FaceTheFentanyl: Assessing the social marketing campaign


Social marketing is “communication aimed at persuading or informing an audience about a social issue goal, or organization, usually one that is non-commercial in nature.” (Humphreys, 2016).  In this case, the FacetheFentanyl social marketing campaign was launched by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) in March 2016, in partnership with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Humber College Ad Centre, in response to skyrocketing fentanyl overdoses and deaths.  At the time of the launch, the number of fentanyl overdose deaths in Ontario since 2010 stood at 577.  More recent numbers indicate that more than 850 Ontarians died from opioid-related causes in 2016 alone.

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The overall FacetheFentanyl campaign is divided into two parts:  enforcement of existing laws and a social media campaign, which organizers viewed as the best way to educate at-risk Ontarians.  The latter is the focus of this paper.  The website includes black-and-white photos of attractive young adults who were victims of overdoses, none of whom looked like an apparent addict.  With the hashtag #THENEWFWORD, the website constantly updates the number of overdoses, provides facts on fentanyl, lists signs of an overdose, stresses the importance of the drug naloxone in reversing the effects of an overdose, makes posters available and provides contact information.  Two tools were developed to encourage dialogue and information exchange:  Twitter and Facebook accounts, which include similar information and various photographs and graphics.

 Failures and successes

The initial reaction to the campaign was very positive.  The Star called it an innovative and bright campaign and opined that “the chiefs of police should be applauded for the ingenuity of the campaign behind the FaceTheFentanyl campaign”   Similarly , Communicato deemed it one of the six best Canadian social media campaigns of 2016.

While it is true that the web site and Twitter and Facebook accounts were professionally prepared and include useful information, I am a little less sanguine in my assessment for three reasons.  Firstly, there are many different Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)  that can potentially  be monitored to measure the success of a market oriented campaign, including engagement rate, share of voice, goal conversion rate, return on investment (ROI) and customer service. While an adequate discussion of these would require another paper, what is important is that there is no ideal KPI and that metrics pertaining to  government or public initiatives such as this are even more difficult to formulate, implement and interpret.

As there can be no doubt that the number of fentanyl overdose cases continues to skyrocket, one might argue that the campaign has been a failure.  While I will admit that saving even one life would be positive,  there is no way to determine whether this has happened.  While the website indicated that 477 people have been educated regarding naloxone, did the individuals concerned merely click on the tab or go to their pharmacy to get a prescription or perhaps change their lifestyle choices?

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Secondly, even more traditional  metrics related to their Twitter efforts, for example, demonstrate meager results.  As of now, there have only been 203 Tweets with 682 Followers and 56 Likes, hardly impressive after two years, given the population of Ontario.  And the Tweets and Retweets have  all been by authorities, professionals and academics – none from the average, young Ontarian at-risk or drug user, the intended campaign targets.

Finally, none of my classmates or anyone to whom I have spoken have been aware of this campaign; nor could I find any other subsequent references to the success of the campaign online.


There were originally two distinct targets of the campaign:

  • “average” teen and young adult Ontarians who may unknowingly be at risk. This is because “Since fentanyl is cut into drugs you can’t see, smell or taste it”; and
  • drug users who are knowingly taking fentanyl or those who may imbibe not realizing that fentanyl is part of the cocktail they are consuming.

Unfortunately, neither of these target groups seem to have been involved in the Facebook or Twitter chatter, as indicated in Success and Failures above which suggests that it has not been that successful.   While this may be understandable among the second target category as users may well not have access to cell phones or computers since they are often on the street; but it also suggests that the first target group might be reluctant to engage due to fear of identification, embarrassment or retribution.  In my view, other appropriate communication vehicles for the second target group would include billboard advertising in areas where users congregate (such as back alleys, bars and public health centres) and word of mouth by street level professionals.   It is not clear whether these have been undertaken.

One question I have is whether there was originally or there evolved a third target, that is the professionals, academics and law authorities involved with this issue, as a means of information exchange and updates.  If so, this might have resulted in more chatter by these individuals, thus discouraging involvement by the target groups.

What could be done differently?

