Leading Social Change 2011 – Part 6 – Who’s Your Pappas?

The Age of Persuasion

Let’s start at the beginning again, shall we? Before social marketing was defined as a discipline in 1971, social marketing tactics had already been implemented in India to promote birth control because “a persuasion-based approach was favored over a legislative approach”, says Les Pappas, founder of Better World Advertising. Pappas asserted that while several legislative and policy initiatives can be adopted to impact behavior, the fundamental role of social marketing is to “encourage people to make changes on their own”. He says social marketing is “not about forcing people to make changes, it’s more focused on showing people that certain behaviors are more in their own self-interest or for the greater good than others, and helping them make [those] changes”. Of course, such an approach works best in tandem with effective policy changes. Pappas cited tobacco as an example, where taxation made smoking less financially attractive and legislative changes banned smoking in public places, all of which functioned in conjunct with decades-long social marketing efforts to help individuals reconsider the habit. He points to the fact that by 2009, smoking had fallen to 13%, a 42% decrease since 1988 as a measure of success.

But such alignment isn’t always the case. Pappas’ talk offered a sobering view of the challenges facing social marketers in the United States, where policy is often driven from the top-down and shifts with the will of the executive branch.

Pappas’ talk stood out among presenters, as he was the only speaker to really focus on the obstacles often encountered by social marketers, be they lack of funding, lack of political will or outright censorship.

I called Les Pappas in his New York office (he has agencies on both coasts) to talk about being a social marketer in the United States of America.

What are some of the differences between working with non-profits, NGOs and Governments?

I think the differences are pretty dramatic. Most of the NGOs we work with are on the small side and I think a lot of it has to do with size. If you’re working with an organization that has 10-100 people that’s very different than working for a huge state or federal agency that has thousands of employees.

We also work with small, local government agencies (city and county health departments). Small organizations mean less bureaucracy, fewer rules and they tend to be less political. They also allow easier access to the people you’re working with and fewer levels of hierarchy. Typically, people that you’re dealing with in smaller organizations are the decision makers

In large government organizations, oftentimes the people that we’re working with don’t have the authority to make decisions. It goes up and up and up and up. Sometimes it goes up to people who are really rather detached from the whole process.

How do the politics effect your business? Are you ever asked to outright stop a campaign?

Sure. It really does depend on the political winds that are blowing. We work with a number of large state health departments in particular, and one state in particular had a very conservative governor, and we were working on AIDS prevention. This administration didn’t want to deal with HIV or AIDS. They didn’t see it as priority, I think they probably saw it as a distraction. And then that administration changed, and we were at it again.

Don’t public health issues like HIV trump political whims?

Well, HIV is rife with moral interpretations and debates. We had a campaign that was running in Albany NY and it was aimed at African American gay men. Because it dealt with sex and homosexuality people started complaining. They didn’t want their kids exposed to lifestyles and sexual activities they see as wrong. They’re anti-gay, they’re homophobic and they want to control how their families are exposed to those issues.

Did you get pushback from the black community as well?

Yes, sure.

Doesn’t that prove a point?

Yes absolutely. I think I talked about the culture war. The USA is a very divided country. A lot of it is along these moral issues. A lot of it is based in people’s religious beliefs. And they don’t want their tax dollars going to something they don’t approve of.

It’s not unlike the abortion issue, where you have these pitched battles where both sides are saying we don’t approve of this and we don’t want our government putting resources into it. It’s the same thing with HIV. A lot of people feel like “people know how to avoid HIV, if they don’t assess the risks, they should know better, it’s their problem. Then there’s this whole question of sexual orientation in the society. We’re fighting about whether gays can serve in the military, we’re fighting about gay marriage, we’re fighting about all sorts of things. And some people are simply opposed to any recognition from the government of those kinds of lifestyles.

With I Am Gay, I Am The Cure and We’re Still Here campaigns, were you concerned that you were making a strong link between homosexuality and HIV? Doesn’t that reinforce the stigma?

Well, we debate that in certain circles… The forum that I was at last night was about social marketing and the NYC deptartment of public health put out an ad campaign in December that was specifically targeted to gay men and it was an HIV prevention ad. And a lot of people within the gay community felt like they were showing gay men in a negative light. So we have those tensions within the community.

I suppose the question is, what is the place of HIV in the gay community? I think it’s undeniably a major issue in a way that it isn’t for the rest of the population, you know if you look at the prevalence.

