealed the high engagement ‘hack’ and ‘how to’ content attracts – averaging around 100K searches per month. These behaviours, combined with the relatively low volume of life hack pieces specifically for the vision impaired, presented us with an opportunity.

Delivering Blind Hacks on the right channels in the right way would give the series visibility, cut-through and ensure we reached the target audience. Therefore, when it came to posting and distribution, we engineered SEO-friendly data supplied by our experts into every aspect of each video: from the metadata of the files themselves, to YouTube-friendly copy, tags, editing and formatting.

Discussing how we could take the concept even further and offer support with emotional well-being and the ‘human’ side to sight loss, we partnered with the vision impaired YouTuber Lucy Edwards. Lucy’s intimate understanding of living with sight loss and her ability to discuss delicate issues with humour and tact in her YouTube videos made her a perfect fit for the project. The collaboration also meant she could discuss her life-changing partnership with black labrador Olga, a graduate of the charity’s training school. Together we planned four ‘Blind Hacks with Lucy Edwards’ vlogs, based on the relatable themes of love, friendship, family and parenthood with sight loss.

The content

The campaign, Blind Hacks (consisting of nine how-to videos on the Guide Dogs YouTube channel, four vlogs on Lucy Edwards’ YouTube channel and three bespoke teaser videos posted on Guide Dogs’ Facebook and Twitter) was created on a small budget.

Paramount to the experience of the how-to videos was making sure they were fully accessible for a vision impaired audience. The videos had to be understandable and usable for everyone on the sight loss spectrum, while still maintaining high creative standards. This is why each video was completely audio described with accessible on-screen labels and graphics. Unlike other ‘accessible’ videos found online, we did this in a modern, dynamic and succinct way, helping to pull in thousands of curious sighted viewers as well as a large VI audience.

The vibrant creative treatment also added to the optimistic, celebratory feel of Blind Hacks. Whether it was chopping food safely, finding items at home, taking public transport or using cash machines, the hacks were presented as triumphs enabled by the wit of the sight loss community, not embarrassing ordeals they have struggled to overcome. Meanwhile, the relatable everyday nature of the hacks was crucial in evoking empathy rather than sympathy from audiences – hitting the client’s objective.

Starting a natural and authentic conversation about living with sight loss was another key goal and we were delighted to see the audience share their own tips and tricks in the comments sections. This gave Blind Hacks a two-way feel, bringing a welcome change to the one-way broadcast that had typified Guide Dogs’ online content previously. Lucy Edwards’ vlogs had the same effect, with her highly engaged 35,000 subscribers sharing their own advice in the comments as well as their heartfelt reactions to the series in general. We wanted the partnership to feel natural and seamless, so chose not to disturb her well-established, conversational vlogging style. This produced candid, personal advice on everything from dating to raising children through the lens of sight loss.

The results

Despite being relatively niche content and minimal media spend, the nine how-to videos have clocked up over 400,000 YouTube views to date – testament to the comprehensive piece of SEO work that ran through the series. More importantly, social listening tools show that audience sentiment has been characterised by intrigue and empathy rather than sympathy, pity or sadness.

The Blind Hacks with Lucy Edwards episodes have tallied approximately 18,300 views in total and the comments sections make for an emotionally charged read, such is the positivity of the sentiment. Teaser videos on Facebook played a key role in driving Guide Dogs’ existing social audience to this new content stream, driving 80,000 click throughs at a cost of £0.70 per result.

With a project of this nature, words are more important than numbers when it comes to the reception, and although the view count blew client expectations out of the water, we urge you to read the responses from people inside and outside the sight loss community below to gauge the true impact of the project. At last, Guide Dogs has a set of tools that demonstrably reaches people going through the early stages of sight loss, shifts perceptions of blindness from sympathy to empathy, and places the charity at the heart of the sight loss conversation without needing a dog for leverage.

Danni Read, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Guide Dogs -

“We were really excited when Zone pitched us the idea of the Blind Hacks series to support our ‘people-first’ brand repositioning. We know how difficult everyday life can be in the early stages of sight loss and our useful, easily-found YouTube resources now provide valuable, sought-after content while defying stereotypes.

“We’re thrilled to be able to tangibly make a difference to the lives of vision impaired people with these tips, sourced from the sight loss community for the sight loss community. Zone have made sure that the content is informative, extremely engaging - and most importantly, fully accessible. We’ve also had brilliant reactions from our target audiences engaging with the content. “

This project was a winner at The Drum Marketing Awards 2020. To find out more about The Drum awards, including which awards are currently open for entry, click here.

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