This is a story about an omni-channel marketing campaign that was optimised in real time using data to deliver on its objectives. What is different about this story is that it didn’t come from a brand or agency—it is a story about how we found our lost but much-loved cat, Betty.
This summer, for five days and nights, Betty disappeared, causing great stress and anguish. However, Betty was one of the lucky ones. She was micro-chipped, she was wearing a collar, but most of all her owners had the ideal combination of skills needed to find her.
As a performance media planner it is my job to ensure that media and communications deliver a tangible result. As far as campaign objectives go, finding Betty was pretty clear cut. As a veterinary nurse in a local practice, my partner Jen had the perfect complimentary skillset. Having an "influencer" working to the same objective significantly increased our chances of finding Betty, given Jen’s connections in the local pet-loving community.
So how did we find her?
As Jen regularly tell clients, a cat is not considered ‘missing’ until it’s gone for 48 hours. With this in mind, we only began our search after she had been gone for one night.
Day 1: We started with some very low-key efforts. We told neighbours and walked the streets, speaking with anyone who showed an interest, immediately widening the net of people who were now looking for Betty. I didn’t realise that those early chats would later be the cat-alyst (sorry) for the start of a Betty-finding-community we would later utilise.
Day 2: Still no sign of Betty. 48 hours had now passed and it was time for the media campaign to kick in with full effect.
We knew a ‘missing’ poster was the tried and tested method for finding a cat. There was a limit to how far Betty could have travelled in 48 hours, so posters were the perfect medium to add localised scale in our search, allowing us to reach far more people than we could by simply knocking on doors. Media planning felt straightforward.
Creative design and copywriting is not my forte, but I hoped what I lacked in artistic quality I could make up for with effectiveness thinking. Knowing how people engage with posters I had to make every effort to grab attention and convey a couple of very simple messages.
With location pivotal, we set out to cover as large an area as possible within these important variables:
Streets near our house;
Nearby areas of high footfall in case she had wandered further afield;
Areas with high dwell time, ideally with a natural sense of community and therefore conversation. Schools, churches, scout groups, crèches and doctors’ surgeries all had posters outside;
Locations common to animal friendly people. Parks, pet shops, vets and even a dog grooming company.
Jen also leveraged the power of owned media by getting local vets and animal rescues to post on their social media accounts. While these would not reach the most local people, we knew that they would reach animal lovers who were more likely to take a keen interest in finding our cat.
Betty had only been gone for 48 hours but with 100+ posters posted hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people would now know she was missing.
However, while finishing our first wave of poster campaigning, we were called by a lady who had found Betty’s collar on a street about five minutes away.
The bad news was this meant our original posters were inaccurate. But the good thing to come out of the collar discovery was data: We knew where she’d been since we’d last seen her, and that she was no longer wearing her collar.
This allowed for the beginning of some "campaign optimisation". We concentrated all poster efforts around the collar finding area—known as "ground zero"—and worked outwards from there.
Day 3: A media friend, Forward 3D’s Sarah Flannery, suggested a Facebook ad campaign, arguing that Facebook advertising could be the modern version of a missing cat poster.
After some research into self-serve paid ad campaign, I cracked on with setting up the targeting options.
Targeting felt very straightforward—we focused on the postcode where Betty’s collar was found and the adjacent postcode. At this stage no other targeting was necessary. I simply wanted to reach anyone who may have seen her and locals felt like the most likely candidates.
I set the campaign live with a couple of ads—a "page boost ad" to promote a page we had set up with extra details and photos and a simple "image ad" that allowed me to give some short copy and a link to the same page. Having multiple ads was important, as optimisation would serve to be a useful tool.
Copywriting in Facebook was more familiar to me than poster design. But many of the same principles applied. I knew most people would ignore the ad, not realising it was hyper-localised, so to gain standout we included the location in the headline. We wanted people to realise that this was not a commercial ad.
At first I was getting a pretty good response rate. Engagement rates were better than industry standards, with the likes steadily growing on Betty’s page.
The ads were working, but only at low levels. Delivery of ads appeared slow. After 12 hours I’d spent less than £5 on my ads and, with worry for Betty growing, I started to take the brakes off media delivery. Experience told me that the maximum daily budget on Facebook was likely to be larger than the actual daily spend so I upped the daily cap to £200 per ad to get more ad delivery. Time was now of the essence.
The new budget cap felt high but I knew I could watch ad delivery in real time and adjust my budget if spend started to spiral. Facebook has a handy reach planner, and I realised that the majority of local residents could be reached for a relatively modest daily budget and we would let word of mouth do the rest.
Day 4: Momentum was building and we were seeing lots of responses. Likes were flooding in and there was a real sense of community, with people we didn’t know telling us they were looking for her. We had also received a number of phone calls reporting possible sightings.
But this created a new problem. The potential sightings were diverse in location. Some were outside the ground zero’s catchment area and others were in streets we’d previously discounted as too far afield.
This is where data helped again. To gain local interest and achieve relevancy and cut through I broadened the Facebook catchment area targeting to include postcodes of sightings. We also created customised posters mentioning any street someone had claimed to see her. By now we had multiple poster iterations, each naming a street that was of interest to us.
Our Facebook community kicked into overdrive as Jen posted regular updates and news.
Day 5: Betty’s disappearance coincided with the early summer heatwave. With no access to food or water, we knew her health would be suffering. We were slowly starting to lose hope.
But then, after another day of poster flying, Facebook optimisation and community management, we were heading home when we received a call from a woman saying she thought Betty was with her in a local beer garden at that very moment.
We dashed down to the pub and there she was. She was being friendly enough to want strokes from drinkers, but wary enough to refuse to be picked up. The rescue mission wasn’t easy. I climbed a fence and wrestled Betty into a carrier. I still have the scratch marks to prove it. But she was home, safe and well, with only an abscess on her back to show for her travels, presumably the result of a fight with another cat.
The lady that found Betty had actually seen one of our very first posters. But she was also aware of our Facebook page which reinforced how desperate we were to find Betty. The Facebook campaign had served its purpose in creating awareness, cut through, conversations and ultimately responses that helped us to understand where to look for her, and how best to tell locals in that area that she was missing. There was simply no other way we could have reached 13,000 people, all for about £100. The ads had clearly gained cut through and recall, as several people stopped us in the street to ask about Betty—all people we had never previously met and all who reported seeing news of her disappearance on Facebook.
So there you have it—a very modern tale of media effectiveness.
Aidan Mark is head of performance planning at Havas Group in London.