Not only did the ‘CN Buddy Network’ campaign resonate with Cartoon Network’s young viewers, it won Gold at the African SABRE Awards for Public Education and at the African Excellence Awards in Content Marketing.

Ruth Kolevsohn, chief operating officer at Burson-Marsteller, spoke to media update’s David Jenkin about the campaign.

Please give us an overview of the campaign – what were the objectives and what elements did it consist of?

In 2016, Cartoon Network tasked Burson-Marsteller with a challenging, cause-driven project to raise awareness around the sensitive and uncomfortable topic of bullying among kids across Africa. Cartoon Network’s CN Buddy Network is an anti-bullying campaign started by Cartoon Network in the US, which was then adopted in the UK in November 2014 to tie in with national anti-bullying week.

In March 2016, Cartoon Network launched CN Buddy Network across Africa, in partnership with ChildLine and gold Olympic medallist and world record holder, Wayde van Niekerk.

As part of the South African launch of CN Buddy Network, Cartoon Network Africa wanted to encourage and empower the youth of Africa to rise up against bullying, by not victimising others as well as standing up for themselves and their peers through the selection of a powerful, relatable ambassador to lead by example.

The aim of the campaign was to deliver a credible and informative message through the use of animation, video content, and storytelling to raise awareness and educate the children of Africa about bullying, empowering them to take action and speak out against bullying and to be a buddy, not a bully.

The objectives of the campaign were to:
  • Inform kids about bullying and what they can do to prevent it in a way that’s relevant to them
  • Empower kids to speak up against bullying and to be aware of their own actions;
  • Provide kids with a recognisable local charity/organisation for immediate help and support;
  • Generate local media coverage;
  • Create awareness around the launch of CN Buddy Network on Cartoon Network;
  • Associate Cartoon Network’s brand image with an important cause;
  • Localise the brand speech, on-air and online;
  • Drive viewership/tune-in to Cartoon Network on DStv channel 301 to view all the best in award-winning animated entertainment for kids and family;
  • Drive traffic to the Cartoon Network digital and social media sites (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram,; and
  • Drive the youth of South Africa to engage and interact by reporting bullying cases to ChildLine.
The campaign consisted of:
  • Three 40’ CN Buddy Network animated shorts, featuring Wayde Van Niekerk, which were broadcast across all English-speaking African territories on Cartoon Network, DStv channel 301;
  • A dedicated CN Buddy Network microsite was launched, plugged into www.cartoonnetwork.hq; and
  • Social media campaign flighted across all Cartoon Network, ChildLine and Wayde Van Niekerk’s social media platforms. 
How were the ambassadors chosen, and what did Wayde bring to the campaign?

A desktop media scan of sporting talent over the past year was conducted in order for us to select the CN Buddy Network ambassador to meet the strict specifications. Firstly, we had to find a candidate who not only believed in the cause, but was subjected to bullying themselves. Without these two elements, this campaign would not have been relatable and authentic.

Secondly, our local talent would have had to be comfortable and prepared to speak out about his/her personal experience in order to encourage youths to do the same and to drive the change that CN Buddy Network and ChildLine aimed to achieve.

Lastly, the ambassador needed to be a hard worker, influential, aspirational, and an expert in his/her field. Remember, our audience is predominately children. With this being said, it was crucial that the candidate selected be a role model we would want to expose our own children to. We needed to find an ambassador that children want to emulate. Without these elements, the campaign would not have been as impactful.

Based on a media scan of South African sporting talent over the past year and multiple engagements with numerous South African talent bodies, Burson-Marsteller recommended that Cartoon Network team up with Wayde van Niekerk, who is one of South Africa’s top track and field sprinters, competing in the 200 metres and 400 metres. He is the current world record holder, world champion and Olympic champion in the 400 metres and is also the first and only person in history to run faster than 10 seconds for 100 metres, 20 seconds for 200 metres, and 44 seconds for 400 metres.

Wayde was the perfect fit for this campaign because he absolutely believed in the cause and was even victim to bullying himself as a child. He brought an honest sense of authenticity to this campaign, which made him so believable and relatable. Wayde was already a sporting hero to most children, and for children to learn of his bullied past was an inspiration to everyone. He proved that his differences (which he was bullied for) are now his strengths and these strengths have led to his sporting success.

His strength and honesty to talk about his past experiences is believed to be the reason why we received the response that we did – we provided a platform for children to report their cases and, through Wayde, inspired and encouraged children to stand up and speak out about bullying.

In the context of content marketing specifically, what would you say set the campaign apart?

Content marketing, specifically in the category of education, can be uninspiring, which often results in a campaign that is not engaging or exciting. What really set this campaign apart was the fact that we tackled a very relevant, real issue that so many children face on a day-to-day basis. So already the campaign was relatable to our young audience. Wayde was the perfect example and resonated in the minds and hearts of not only our young audience, but with the parents of our young audience.

The emotions that were evoked through the course of this campaign were raw and real – from every video to every post, every interview, the experiences and the emotion came from the heart. Authenticity was our secret ingredient to delivering the results of the project.

What kind of impact did the campaign have on CN viewers? How was it measured?

All media coverage around the campaign contained Cartoon Network’s key messaging and was positive. Burson-Marsteller committed to securing 18 pieces of coverage for the six-week period. In total, 39 media clips were secured, which is evidence that Burson-Marsteller obtained 217% of the initial target it set out to achieve.

No additional PR budget outside of the Burson-Marsteller retainer was allocated to the execution of this project. Burson-Marsteller generated a total of 39 press clippings, with an AVE value of over R1.7-million, ensuring that Burson-Marsteller exceeded its target with a total ROI of 4 460%.

As a result of the campaign, the microsite received 23 405 unique page views, 4 481 unique visitors, and 5 238 visits. Apart from the positive publicity received, ChildLine posted 14 CN Buddy Network posts on its Facebook page, comprising nine images and five videos.

During the six-week campaign, ChildLine conducted 20 Schools Talk programmes, reaching 15 000 children and 50 community outreach programmes, reaching 16 500 children and adults. The programmes cover all forms of abuse, including bullying. The CN Buddy Network campaign prompted content for the bullying talks. Children were invited to come for one-on-one brief counselling after the talks and, during this period, 111 children came forward to report or discuss bullying.

All in all, what do you think made ‘Be a Buddy, not a Bully’ a winner?

We addressed a very real issue that children are subjected to on a daily basis and tackled it holistically – whether you are the bully, the victim or a witness to bullying. Wayde van Niekerk, who experienced very real past experiences, touched people emotionally and as a result we saw real cause-driven results.

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Interested in content marketing? Read more in our article Five things South African content marketers need to know.