You know, we did a campaign a while ago in Los Angeles called HIV Is A Gay Disease. And people went ballistic. It got a national response. Coverage all around the country. People within the gay community said we’ve been fighting for years trying to get people to understand that HIV is NOT a gay disease and it affects everyone.

And that was sort of the problem. We had convinced ourselves that it wasn’t a gay disease. We convinced ourselves that it was somebody else’s disease. That it was drug users that it was people in Africa.

The tag line was Own it, End it. I think that it’s not only a gay disease, but it clearly is our disease, that we as gay men have to take on and own and deal with. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think if we don’t do that, then we’re not going to
address it successfully.

How do you measure success on a campaign like that?

I wouldn’t underestimate the value of this qualitative process/outcomes that we can measure. If you’re getting a lot of press coverage, web traffic, YouTube views, that is a good measure of some things, it is a measure of the reach of the campaign and the level of engagement. You know when we talk social media that’s all people talk
about: engagement.

On the other end there is actual outcome evaluation, which is really important. Is the campaign really working beyond the fact that you’ve gotten all this attention. The trick is to leverage a campaign so you do get that earned media and you do get that buzz but not just for the sake of it, it has to lead to something in terms of behaviour change, so that has to be measured in whatever ways it can be measured. We survey people after a campaign is done (and obviously it’s self reported) but we ask them did you see it? What did you think about it? How did it impact how you think?

That kind of evaluation is important to see if it really did work.

Do you think there is sometimes too much emphasis on post-campaign measurement?

That also gets very political. I think that when government gets involved they put a lot of expectations and demands on these campaigns including evaluation, and I think there is kind of a losing sight of the real world. We know when we talk to people what they say, and we can observe a lot, and that gets discounted, because  people in government, they need data, they need the numbers to stand behind to defend their programs and choices, and I think there can be an over-reliance on that. Where sometimes it becomes almost more important than the project itself.

My background in social marketing is the HIV epidemic in the mid-eighties. Social marketing was in its infancy. We didn’t have a lot of information. but we were responding to a crisis and we relied on a lot of intuition, creativity, and the word on the street, a lot of stuff that is hard to quantify.

Social marketing is part science and part art. When we abandon our intuition and humanistic qualities, it becomes something else.

Earlier you spoke about how the USA is a deeply divided country these days. Just curious, is there a right-wing equivalent for social marketing? All of the campaigns I can think of lean liberal.

I think there is an equivalent, I was in Atlanta (and Austin Texas) last month, and in both trips, driving from airport to hotel, I saw a lot of billboards that were espousing these conservative positions. You know, pro-life/anti-abortion stuff. I mean, I guess that’s social marketing. They’re going billboards, they’re on the street heanding out leaflets, they’re building websites.

I’d say the same thing around guns. Obviously there’s the NRA and they have their lobbying arm, but you know, they do campaigns.




Leading Social Change 2011 – Part 5 – Food For Thought

The Cold Skinny

This post has been a difficult one to write. We’re talking about obesity here, and what governments are trying to do to prevent it, curb it and reverse it. Obesity has recently replaced smoking as the health cause-du-jour among social marketers. Like smoking, obesity qualifies as a preventable cause of disease. Unlike smoking, human beings need to eat to survive.

This is a health concern that I take personally, because sometime last year, I slipped into the overweight category. Not obese mind you, but overweight. I recently shed most of those excess pounds, and am now sitting precariously at the top-end of my healthy Body-Mass-Index (BMI). Someone asked me the other night, “you’ve lost weight, what’s your secret?”

“Thousands of dollars spent in personal trainer costs and gym membership fees over 4 exhausting months, and a highly restricted diet that leaves little room for any fun,” I replied.

That’s the secret.

I’ve never taken to blaming the culture around me for accumulating that mass in the first place, I only blame myself for clinging to a teenage fantasy of immortality, and the its infinitely efficient youthful metabolism. I let my guard down, and I blame myself.

But kids today, that might be a different story. In spite of the sorta’ slovenly lifestyle I allowed myself to lapse into in my 20s, I still had an active childhood, that was also devoid of junk food. I suspect that many young Canadians will not grow up with memories of playing baseball, or skiing, or cycling to school every day, making the challenge of adopting an active lifestyle all the more difficult.

Remember these guys?

