Do endorsements change how people view a CSA program?

Experiment Type
Field Experiment
Increase engagement
Increase long-term savings
Focus Areas
Marketing & messaging
Behavioral Concepts
Friction Social proof
Pennsylvania Treasury, Propel
Partner Type

What Happened

It worked. There was a significant difference in unique clicks when the advertisement contained an in-product endorsement for a scholarship program with only the scholarship program logo.

Lessons Learned

This study found that that an advertisement with an in-product endorsement alongside a logo for a scholarship program led to the highers interest from users, as measured by unique clicks on the advertisement.


Many public programs like 529 programs struggle to strike a comfortable balance between their proximity to a sponsoring governmental agency and program independence. Concerns about trust and credibility are at the heart of this discomfort: on one hand, programs feel pressure to create a distinct brand. Some programs may even want to intentionally distance themselves from negative perceptions of government that may spillover to affect program participation. On the other hand, government agencies inherently offer a degree of legitimacy and recognition that an independent program is unlikely to have.

We started exploring this question in our previous partnerships with the Keystone Scholars program, a CSA offered by the Pennsylvania Treasury, and with Propel, a fintech company that helps low-income individuals manager their EBT SNAP benefits through their Fresh EBT tool. Our previous work found that advertisements that jointly displayed both the program logo and the Treasury logo together were the most effective at driving interest. We extended this work over the last year by testing whether visual and text endorsements from varying sources could further bolster perceptions of credibility and trustworthiness of programs.

Key Insights

To better understand how people perceived the Keystone Scholar branding, we first conducted qualitative work with mothers in Pennsylvania. During those interviews, we presented the mothers with the current Keystone Scholars marketing communications and solicited their reactions.

  • The Keystone Scholar program communications that used bolder and more eye-catching branding were less well received. Some mothers had reservations about the program and worried that an offer for $100 from an unknown brand might be too good to be true.

  • When the communications showed that the Keystone Scholar program was part of the PA Treasury, it was viewed differently than when it was presented by itself. The people we interviewed often were unsure of what to make of the Keystone Scholar program. Including the connection to Treasury provided a cue for how to think about the program and shaped their initial impression of the program.


Given the importance of these contextual cues in shaping perceptions of credibility and trustworthiness, we wanted to continue iterating and refining the communications between the PA Treasury and families. Drawing on past research, we thought that including an endorsement from a trusted source or a personal testimonial would be effective in increasing perceived trustworthiness and credibility.

To test our hypothesis, we randomly presented Propel users eligible for the Keystone Scholar program with one of three different advertisements.


We tracked which of the three advertisements was the most enticing to users by measuring unique clicks on the advertisement. Our analysis found that a significantly higher percentage of users expressed interest in the program when they were shown only the Keystone Scholars logo with a Propel endorsement. There is no significant difference between the other conditions.

The analysis shows that individuals' perceptions of how trustworthy or beneficial a program is can be shaped by contextual cues. Ultimately, we hope that increasing perceptions of trustworthiness increases interest so that more families participate in the program. Propel will continue displaying the successful advertisement for Keystone Scholars moving forward.