The March of Dimes is running its first campaign in three years to educate people about the seriousness of premature births.
In its recent research, the March of Dimes discovered a sharp increase in the number of women of childbearing age who say that premature births are not a serious issue and believe that it's a fixable problem, that it happens to mothers who are "irresponsible" about their health or who are older.
In fact, according to the March of Dimes, the rate of premature births in the U.S. increased 20 percent between 1990 and 2006. A premature birth can happen to any pregnant woman, with the cause of such a birth unknown in about 40% of cases. Overall, one in eight babies born in the U.S. is premature; on average, 5,000 premature infants die each year. While many children born prematurely go on to lead healthy lives, others face serious health issues. In 2005, costs associated with preterm births in the U.S. totaled $26.2 billion.
The new TV, radio and social media campaign was created by Barkley, Kansas City, Mo., to raise awareness of premature births. When the March of Dimes approached Barkley three years ago, it had one of the most recognized brands, but people weren't getting its message.
"[The March of Dimes'] main focus is prematurity," says Mike Swenson, exec VP-chief marketing officer of Barkley. "We really focused in the first round of creative [on] getting people to understand that March of Dimes is about all babies, not just premature babies.
"The thing about prematurity is that it continues to stay at a certain level but most people don't take it seriously—largely because of the work the March of Dimes has done," Swenson says.
In fact, its effectiveness in raising awareness and fighting childhood disease is a problem that March of Dimes has faced before in its history. The organization was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1938, as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to fight polio.
"March of Dimes originally focused on [eradicating] polio," Swenson says. "The work they did accomplished that. It's one of the few times ... from a nonprofit prospective where they had to reinvent themselves."
Today's prematurity campaign, which debuted this month, is a continuation of that early work as the organization has turned its focus to birth defects, premature birth and low birth weights—and March of Dimes hopes to have similar success in raising awareness and finding answers to these problem.
"This is a serious issue, and we need to raise people's awareness about it," Swenson says. "This campaign is designed to put the issue of prematurity front and center, to educate with a couple of simple facts that there are a lot of babies that don't come home, but the March of Dimes is here to make sure that more do come home."