Marketing to kids can be tricky. It can also be exciting and fun. My favorite agency experience was working on VERB, a social marketing campaign from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about getting tweens (kids 9-13 yeas old) physically active. It was a five-year campaign that had amazing results – we motivated millions of tweens to get moving and to do so with imagination and fun.

After the completion of the campaign I was asked to talk to a group of graduate students in the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University. My blog is based on my notes from that time.


1. For Kids, By Kids

Kids are great at telling you what they like and what they don’t. Marketing to kids can be a challenge because they are fickle and their preferences continue to evolve. To drive relevance with kids it is important to develop marketing in alignment with them. For VERB we relied on a variety of ways to connect with kids prior to launching new programs. This was done via research, surveys, panels and focus groups. We also had an online community of 300-500 kids that we bounced ideas off.


2. Be Where the Kids Are

Go to where the kids are. This may mean working directly with kids or through influencers. As an integrated marketing campaign VERB had several channels beyond the typical paid and owned media space. We partnered with schools to bring physical activity programs to P.E. teachers across the U.S. VERB reached 6.5M tweens in schools within two years and won two industry awards including a Silver Reggie and Silver at Kidpower. VERB also partnered with national and local community-based organizations (CBOs) such as Boys & Girls Club and YMCA. Throughout the campaign we also had an mobile tour that made stops at schools, CBOs and other local events. VERB even tested a mobile texting campaign but we were a little ahead of the curve on that one! Our last marketing campaign was VERB Yellowball. It was a viral campaign that included distribution of over 200,000 balls, influencer outreach, school and CBO programs, cinema, paid media, digital, website, event and more. Yellowball won a Gold Lion. (Check out the VERB Yellowball case study video in my Portfolio/Accomplishments section.)


3. Partnerships & Sponsorships, aka 1+1=3

Partnerships and sponsorships were another important channel to the VERB campaign. These allowed us to extend our reach, grow our reputation and created a mutually beneficial relationship. The type of partnerships varied from those with media companies that offered exposure in their print and digital platforms to participating in their existing events. We created partnerships with sports associations such as NFL to help promote 60 minutes of physical activity a day. NFL’s Play60 continues today far beyond the end of the VERB campaign in 2006.


4. Be Authentic & Flexible

There is no need to spin any messaging to kids – they may not be as sophisticated as adults but they catch on to those who aren’t authentic or real. It is best to be direct and straightforward but not completely dry. Having fun and a sense of play is helpful. You also need to be flexible and always relevant. This means refreshing your content and creative campaigns. Trends come and go and your brand needs to stay on top of this. A five-year campaign with the same creative and content just won’t work with this group.


5. What’s In It For Me?

We talked earlier about your messaging being simple and straightforward. It also needs to clearly deliver on what is in it for the kids. There is no time for them to interpret what you want. So tell them instead. VERB was about having fun being active. We provided game and activity ideas that allowed kids to make it their own. We asked, “What is your VERB?” Mine was dance, yours may be basketball, another was running. VERB gave kids bragging rights and yet also allowed for individuality. We used badging as a way to motivate kids whether it was collecting points online for minutes of play, to collecting rewards from the PE and CBO programs to winning swag from our media partners.


Photo: VERB Yellowball School Kit. 2006.