In this fairly thoughtful piece on Canadian social marketing efforts to combat obesity featured in the Globe and Mail, writer Eric Anderssen posits that old Hal Johnson and Joanne Mcleod didn’t manage to get Canadians off the couch. Sure, we watched all 250 of those PSAs, all the while munching snacks and flipping through basic cable. He writes “such earnest, government-sponsored exhortations failed miserably. Instead, we packed on pounds and slurped back junk until, according to Statistics Canada, today half of the adults in this country are either overweight or obese, and our kids aren’t far behind.”

Were those commercials too soft? Too mockably sanctimonious?

Here’s a more contemporary ad coming from the Ontario Government, currently running on television:

Do you think this kind of approach will work? In his article, Anderssen espouses the notion that the government “can’t embarrass or nag us thin”. He instead advocates establishing financial incentives.

What you’ll see below is an analysis of Jean-Michel Gilibert’s presentation at Leading Social Change this year, about his work with EPODE, a comprehensive outreach/awareness/education methodology that endeavors to positively influence childhood dietary behaviour at the community level; the essential idea being, that those environments themselves foster the unhealthy behaviours in the individual.

EPODE focuses on positive messaging and no stigmatization, the philosophy is  “no stigmatization of any culture, any food habits, and no stigmatization of any diets, food groups, behaviours and body image“.

Further, and perhaps most controversially, EPODE embraces corporate sponsorship from the food-industry; from the likes of Orangina-Schweppes, Kellogs, Mars Incorporated and Nestle.

A lot of questions have been nagging at me since Gilbert’s talk and my subsequent thinking on the matter:

  • Are poor dietary habits the result of cultural pressure?
  • Can you shame people into getting fit?
  • What kind of advertising messaging will work in a country like Canada?
  • Is there a place for corporate sponsorship by companies whose products are mostly undeniably unhealthy? I mean, nobody asked the tobacco companies to sponsor anti-smoking programs, we simply taxed them and funded those programs that way…
  • Can behavioural economics solve the problem?

I haven’t arrived at any solid conclusions on the matter, so I’d love to hear your feedback. Pardon the pun, but it’s a big issue…

Just the Fats Ma’am. Just the Fats…

The statistics are staggering. According to Forbes Magazine, as of 2007, Canada ranked 35th in its list of the World’s Fattest Countries.

Here’s how Canadians measure up globally:

Whoa! That red line there, that’s us. It’s significantly steeper than the trend line for the United States. Soon, Canadians won’t be able to rely on the old refrain: “well, at least we’re better off than our neighbours to the south”.

A World “Wide” Problem

But, we’re not alone. Globally, obesity (and more worrying, childhood obesity) is on the rise. In 1997, the World Health Organization declared obesity to be an epidemic. Which is why for the past several years, so many governments the world over have been attempting to take action; using a variety of social marketing techniques.

Which brings us to 2011 and an example of action taken on another continent. Jean-Michel Gilibert, Founder of the Paris-based Proteines advertising agency skipped across the pond to present his work on EPODE (the acronym translates to Together Let’s Prevent Childhood Obesity) at this year’s Leading Social Change conference.

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) defines EPODE as:

“A methodology designed to involve all relevant local stakeholders in an integrated and concrete prevention program aimed at facilitating the adoption of healthier lifestyles in everyday life.”

Got that? It’s a methodology, not a campaign. It’s a series of tactics derived from the principle that unhealthy behaviours can be reversed by changing unhealthy environments.

The essential strength of EPODE is its modularity and adaptability, rather than any single buzzworthy “viral” 30-second spot. Because it’s about changing one’s environs to facilitate behavioral change, EPODE coordinates with all the institutions that surround a family unit. And because these institutions vary by region, EPODE needs to be modular and adaptable enough to be relevant to any particular town. Here’s kind of what it looks like:

There’s obviously a lot more nuance to it than this, but the essential takeaway is that EPODE espouses a holistic approach to nutrition that includes stakeholders at various levels of community, including, as mentioned, the food industry. For Gilbert, the inclusion of private partners of this sort goes beyond financial necessity, he believes that “private enterprise cannot be excluded from public policy” and that “the food industry is part of real life”. In his view, by inviting such partners to the proverbial dinner table, partners that already dominate conversations about food, market-forces can propel companies into more “virtuous” behaviour.

It’s a little tough to swallow…

Gilbert is a pragmatist. He was quick to point out, that 80% of what we eat is in some way processed, meaning “the food industry is part of our lives”, whether we like it or not, and that the deliberate exclusion of the food industry amounts to a “politically correct” choice, but not necessarily a realistic one. It’s funny though, because the idea of a French health initiative getting cozy with big-food sponsors doesn’t align with my undoubtedly biased misconceptions about French culture. When I think of the political-economy of France I don’t think about public-private partnerships, I think about socialism, unions, student activism and a long history of locarian gastronomy that is only now catching on as a fad in North America.

