Down Syndrome Answers

Cause (GOLD)
Pivotal Insight (GOLD)
Targeting (GOLD)

Client Credits: Canadian Down Syndrome Society
National Executive Director: Kirk Crowther, CDSS
Vice Chair: Ed Casagrande, CDSS
Board member: Ben Tarr, CDSS
Communications Manager: Kaitlyn Pecson, CDSS

Agency Credits: FCB Canada
CEO: Tyler Turnbull, FCB Canada
Chief Creative Officer: Jon Flannery, FCB Canada
Chief Creative Officer: Jeff Hilts, FCB Canada
Chief Creative Officer: Nancy Crimi-Lamanna, FCB Canada
ACD, Art Director: Simon Tuplin, FCB Canada
ACD, Copywriter: Pete Gardiner, FCB Canada
Producer: Judy Hamilton, FCB Canada
Editor: David Rodriguez, FCB Canada
Group Account Director: Anabella Mandel, FCB Canada
Account Manager: Joline Christiani, FCB Canada
Senior Strategist: Eryn LeMesurier, FCB Canada
Digital Strategist: Shelagh Hartford, FCB Canada
Director: Elias Campbell
Director of Photography: Stephen McLouglin
Casting: Shasta Lutz, Jigsaw Casting
Media Agency: Reprise

Total 2198 Words


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):November 2016 - March 2017
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: November 1, 2016
Base Period as a Benchmark: October 2016
Geographic Area: Canada
Budget for this effort: $0 - $50,000

Why should this case win in the category (ies) you have entered?
When parents learn their unborn child has Down syndrome, they have a short period of time to decide whether to keep the baby or not. Shell-shocked, they leave the doctor’s office with a list of questions.

To make matters worse, parents are confronted with the cold and clinical language of Down syndrome: Genetic defects. Developmental delays. Abnormalities. Language that is far removed from the emotional reality of the agonizing decision at hand.

The Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) wanted to be there for expecting parents by giving them the answers about Down syndrome that they were seeking. The objective wasn't to be pro-life or pro-choice, but only pro-information.

However, this is an extremely niche, difficult-to-reach demographic of parents, so we knew we would need a targeting strategy that went beyond that of traditional media. We needed to identify their existing behaviours and intercept them within the crucial 10-day period that they would be seeking out information.

We began by developing an understanding our target’s media habits, and found that they use search very intensely. This led us to a key insight: despite accounting for just .1% of pregnant couples, they ask Google 57,000 Down syndrome-related questions every month - a massive volume for such a small group.

Knowing this, we worked with Google to determine the top 40 most-searched questions about Down syndrome, and created Down Syndrome Answers: a series of searchable videos that answer all of the top Googled questions on Down syndrome, answered by people with Down syndrome. Launched during Canadian Down Syndrome Awareness Week, our videos offer a window into the lives of people who, just by their very existence, can dispel some common misconceptions.

By taking the data-driven approach of answering parents’ top searched questions, and by using Search Engine Optimization techniques and keywords targeting, we’ve ensured our videos’ organic rankings will only continue to rise. This means that Down Syndrome Answers is an always-on campaign that will live far beyond its initial launch, providing expectant parents a searchable resource to turn to, today and into the future.

a) Describe the Client’s business, competition and relevant history:

The CDSS' mission is to empower Canadians with Down syndrome and their families. They raise awareness and provide information on Down syndrome through the prenatal, early childhood, school years, adulthood, and retirement stages of life.

The Down syndrome community in Canada has made great strides since the CDSS' founding in 1987. Despite these great advances, much more needs to be done. This is why the CDSS works to ensure the inclusion of individuals with Down syndrome in their schools, communities and workplaces across Canada.

b) Describe the Client’s Business Issues/Opportunities to be addressed by the campaign:

Most people have heard of Down syndrome, but few are fully informed about it. This is a particular problem at the prenatal stage when parents are given a diagnosis. Doctors provide parents with the medical perspective on Down syndrome, but no one provides them with the real life, human perspective on what life with Down syndrome is really like.

