Reaching Those on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide
By Jane L. Levere
THE Advertising Council and Connect2Compete, a nonprofit group whose goal is to eliminate the digital divide in the United States, are introducing a public service campaign to help those who are not digitally literate find free training to obtain these skills.
In remarks prepared for a speech in Washington last month about Connect2Compete’s efforts, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, Julius Genachowski, said approximately one in three Americans, or 100 million people, still do not have broadband in their homes, with low-income Americans and minorities “disproportionately on the wrong side of the digital divide.”
This matters, he continued, because “over 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies post job openings exclusively online. Over half of today’s jobs require technology skills, and nearly 80 percent of jobs in the next decade are projected to require digital skills.”
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, one in five American adults — about 62 million people — do not use the Internet. The 2012 Pew Internet and American Life Project said the main reason these people “don’t go online is because they don’t think the Internet is relevant to them.”
To reach adults who share this sentiment, Connect2Compete approached the Advertising Council last year for help creating a public service campaign “with messages that get at the relevance of the Internet, how you can do something, or do something better that you may already do, by being online,” said Zach Leverenz, chief executive of Connect2Compete.
To that end, the Ad Council and the New York office of Young & Rubicam, part of the WPP Group, created a multimedia advertising campaign that begins on Thursday, a date chosen because its numbers (3-21) stand for a three-two-one countdown to get “everyone on” the Internet. The campaign’s Web site is EveryoneOn.org.
Advertising being distributed by the Ad Council includes a TV spot featuring Reginald, an actual truck driver from California whose instructor shows him how to use a computer, get on the Internet, and buy a plane ticket as a surprise for his wife. “She’s going to love me all over again now,” he says. The spot concludes, “But first, he’s going to surprise himself. Get online. Find a free class near you.”
Radio ads feature actors portraying individuals who do not know how to use the Internet. One is a man named Peter, whose instructor shows him how to look for electrician jobs online. The voice-over says, “This is Peter. Recently he got help going on the Internet for the first time to look for a new job. In the past, Peter’s gotten work through people he knew. But he heard there were more jobs online.”
One outdoor ad features a row of people — resembling paper doll cutouts — holding hands; the text says “1 in 5 Americans don’t use the Internet. Luckily help is all around.” These ads include the campaign’s toll-free telephone number.
Once the audience for all advertising — which is running in both English and Spanish — calls the toll-free number, they are asked for their ZIP code and given the location of free training classes nearby. Class information is also available via texting. In addition, the campaign’s Web site locates classes — which are being offered by over 21,000 libraries and other centers — by ZIP code.
The advertising being introduced on Thursday was preceded this month by related digital advertising and Facebook and Twitter outreach, directed at those who are already digitally literate and encouraging them to help those who are not.
Cheryl Chapman, a creative director at Young & Rubicam in New York, said the agency “knew we couldn’t scare people into using the Internet, so we wanted the advertising to feel disarming, to capture the real emotion of learning something new.”
According to Dzu Bui, campaign director of the Advertising Council, the campaign is directed primarily at adults who are not digitally literate, “since they are the ones who have control over accessing the Internet, they are the decision makers, they make choices for their families.”
Peggy Conlon, president and chief executive of the Ad Council, said the goal of the campaign — the group’s first to address digital literacy issues — was to “overcome the barriers people have to going online.”
She also predicted media outlets — which donate time and space to run all Ad Council advertising — might be motivated to carry this campaign, because it could “help increase their audiences. An informed citizenry is a stronger citizenry. There are many reasons this is good for everybody.”
Experts differed about the campaign and its strategy.
Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor who teaches the economics of information at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, called the campaign’s goals “on target,” since, he said, the median wage of Americans today is lower than it was 15 years ago, in part because they have “not kept up with digital technologies.”
Ruth Small, director of the Center for Digital Literacy at Syracuse University, commended the campaign for addressing specific subjects that interest people, like job hunting.
Although Dan Wagner, Unesco chair in learning and literacy at the graduate school of education of the University of Pennsylvania, said “anything that helps people, especially the poor, get access to technology is good,” he called creating relevant content for those who are not digitally literate just as important as showing them how to get online.
James McQuivey, who follows consumer technology adoption for Forrester Research, questioned the campaign’s prospects. “I don’t think it will have the impact they want it to have because most people who are not connected to the Internet are not there by choice. It’s not that these people are sitting and waiting for the Internet and can’t get it.”