But I don’t want to dwell on the idea of public-private partnerships here. That wasn’t the crux of Gilbert’s argument. What he was really getting at, was that there are multiple levels of community that need to be accessed to support positive behavioural change in children. The family unit, is of course the central target, and as their research naturally pointed out, the younger the child, the more important the influence of family. Then, EPODE gets deployed into communities with local project managers and a local steering committee interfacing with that community’s elected leaders. Those local bodies can craft and refine tactics for maximum impact in the communities they know so well. In a way, it’s not totally dissimilar to a brand with locally-flavored retail outlets.

That’s the key point here. EPODE is a bottom-up solution that operates at the community level, rather than being trickled-down from higher levels of government. And that is likely what makes EPODE successful: its inclusion of communities in managing their own peoples health. They’re not winning awards for flashy advertising, but what they’re doing works. The program has been running for 10 years now and has been exhaustively measured by scientists, social scientists and community leaders, and it works.

The initial test region of Fleurbaix Laventie showed a 5.5% drop in childhood obesity rates. It was then rolled out to 10 other pilot regions, accounting for some 500,000 people, each one of which has demonstrated a decline in childhood obesity.

But will it work in Canada?

We shall perhaps find out soon, as according to EPHA, Quebec is considering implementing the EPODE methodology.

Further, in September health ministers from across the country got together and endorsed: Curbing Childhood Obesity: A Federal, Provincial and Territorial Framework for Action to Promote Healthy Weights.

Through the Framework, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers have agreed to make childhood obesity a collective priority, to champion this issue, and to coordinate work with many areas of Canadian society.

Federal, Provincial and Territorial Health Ministers will work together to curb obesity in children under the age of 18 by focusing on three key policy priorities:

  • Making the environments where children live, learn and play more supportive of physical activity and healthy eating
  • Identifying the risk of obesity in children and addressing it early
  • Increasing the availability and accessibility of nutritious foods and decreasing the marketing to children of foods and beverages that are high in fat, sugar and/or sodium

At its fundamental level, this approach sounds pragmatic, sensible and similar enough to the proven-successful model of EPODE. So, will it work?

I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

Until then, keep fit, and have fun.

Leading Social Change 2011 – Part 4 – Juice for Thought

Will Goodhand of Brainjuicer

It’s called “R&D” not “D&R” for a reason…


As we observed in the previous post, market research goes beyond determining the best strategy to communicate a social policy, it can alter and refine the policy itself. Research is undoubtedly a crucial part of the social marketing process, but what methodology drives said research? How can we be sure we’re asking prospective audiences the right questions?

The problem presented by Will Goodhand, of U.K. based marketing research firm BrainJuicer is that traditional market research probes the rational, cognitive mind (system 2), rather than the dominant, more primal, unconscious, emotional brain (system 1). Goodhand credits psychologist and Nobel laureate (for his work in behavioural economics) Daniel Kahneman with establishing this model for human decision making.

Goodhand opened with a quote from Winston Churchill, no doubt uttered by the great leader of the allied forces between stiff highballs and saving the free world from Nazi terror: Man’s mastery of things has developed in all areas… Except, that is, in his mastery of himself. What does this idea mean for social marketers? It means that, in spite of all our progress, in spite of all our rational schools of thought, mastery of ourselves eludes us; some other thought-process prevails.

Goodhand suggests that the success of much emotionally-visceral advertising relies on the fact that it can “sneak round the side” of the rational brain to speak directly to the the emotional brain.

It’s Psychological…

There are some decidedly Freudian overtones to any methodology that relies on tapping the unconscious, emotional brain (more or less the id, in Freudian terms), and where Freud is invoked, there are sure to be detractors. But let’s remember, Freudian approaches have only really been discredited from a treatment perspective, not from a strict, theoretical perspective.

The notion that there is a system beyond rational, cognitive grasp that influences our decisions is not at odds with contemporary psychology. In fact, the most commonly employed psychological treatment methodology, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), relies on the idea that underlying most unhealthy behaviours, are false, irrational premises. These premises result from distorting the reality around us, a process known as cognitive distortion. The presence of cognitive distortions suggest that while we’re entirely capable of thinking rationally, once seeded with a “false premise”, we will subconsciously follow that premise to its conclusion.

