Monday, December 9, 2013

California school ad campaign uses famous faces to try to change perceptions about learning disabilities

From The NY Times. In the picture, an ad for the Bridges Academy features Leonardo da Vinci, who is believed to have had Asperger's and dyslexia.

As a campaign for a school for students in grades 5 through 12 seeks to encourage parents to enroll their children, it also has a larger purpose: helping to change perceptions about students who are described with terms like learning disabilities, learning differences, special needs and special education. 

The campaign is for Bridges Academy, in the Studio City section of Los Angeles, which calls itself a school for the twice exceptional, or 2e — that is, students with high abilities who are judged to be talented, gifted or highly gifted and also dealing with conditions like dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Asperger syndrome, dysgraphia and problems in processing audio or visual information. 

The campaign presents famous achievers from history — like Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, Wolfgang Mozart and George Washington — who are identified as “believed to have been twice exceptional, or 2e.” 

“At Bridges Academy, we are completely devoted to the social, emotional, intellectual, academic and creative growth of our 2e students,” the ads declare. “After all, we could be teaching this generation’s Leonardo da Vinci” (or Darwin, or Emerson, and so forth). 

The campaign carries a theme -- “Educating the exceptional ²” -- that began as a phrase that appears numerous times on the website of Bridges Academy. The school also has a division called The 2e Center for Research and Professional Development. 

The campaign is being created pro bono by an agency in New York named the Terri & Sandy Solution. The campaign includes print ads, online ads, brochures and posters. There are also materials that will be used internally at Bridges Academy, like content for emails and signs to be posted on hallway walls. 

The total budget for the campaign through next year is estimated at more than $1.5 million. 

“For a lot of schools, teachers, the system of education, learning is based on a deficit model: ‘What’s wrong with you? Let’s try to fix that,'” says Carl Sabatino, headmaster of Bridges Academy. 

He estimates that about 2 percent of all students “suffer operating under a deficit model” because they are “capable of creating, producing, thinking” but that goes unrecognized. 

“Yes, they have these learning disabilities,” Mr. Sabatino says, “but they also have this potential that must be tapped.” 

“We have to make sure we help all of them,” he adds. 

The historical figures are meant to “personify the potential of these children,” Mr. Sabatino says, and help the campaign as it seeks to reach “a larger audience.” 

Each famous face “takes you from a label to a person to an icon,” he adds. 

How did a New York agency end up creating work for a school in Los Angeles? As is often the case in advertising, a personal connection figures in, in this instance involving the vice chairwoman of the board of Bridges Academy, Lori Lepler, who is a parent of a seventh grader at the school, her son, Eli. 

Ms. Lepler is a former New Yorker now living in the Los Angeles area who worked at New York agencies that included JWT, then J. Walter Thompson; Frankfurt Gips Balkind; and Ogilvy & Mather. When Ms. Lepler worked as a senior vice president and management director at Thompson, her counterparts on the creative side were the women who eventually founded the Terri & Sandy Solution, Terri Meyer and Sandy Greenberg. 

“Two years ago, when my son joined the school, I realized it was a small school with a huge idea of an education model,” Ms. Lepler says, adding that after she joined the Bridges Academy board, “as a board we developed, with Carl’s stewardship, brand positioning and strategy.” 

“And then I appealed to Terri and Sandy, whom I’ve known for 20 years, with whom I worked side by side,” to work on a campaign, Ms. Lepler says. She praises Ms. Meyer and Ms. Greenberg for what she calls “their strategic horsepower to problem-solve and their creative prowess.” 

After the agency came back with the campaign, Ms. Lepler says, “we immediately recognized, ‘Wow, this is us, and this is big.'” 

The strong point is that the ads are focused “on the end benefit” of an education at Bridges Academy, she adds, which is “to unlock the potential of each student. These kids are so full of potential, but you can’t fulfill it till you find it.” 

Ms. Greenberg says that she and Ms. Meyer, as they began to work on the campaign, decided to focus on how “Bridges is an environment that builds on strengths to help students overcome their challenges.” 

“There was this term on the website, ‘twice exceptional,’ which I’d never heard of,” Ms. Greenberg says, “and we started looking into it” as a way to convey the mission of the school along with featuring the historical figures who may “today be diagnosed as twice exceptional.” 

Ms. Meyer takes issue with a suggestion that the phrase will be dismissed as a euphemism, an attempt to soft-pedal a problem or an example of marketing jargon. 

“We didn’t make it up; we were not coining a phrase,” Ms. Meyer says. Rather, “it’s a term accepted in that community” of educators, she adds, which makes it “a term that’s acceptable.” 

“There are no universal words to explain how these children are,” Ms. Meyer says. “Something meaningful, something uplifting could make kids and parents feel better about themselves,” she adds, compared with what she deems “negative terminology” like “learning challenged” or “learning disabled.”