StepChange Debt Charity

  • StepChange Debt Charity were ‘the biggest charity you’ve never heard of’  
  • They harnessed the power of contextual advertising to drive awareness
  • 60% of people said they were likely to consider StepChange Debt Charity


StepChange Debt Charity provides free and effective debt solutions that help transform the lives of people struggling with debt. Over 40% of those seeking help from StepChange Debt Charity said that they had struggled with mounting debts for a year or more before seeking help. 

Creditors and other stakeholders knew the charity had a strong reputation for ethical and operational excellence but there were low levels of consumer awareness. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the charity had recently changed its name from Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS). In 2012, awareness for CCCS was at 3% and awareness for StepChange Debt Charity was at 0%. 

In 2013, they needed to generate awareness for the brand and also to differentiate it from fee-charging debt management companies. The challenge was made harder by the fact that the market was over-crowded and intensely competitive with an increasing number of advertisers.  

Their mission was to create a society free from problem debt. They wanted to grow the brand to become a household name and help more people than ever before transform their lives.

Their three main objectives were as follows:

  • Build brand awareness of StepChange Debt Charity in order to make the charity synonymous with problem debt in the UK
  • Increase the number of people that Stepchange Debt Charity help over the telephone by 30% year on year
  • Increase the number of people engaging with the Debt Remedy online debt advice service by 30%

The Solution

Their media agency Carat proposed that the best way to ensure that StepChange Debt Change is synonymous with long term debt problem is through relevant and contextual advertising placements. They felt that a TV centric campaign would enable them to accelerate awareness and to reach a significant volume of potential clients quickly. In addition, TV provided a reliable platform that also had a trustworthy and reputable status.  

They opted to run during the start of the year which is a key time for the audience to think about tackling their money problems.  Research showed that problems with sleeping was a universal symptom of debt worries and so they created an ad that showed people sleeping peacefully having successfully resolved their debt problems by speaking to StepChange Debt Charity. 

Carat worked closely with ITV to build a contextually relevant airtime schedule. They found out that Edna Birch, a lead character in Emmerdale, was going to have problems with debt and be forced to seek help. As the story developed over a number of weeks, the ad was positioned at the start of the most relevant ad breaks in order to connect with viewers affected by a similar debt problem. 

Other programmes that were targeted were Daybreak, This Morning and the Money Show. When the subject of problem debt was covered in these programmes, StepChange Debt Charity was the ad seen at the start of the next break. 

The high volume spots on ITV allowed reach to be built quickly which had an instant effect on the Charity’s helpline. Although the creative was brand focussed, the ad proved highly responsive and drove web traffic and calls. 

The core TV activity was extended online to further increase awareness and engagement. This included

  • A money hub on Daybreak’s website housing bespoke editorial content with expert advice from Martin Lewis
  • Relevant content across Emmerdale, Daybreak and This Morning with home page takeovers and pre-roll video ads directing people to the main StepChange Debt Charity website
  • A presence on ITV News Money section

The campaign was further supported by improved search, online banner ads and email marketing campaigns to existing clients. 


Objective 1 – build awareness

  • Consumer awareness of the StepChange Debt Charity brand increased to 7.5% by the end of 2013 from a base of 0% in December 2012 – equating to 3 million adults who now knew about the charity
  • Brand awareness with the primary target audience of people with problem debt increased from 0% to 15% over the same time period 
  • When people saw the ad, 60% of them were likely to consider StepChange Debt Charity

(Source: The Buzz)

Objective 2 – increase calls to helpline

  • Over the 7 months that the TV campaign was broadcast, the volume of calls was up by an average of 31.5%

Objective 3 – Increase engagement

  • During the TV campaign, volume of page views increased on average 49.4% year on year, far exceeding their target
  • The launch of StepChange Debt Charity had a huge impact in the way people search online for debt help with the emergence of a new search term “debt charity”
  • Coverage peaked at 85.9% which equated to 42.3 million adults
  • Another positive effect of the TV campaign was that non-creditor referrals surged by almost 50% year on year

Finalist in the Best Newcomer category at the TV Planning Awards 2014

Working closely with the team at Carat and ITV, we required a TV plan which would enable us to reach out to those with problem debt, increase the number of people who were confident to call us for help and in the end, help them sleep at night with their debt problems on the way to being solved. 

The media budget was used effectively and dynamically with the contextual buying strategy and the combined effect of the targeted online and high volume TV spots had an instant effect on the charity. The ambitious targets the charity had set were exceeded and the results can still be seen in the first part of 2014. This campaign demonstrated and utilised the key strengths of TV as a medium and the results overall were extremely positive.

Anne Somers, Director of Business Development, StepChange Debt Charity


Sector: Charity

Brand: StepChange Debt Charity

Campaign objectives: To drive awareness of the brand and to make it synonymous with problem debt  

Target Audience: Adults with problem debt   

Budget: approx. £2.8m (Source: Nielsen)

Campaign Dates: The first campaign ran from 1st January to 28th March 2013. This was followed by two further bursts from 10th to 30th June and 2nd September to 20th October 2013 

TV Usage: 30 second spots

Creative Agency: Brass, Leeds

Media Agency:  Carat

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