            The social media campaign could have been done differently, as follows:

  • it should have been more diverse to include other basic communication vehicles and perhaps newspaper and television advertisements for average, young more affluent Ontarians;
  • I suspect that OACP did not have funding to undertake some of these more expensive traditional but equally important vehicles;
  • one wonders why the primary partner was the RCMP, when reluctance to be involved with and disdain for authorities among target groups would likely be an obvious problem. Why not engage with more representative and wide-ranging groups such as the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD), which at least has some online presence.  This might ensure greater buy-in by the target groups and attract more funding for a better campaign, as suggested above.


There is no question that the improper use of fentanyl and the resulting overdose deaths is an epidemic worthy of efforts by all those concerned to educate the two target groups and help eradicate the drug’s use.  The OACP has undertaken its own response to this situation in conjunction with two partners using two social media accounts and a traditional website.

Although more work is needed to elaborate, undertake and interpret social media KPIs in general, as I have stated above, the seeming failure of this specific campaign on two counts, at least, may be due to three factors:  a campaign which was not diverse enough in its elements, insufficient funding and a failure to work with appropriate allies.

At the same time, without contacting the OACP to get further information on what KPIs it has used, if any, and further details on how these are being tracked and implemented, it is difficult to know how successful this campaign has been.  It would also be useful to contact other enforcement authorities and first line professionals to determine (even anecdotally) if their efforts have led to any positive results.

Have you heard about the FaceTheFentanyl campaign?  What is your reaction?

Ten curious facts you need to know for International Coffee Day

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You’re probably drinking coffee as you read this blog.  And you would not be alone.  In fact, 1.4 billion cups of coffee are poured daily throughout the world.  Coffee accounted for USD 76 billion in export revenues in 2017, while tea exports amounted to a paltry USD 48.5 billion.  Americans drink 400 million cups a day, while 71% of Canadians aged 18-79 drink coffee daily.  And coffee consumption among North American teenagers is increasing significantly.

Proponents of coffee quote all sorts of health benefits, including reducing muscle pain by 48% and  increasing fibre intake, thus improving digestion.  Caffeine is also said to produce antioxidants which lead to a reduction or slowing in aging, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and the general undermining of the immune system.  Sounds too good to be true!

I could go on with more statistics and arguments for coffee consumption.  Instead, I am going to present a few odd and interesting facts about coffee which I hope to contribute to the lore of this fabled beverage and might even improve the taste of your coffee:

  1. Is it a fruit or bean? What we call a coffee bean is scientifically considered the seed of the coffee plant, the pit inside the fruit, often referred to as a cherry, from which coffee is extracted.  But they are called beans since they resemble true beans.   The fruit surrounding the beans is usually discarded but is sometimes used to make an herbal tea called cascara

The first bean to be cultivated was the Arabica, which represents 60% of world production.  It’s distinguished by a full enveloping body and wine-like (hence kaveh, below) acidic undertones.  Robusta,  on the other hand, is a naturally resilient bean growing at low altitudes with a high yield.  It is considered full-bodied and slightly tart with a higher proportion of caffeine compared to the Arabica.

2. What’s in a word? Some have said that the word coffee derives from Kaffa Province in Ethiopia, where coffee may have first been “discovered” by the shepherd boy Kaldi (after whom a national coffee chain is named) when noticing that his herd had become quite frisky after eating from a certain bush.  Ethiopian coffees are renowned for their acidity, chocolate aroma and intense, fruity undertones.

But others say that the original Arabic word for coffee was likely kaveh, which meant wine and, was in turn, a derivative of a word meaning “to have no appetite”.   And the word bean apparently derives from the Arabic word bunn or bunc.  It was likely in Yemen, where Arabic is spoken, that coffee first became cultivated.  It was used by Sufi sects, among others, to induce a higher spiritual awareness and mental acumen

3. … but not everyone approved: Although the Arab world was quick to adopt coffee, a paranoid 16th century governor of Mecca thought that it might unite opposition to his reign through its stimulation of radical thought and the propensity of locals to meet while imbibing and, thus, banned it. There have been at least 4 other attempts to do the same. 16th century Italian clergy, for example, labelled coffee satanic and tried to forbid it. Unfortunately for them,  Pope Clement VIII took a liking to it and coffee houses mushroomed.

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5. To love and to cherish: Coffee became so popular in Turkey that a clause was added to marriage agreements stipulating that a husband had to ensure his wife had an appropriate amount of coffee.  Failure to do so was grounds for divorce!  The discussion of marriage proposals and the consumption of coffee before, during or after the marriage ceremony itself remain popular in many cultures.