Realizing this gap in information for expectant parents facing a diagnosis, the CDSS wanted to be there for parents by simply giving them the answers they were seeking.

c) Resulting Business Objectives: Include how these will be measured:

The campaign’s goal was to be there for expecting parents by simply giving them the answers about Down syndrome that they were seeking. The objective wasn't to be pro-life or pro-choice, but only pro-information. But we also knew that parents needed more than just facts. They needed to hear the human perspective as they faced this life changing decision.

At the communication level, our campaign’s goals were to:

  • Find a way to directly and efficiently target parents facing a Down syndrome diagnosis:

  • Close the information gap on Down syndrome through the organization’s educational content.  

Because our target is a very small group of expecting parents, and one that only has a finite amount of time to gather information before making a life-changing decision, our goal to directly engage them was a very substantial ask - and one that would require an "outside the box" strategy.

To determine the campaign's success, we would measure the increase in engagement among expecting parents through website visits, organic search results and media impressions.


a) What new learnings/insights did you uncover?

We first knew we had to develop an understanding of expecting parents’ media habits so that we could find the best ways to reach them. This led us to find that, according to Google, expectant parents use search twice as much as non-parents.1 More importantly, we learned that parents who have received a Down syndrome diagnosis use search even more intensely. Despite accounting for just .1% of pregnant couples, they ask Google 57,000 Down syndrome-related questions/month, an astronomical volume for such a small group.

Knowing this, we used Google’s Keyword Planner and Google Trends to identify the most-Googled questions parents were asking about Down syndrome. 

In analyzing the 40 most-searched questions about Down syndrome, the data revealed that over 20 of those questions focused on what everyday life with Down syndrome was like. Could their child ride a bike? Drive a car? Get married? The nature of these questions led to a key insight: that parents turn to Google with profoundly human questions about Down syndrome, but can only find clinical answers. 

While doctors and online resources were feeding parents heaps of dehumanizing, medical information, what we discovered was that parents actually wanted to understand the syndrome in human terms. Parents had an unmet need that the CDSS could fulfill.

b) What was your Big Idea?

With a diagnosis, lots of questions and no time, couples who have been given a Down syndrome diagnosis inevitably turn to Google for answers. Rather than leaving them to the wilds of WebMD, the CDSS had the true experts answer their questions – people living with Down syndrome every day.

c) How did your Communication strategy evolve?

After uncovering key insights about our target's media habits, we built our strategy around search to tap into parents’ existing digital behavior and reach parents in the exact moment that they were seeking information and primed to take action. Then, using Google AdWords, search engine optimization and keyword targeting, we planned to intercept those searches with video content that gave direct answers to those questions, from a truly human perspective.

Since there’s no way to target parents of an unborn child with Down syndrome in traditional media, search and AdWords allowed us to find this niche, tough to reach audience in a way that other platforms would not.

d) How did you anticipate the communication would achieve the Business Objectives?

While search is typically considered to be functional, the campaign used it in a much warmer way by serving parents video answers to their questions that put a human face on factual content. 

Because we took the data-driven approach of answering parents’ top searched questions, we ensured our videos’ organic rankings will continue to rise. This meant that the CDSS would be able to be there for parents in their time of need - meeting our objectives of providing parents with a balanced perspective on life with Down syndrome, and finding innovative ways to reach this niche audience so they can make a fully informed decision about their pregnancy.

An organic, SEO-based communications strategy also meant that our video content would be able to continue to increase website traffic to indefinitely - effectively creating a self-sustaining campaign.


Section IV — THE WORK
a) How, where and when did you execute it?

We created 40 videos, each featuring a person with Down syndrome answering a question about what it is like to live with Down syndrome. We then developed a landing page on that housed all of the video content. Each question and video was also given its own page, which meant that after Googling a question, parents would be directly connected to the real experts on Down syndrome, giving the exact response to their query. Title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags and other back-end SEO techniques were included on each page in order to ensure that our videos would achieve the highest-possible Google search results.

By hosting the videos on YouTube, we were able to take advantage of community elements of the platform, including arranging videos into a playlist and adding End Screens to each video. This allowed us to easily point viewers to the rest of our Down Syndrome Answers content and therefore connect parents with even more information.