All this to say, the idea that “something deeper is at work” in human decision making is neither a new, nor a radical idea. What is new are the means by which psychologists and neuroscientists map, measure and qualify these processes, and how market researchers craft them into methodologies.

But I digress…

Buckle Up

Goodhand then presented the above video, an unabashedly emotionally-charged PSA from Sussex Safer Roads, aimed at getting drivers to buckle up. He then compared this to another more “traditional” (or typical) seatbelt PSA (that unfortunately he couldn’t load but I believe I’ve found here):

These were his findings:

So what does this mean?

Presuming we’ve got the right second video here, they are indeed stylistically very different, yet the questions asked in the focus-group result in very similar overall responses.

Asking all the right questions…

The implication of this, is that the questions being asked are wrong. The questions probe the rational brain, not the emotional brain, and for behavioural change to occur, the emotional brain much be broached.

Goodhand then presented BrainJuicer’s unique approach to market-research, that endeavors to tickle the emotional brain; it’s called FaceTrace. Here’s what it looks like:

He then mapped that data on an “emotional response” spectrum:

BrainJuicer then had participants describe their “emotional journey” whilst watching an ad through it’s duration:

Now here’s the clincher. BrainJuicer’s research can not only identify what types of emotion translate into action, but also what paths of emotion, meaning, an ad promoting seatbelt usage is least effective when it ends on a neutral note, and most effective when negative emotions are resolved, as Goodhand described: “Emotional journeys during the course of a TV ad also have a bearing on effectiveness – resolving negative emotions the most powerful, with happiness/surprise building at the end also good.”

Now, all of this is well and good, but I need to follow up with Goodhand to get a clearer understanding of how exactly BrainJuicer has determined what emotional reactions will provoke action in the audience member. That’s still a little foggy for me, so look out for an interview with him on this blog in the coming weeks.

The Economics of Behaviour

Drawing on Kahneman, BrainJuicer applies the emerging social science of Behavioural Economics to weight and gauge consumer metrics. What I got from the talk, was that the essential difference between standard economic models and behavioural economics was that the latter had much less implied rigidity, and accounted for a more holistic view of the individual as a member of a society, rather than an isolated individual with fixed-opinions (Bernbach’s Unchanging Man?).

Wait! Where does this leave us? We have the Freudian notion of ego balancing righteous impractical superego and unconscious, instinctual id. We’ve got the Bernbach idea of the unchanging individual, and now we’ve got the emerging science of Behavioural Economics telling us that individuals are indeed malleable, social creatures. What does it all mean?

I don’t know what it all means but here’s some more juice for thought…

Goodhand then demonstrated a new BrainJuicer research product called DigiViduals�™, which are, effectively, research robots designed to tap social media channels for insight.

The premise itself isn’t entirely new. For a few years now, marketers have wanted to mine the tremendous amounts of consumer information available on social media channels. Social media is, in effect, the world’s largest (free) focus group. And, because people aren’t in a controlled setting whilst tweeting/blogging/facebooking and the like, the opinions they post are more likely to represent their true feelings.

Here’s one of 9 DigiViduals BrainJuicer is currently running, Nicole:

According to Goodhand “The DigiVidual goes out onto the web and finds Tweets that match the words in its character profile. It discards the words that are already part of its character, and instead searches for new things based on the tweets it brought back. It hunts for these on You Tube, Last FM, Google books, Ebay and Flickr, and what the DigiVidual is up to can easily be followed on the ready-made dashboard that is it’s Twitter feed. Whenever it finds something that fleshes out its character, it posts it to a blog and retweets it.”

Digitize Me…

What BrainJuicer has done is create an artificial twitter user, with variables tuned to represent a certain “type”. This “type” of person would presumably scan through other tweets, pictures and videos that feature certain key terms. Following this robot, this DigiVidual’s online journey builds a rich profile of the target type of individual in question.

It all sounds like pretty wild stuff, but when you think about it, when we choose to follow certain Twitter users or “Like” certain Facebook pages or subscribe to certain RSS feeds, we’re essentially building a basic digital (aggregated) representation of ourselves too.

I wonder, will someone one day develop a DigiVidual modeled after my “type”? And I wonder if I’d follow it…

Which brings me to something Justin Trudeau said, about closed-networks; the tendency for social media users to follow mostly like-minded individuals… But we’ll save that for another post.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Leading Social Change 2011 – Part 3 – Dancing About Policy

What’s the policy on social policy?