  1. Penny universities: By the mid-17th century, there were over three hundred coffee houses in London, known as penny universities because a cup of coffee could be had for one penny in an atmosphere of passioned and interesting discussion.  The absence of alcohol made it possible to engage in more serious conversation than in an alehouse.  Political groups also frequently used coffeehouses as meeting places.  Business men met there, too, and Lloyd’s of London, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, was created in the coffee-house run by Edward Lloyd.

6.  Only in northern Europe you say? Pity! If asked which country drinks the most coffee per capita, you might answer Colombia, Brazil, France or Italy.  But in fact, Finland tops the list at 12 kg per capita per year.   Finns drink 8-9 cups of lightly roasted coffee per day, perhaps as a reflex against the winter cold, usually with cake in the company of friends. Curiously enough, international chains such as Starbuck’s have not caught on.   8 of those in the top 10 are northern European, plus Canada.  Brazil ranks a lowly 15  No other coffee exporters rank among the top 20 consumers per capita.

7.  Dark roast has more caffeine than light roast. This is not the case.  The amount of caffeine depends on:

  •      the bean used. Robusta beans normally have twice the caffeine as Arabica
  •      the amount of coffee used
  •      the type of preparation (Turkish infusion releases more caffeine than
  •      percolation, as an example)
  •      the temperature of the water. Higher means more caffeine is extracted
  •      the length of the process. The longer, the more caffeine is extracted; and
  •      the volume of coffee in the cup.

Espresso, despite its reputation, has the lowest percentage caffeine for any given blend, given the briefer contact in the brewing process, lower water temperature and smaller volume of coffee in the cup.

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  1. India is a major coffee producer: Although India is known primarily as a tea producing and consuming country, it is ranked 9th among coffee exporters at 767 million pounds per year. Indeed, the first Indian beans were probably sown 400 years ago.  Canadians will be less familiar with Indian coffee as it is exported primarily to Italy, Russia, Germany and the USA.  Domestic consumption has grown exponentially since 1996 with the Indian government’s liberalization of the industry.

9.  Kopi luwak: One of the oddest coffees is from Indonesia.  In this case, small palm civet cats eat the entire coffee cherry, which is then partly intestinally processed. The beans are collected by villagers and extracted from the excreta, finished off and sold as Kopi luwak.  It is a form of processing rather than a variety of coffee.  Unfortunately, collecting feces from wild civets has given way to intensive, battery cage systems where the cats are force-fed cherries, raising ethical concerns.  This coffee is highly prized and sells for as much as USD 700 per kilogram.

  1. To freeze the bean or not: Most coffee pundits agree that coffee is best brewed from three to ten days after roasting, during which the beans should be stored in an opaque, air-tight container at room temperature. The freezing/no freezing debate occurs when the consumer is unable to brew all her coffee beans in that time and must store them.

The National Coffee Association recommends not using a freezer for short-term coffee storage, arguing that taking the beans in and out of the freezer exposes them to moisture in the air, which will degrade their flavor.  Coffee Review, on the other hand, recommends freezing in a freezer bag, placed where the freezer does not lose temperature every time the door is opened, removing only as many beans as are needed for that day.

The main problem in adjudicating this dilemma is the lack of scientific research on this matter, which means that the choice is up to the consumer.  She should be prepared, however, to defend her position no matter what storage method is adopted.

The lore of the bean

What are we to make of this mysterious fruit (or bean)?  Its origins are unclear, and its health and storage properties require more research.  The popularity of the beverage seems to know no bounds.  The reference to Kopi luwak may have made you a little squeamish.  While there are other curious matters to discuss,  I hope to have dispelled some myths and perhaps help you to brew a better cup of coffee.  But you will now be able to speak a little more knowledgeably when you meet with friends for a cup of java.  Happy International Coffee Day October 1, 2018!

Reports of the death of QR codes may be greatly exaggerated!

Some readers will recognize this quote as paraphrasing Mark Twain’s humorous retort after newspapers falsely reported his death.  The quote might be equally applied to QR codes in North America and Europe today.

QR (Quick Response) codes were first created by Toyota as a two-dimensional black and white bar codes for inventory tracking. They are now widely used in various contexts in China and Japan and apparently enabled $1.65 trillion in mobile payments in 2016.