We launched Down Syndrome Answers on November 1, 2016 - the start of Canadian Down Syndrome Week, and also launched a corresponding PR campaign at the same time.

Down Syndrome Answers was also extended into social. On March 21st 2017, World Down Syndrome Day, we launched a Facebook Live Down Syndrome Answers Q&A in which Dylan, one of our Down syndrome experts, answered questions from our growing community. The live Q&A created a social hub where parents could come together for information and support.

c) Media Plan Summary


As the CDSS is a non-profit organization, we took this campaign on pro-bono, working with a very limited media budget, and relied heavily on organic search best-practices in order to reach our target.

We launched our videos during Canadian Down Syndrome Week, and took advantage of that increased attention by also running an integrated PR program at this time. Our campaign was featured across Canadian and international news outlets, giving us a larger platform to showcase our Down syndrome experts and shift misperceptions about the community.

From November 1-7, we ran a Google AdWords campaign that ensured our videos would be featured at the top of Google searches about Down syndrome at launch, allowing those who heard about our campaign through news or PR to easily find the content.

The PR push and AdWords campaign helped jumpstart our SEO and increase our Google Search rankings, which, because of the small size of our target audience, otherwise could have taken a much longer period of time to achieve.

a) How did the work impact attitudes and behaviour?

The goal of Down Syndrome Answers was not to change people's behaviours, but impact their existing behaviours by providing them with the human side to the story on the diagnosis of Down syndrome, and using their natural media habits to do so.

We used the power of search to target a tiny audience by answering the questions they were asking Google at the very moment they needed support and help. Impacting the attitudes of our target was less important to us than simply being able to reach this niche group and give them the information they were looking for.

b) What Business Results did the work achieve for the client?

To date, Down Syndrome Answers has achieved:

  • 455 million media impressions
  • 101% increase in organic traffic to site, of this over 50% was through Google Search
  • 893% increase in referral traffic to
  • 240,000 video views, which is a significant amount since there are only 25,800 of Down syndrome pregnancies in North America every year.

c) Other Pertinent Results

  • Down Syndrome Associations in 10 countries now support our assets as a resource for parents
  • A Think with Google Best-in-Class case for search-based marketing

d) What was the campaign’s Return on Investment?

As a non-profit organization, and with a goal of simply disseminating information (vs. asking for donations), the CDSS was not looking to achieve any return on investment through this campaign.

However, due to the substantial national and international attention that Down Syndrome Answers generated, the campaign was able to provide the CDSS with over $2.9 million in earned media, an unprecedented amount for the CDSS. This is a significantly lower CPM than normal and is achievement for a campaign that began with only a $12,000 budget. 

Section VI — Proof of Campaign Effectiveness
a) Illustrate the direct cause and effect between the campaign and the results

Down Syndrome Answers was designed to be an always-on campaign, the effectiveness of which would continue to build for as long as the content is live online. There is no "peak" or "season" in which we wanted to reach our target - our goal was to create an everlasting resource that expecting parents could rely on within that crucial time period after diagnosis.

Google's search algorithm means that the more times our videos are viewed, the higher they will appear in the search rankings. As a result, the effects of our campaign - including our organic search rankings - only continue to improve. Currently, when searched, many of our videos even appear within the Google "Quick Answer Box" at the top of the page, a true sign of success of an organic search campaign.




b) Prove the results were not driven by other factors
Campaign spend vs. history and competition:

As a non-profit, the CDSS does not have high media budgets or the ability to spend large amounts on campaign awareness. Earned media from our campaign helped propel our messaging, expand our reach and awareness and give our organic search results an initial push.

Pre-existing Brand momentum:

Because the CDSS did not have content on its site that directly aimed to answer the top 40 questions about Down syndrome, there was no prior momentum leading prospective parents to the site for this information.


There were no pricing factors or other changes in communication that would affect our results.

Changes in Distribution/Availability:

There were no changes in distribution or availability of the CDSS that would affect our results.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

There were no alternative promotional activities occurring at the time of the campaign.

Any other factors:

Because our campaign was focused on such a niche audience, and because the number of Down syndrome diagnoses is a relative constant, there are no additional factors that affected our results.