XPRIZE is an innovative non-profit that creates competitive challenges seeking to solve global problems. Recently, XPRIZE moved to combat the problem of low literacy among 36 million American adults by offering a $7 million reward to the team of innovators that could best develop a smart-device application to help people learn to read. 

Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy joined the project in its second phase, after the competition was winnowed to seven promising android apps. We were given the task of developing a campaign to recruit 12,000 low-literate adults (both non-native and English-language speakers) in Philadelphia, Dallas and Los Angeles who would spend a full year working with the applications to determine which had the best learning outcome.


Knowing that it would be challenging to persuade low-literate adults to overcome the stigma attached to that issue, Ceisler used 16 separate tactics to recruit people to test the smart-device apps.

We worked to build coalitions with adult-education providers in the three cities. We prepared street teams to do guerilla marketing and then gave them the tools to recruit learners at community events and through phone banks. We conducted focus groups to determine which images might be the most effective in persuading people to sign up. (Answer: Images of parents reading to their children.)

We created posters, flyers and mailers – all designed with a limited amount of text so that they could be read even by adults with low literacy. We targeted media outlets, particularly radio stations appealing to Spanish-speaking audiences. And we created advertising on public transportation running through targeted neighborhoods.

XPRIZE and Ceisler Media also leveraged key partners for the project. This included Comcast Corp., which offered to provide six months of free internet access to any Philadelphia resident signing up for the project.


Ceisler Media was able to help XPRIZE get 12,000 low-literate adults to volunteer for the program in the three cities. Each of them now has one of the seven apps on their phone, and the apps will be tested out through fall 2018.

At that time, XPRIZE will determine which program is the most effective, and that app will be made available across the country.