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Codes come in various shapes and colours and represent text and numbers, including website URLs.  A QR code is read by a scanner downloaded to a smart phone, which either triggers an action or leads to a destination site.  As a consumer, you might make a purchase or SMS donation, go to a social network or access additional information or a video.  All with no internet connection.

For businesses, QR codes can be used on a variety of real-world items such as clothing, signage and packaging.    Business contemplating adopting QR codes should make it easy for customers to undertake actions without excessive reading or typing.  And a QR code at an airport, subway station or theatre makes more sense than a billboard on the highway, as smart phone users in the case of the former can easily and safely pull out their phones and scan the code.

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For various reasons, QR codes were not widely adopted in the West and many observers predicated their total demise in recent years.  But there are some indications that this is changing.  In 2017, industry leading Apple installed an active QR code e-reader in the camera app of its phones.  WhatsApp now allows users to confirm a contact’s identity with a QR code.  And 34% of US smart phone users have scanned a QR code.  Juniper Research predicts that 5.3 billion QR coupons will be redeemed by mobile phone by 2022. 

And QR codes will also benefit consumers, non-profits and small businesses still using email in the immediate future (or as long as email is in use.  Some analysts have predicted that social media will eventually prevail.)  Codes for sending emails will help read and monitor newsletters, email marketing and emails’ performance rates.  And consumers can scan a coupon and redeem in-store or on-line.

This author thinks that some of the forecasts are a little optimistic, ones we have heard before.  And much will depend if major traditional media such as newspapers and television climb on board.

Get your own QR Code!

Have you ever scanned a QR code in the airport or to redeem a coupon?  What was your experience like?  Does your phone have an active QR code reader?   Can you see other applications for QR codes?  If you are interested in getting our own QR code, click here!

So what exactly is social media monitoring?

Social media monitoring is listening to social network conversations to determine “who is doing the talking, what is being said, where they are saying it, when they are talking and how our brand is perceived”.

There are various free and paid methods of measuring such conversations. Although the latter tend to be more comprehensive, they are usually more expensive, precluding their use by individuals and small businesses.

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Monitoring might begin by searching a company name to see what references there are in the news or Wikipedia. Most channels (i.e. WordPress) have their own basic analytic tools (# visits, click throughs and country of origin) while Google Analytics can also be used to measure success of a given channel.  Paid solutions like Radian6 allow users to create a list of keywords to monitor and offer overviews of more sophisticated analytics such as sentiment statistics and the brand’s results against its competitor.

Do different networks have more “value” than others?  Why? Will a network with more users (i.e. Facebook) mean more competition for attention?  Are your likely customers using a given network (photographers and Picasa)?  Does the network fit your demographic and is your industry present on that channel?  Is your audience more likely to use a network which emphasizes videos (You Tube) or images (Pinterest)  (Kevan Lee, How to Choose a Social Network)?

Brand managers need to be clear from the outset what the purpose of their social media efforts is.  Generally, conversion occurs “when the user takes some action that the sender of a message desires” (Ashlee Humphreys, Social Media:  Enduring Principles).  Neil Patel has enumerated various illustrative conversion goals, including making an online purchase, filling out a contact form, signing up for a newsletter or viewing a video. These are more than simple page clicks and may not always be measured with basic analytic tools.

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Pew Research has compiled social demographics for several years using indicators like gender, age, education, income and location. If you have created buyer personas, you could choose a channel (perhaps LinkedIn) most suited to your target group (business and professionals) and possibly for a cheaper price than Facebook, for example.

How do organizations transition from listening to participating?   Google Trends could  be utilized to see what topics are relevant and terms a company might use findings to increase conversation around their product.  The company could also undertake comprehensive Search Engine Optimization (SEO), utilizing various channels.

Research could determine the best times to post updates and the magic number of posts while measuring the click-through rate and comparing lead sources and conversion rates (Lior Degani, 4 Social Analytics Tips)

The ROI (Return on Investment) determines whether the efforts generating an income are  greater then the cost of the effort.  Businesses can assign a monetary value to each conversion, determine the ROI of a given channel  and measure total benefits of the campaign (Neil Patel, How to calculate the ROI), creating benchmarks against which to measure future social media efforts.

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SMS Fundraising: Is it really the answer?

Many consider SMS to have eclipsed more traditional methods of marketing such as direct mail, voicemail, social media posts, newspapers or TV.  Although SMS is primarily used to reach customers for commercial purposes, it is apparently being adopted increasingly by non-profits for fundraising purposes.

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But how does SMS really work?  And is it effective?

What’s it all about?

SMS is an acronym which stands for “short message service”.   Simply put, they are text messages sent to a phone by a phone or computer.   Generally, all that is required is a catchy keyword (like SUCCEED or BUILD) to punch on a keypad, a short code number (like 33333) and a link to a secure and mobile-friendly donation page that donors use  by using their credit or debit cards.

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Proponents trot out all sorts of arguments and statistics to back up their claims.  Service providers such as the Canadian TTAG SystemsMobile Cause and Zip Give say their platforms make it fast and easy for donors to give to non-profits of all types and sizes.   The system does not require registration.  Texting is discreet and quicker than making a phone call. Messages can be delivered even if the phone is turned off or out of range once service has been restored.

And fees to the non-profits are low.  In addition, text messages are a useful tool for reaching existing and potential donors with customized content.  Donors can be apprised, for example, of progress being made at school by their “own” foster child, thus engaging donors and ensuring lasting loyalty  and repeat donations.

And 90% of the population have mobile phones.  Americans send and receive 32 texts per day.  98% of text messages are opened.  94% of smart phone users 70 and older are sending text messages on a weekly basis. 76% of supporters appreciate text messages and reminders, which encourages donors to come back and give again.  SMS is second only to web donations in the USA, although it is worth noting that SMS is not popular among Boomers and Matures.


One use of  the SMS approach is where UNICEF is using test messaging to raise money for the children of Syria during the bloody and costly civil war (http://childrenofsyria.info/).

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So, what are the drawbacks?

I have to confess that I have never engaged in an SMS non-profit fundraising campaign, but as someone who has undertaken more traditional fundraising, particularly grants, I can offer some observations.

Before launching into these, I should say that my interest is as a non-profit fundraiser on behalf of non-profits in developing countries, where realities are quite different from what we experience in Canada.

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In no particular order:

  • the non-profits utilizing the service providers mentioned above are usually required to have their own subscriber lists from which solicitation can be undertaken.
  • Asking a developing country non-profit to develop a subscriber list of  Canadian phone numbers would be challenging but I could investigate having a Canadian partner act on their behalf to undertake this.
  • While American service provides argue that non-profits have  the authority to send text messages without receiving permission, I would need to investigate this in the Canadian context.
  • traditional means of promotion (such as media advertising, e-mails or direct mail) are  still required to reach potential donors in Canada not already on subscriber lists.  Or a Jumbotron will have to be used at a concert of sports venue to promote the campaign.  All of this will cost money up front, which developing country non-profits often do not have.
  • the non-profits may not have the expertise or budget (likely upward of $5,000 per annum) to maintain the fundraising campaign once it has been set up.
  • non-profit fundraising for a non-Canadian organization would not entitle donors to any tax benefits, which may be a significant deterrent; andperson holding black pen
  • the size of donations from the SMS approach is often relatively small ($5-$50) compared to funding potentially available through traditional granting sources, although admittedly the latter are difficult to obtain.  This would suggest the need for a comprehensive approach to fundraising utilizing various platforms.

From a technical perspective, Tiesha Whatley has identified various problems, not the least of which is that SMS technology can be easily attacked.  In addition, too many messages at once can overpower control panels and hinder users from receiving phone calls.  There is often a cost-per-call to users.  And there is frequently a long hold time before receiving messages. 

The above observations are drawn after a quick analysis and some very basic research.  But even some techies seem to recognize that the platform is not unanimously supported within the fundraising industry or might even be outdated. A Tech Soup Canada guru recently wrote in a somewhat apologetic and qualified tone, “Although there are many misconceptions around SMS marketing it is still (sic) an effective and affordable tool to reach donors.”

What do you think?  

Over to you now.  Have you ever used SMS as a donor or fundraiser?  If so, what was your experience like? Do you think SMS is an effective fundraising tool?  Could it be used by a developing world non-profit for fundraising among Canadian  donors?  Let me know what you think.