“We have a saying in government: you can make a good policy great with communication,” said Kevin Finnerty of the Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care, “but there’s no way to communicate a bad policy well.”

In his talk, entitled The Dance Between Communications and Policy, Finnerty aimed to open the proverbial silos that so often separate the seemingly disparate departments of policy and communications. It was Finnerty’s contention that, to a certain extent, successful social policy requires the input of communications people.

Initially, the idea that marketers on some level, influence public policy may seem distasteful to some. Isn’t government elected to enact policy based on the electorate’s will and not the possibly trendy whimsy of some communications department? If the product is policy, aren’t communications people there to build interest in that product? Surely it isn’t their job to design the product too?

One lonely pair of shoes please…

Okay, I’m going to get a little abstract here for a moment. Bear with me.

The product isn’t policy; the product isn’t even information about policy. The product is the “conversion”, which is behavioral change.

If your job is to market a pair of sneakers, those sneakers will still exist on a real shelf in the real world even if no one buys them. If your job is to promote behavioral change, there is no product until there is behavioral change. It’s an all-or-nothing sale. And achieving behavioral change benefits from the wisdom of communications people, who understand how to engage the public.

Bottom line: you can’t separate social policy driven to promote behavioral change from communications, they work in fluid tandem.

(An aside: this bodes well for a world, where, increasingly, ordinary people are taking on the roles of communicators. This relates to some ideas that emerged in Justin Trudeau’s talk, where we described a connected world as one where the individual has both more value, and responsibility, but I’ll get to that later…)

For now, let’s take a quick look at some of the work Kevin Finnerty came to showcase, all examples of policy and communications people dancing in graceful, lock step.

Self-Administered Colon Cancer Screening Campaign

The Policy: In 2006, the Ontario government decided to launch a province-wide colon cancer screening program called ColonCancerCheck, which uses the Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) to allow Ontarians to self-screen for colon cancer.

The Challenge: The test requires the user to scoop their poop up with a stick and smear the sample on a card, for three days. Apparently, people are somewhat queasy about this. Who knew?

Further, the test was going to be distributed by mail, to everyone over 50.

The Research: People were generally unfamiliar with the early symptoms and risk factors for colon cancer. The idea that a cancerous polyp could grow to substantial size (golf-ball size, apparently) without an afflicted person experiencing symptoms was a motivator for early screening. Finally, the research showed that 80% of people over 50 were much more likely to take the test if their healthcare provider recommended it.

The Solution was a campaign based on building awareness around colon cancer and the importance of early screening, using the insight accrued in the research that colon cancer could be growing inside you without your knowledge was a major motivator for screening. Further, since most people said that they’d take the test if their health-care provider told them to, the notion of mailing the tests was scrapped, in favor of distributing them via doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

The Creative was developed by BBDO, the concept being simply: you’re not see-through, so get your insides checked out. Check out a TV Spot below:

The Result: Nearly 1 million Ontarians used the kit. Now those are numbers we can all get behind…

Mumps Vaccination Program

The Policy: Like many other Ontarians, I was under the false impression that mumps is an extinct, archaic affliction, like scurvy. Apparently not. In fact, those of us vaccinated between 1970-1990 require a second shot. The policy objective here is getting young people to get their mumps shot.

The Challenge: Isn’t mumps an archaic affliction, like scurvy? Also, didn’t I already get my mumps shot?

The Research: People don’t realize the disease can have serious consequences. The target group, young-adults are highly mobile and thus difficult to reach sometimes. Qualitative research pointed to the fact that once young adults are made aware of the symptoms, and resulting social consequences of nine days of isolation, they’re more motivated to take action.

The Solution: Take the message to the schools, where the target is and play up the social consequences. Nine days! That’s two whole weekends! Work with public health units to get vaccination clinics happening on campus.

The Creative was developed by Rain43 and deployed in-campus by Hill & Knowlton. Here’s a sample video that went viral online:

And this one was named one of the year’s wackiest PSAs by The Huffinton Post:

The Result was over 30,000 vaccinations in 3 short mumps… I mean, months.

Low Income Dental Program

The Policy: Designed specifically for the working poor, who historically did not have access to government dental programs or private plans, preventative dental care will be offered free of charge to children under 17 for those families earning less than $20K (net) per annum.

The Challenge: “Dental care is expensive. I’d like to take my kids to the dentist but it’s either dental or food.” Further, the target is a hard-working and proud group, not typically interested in “handouts”.

The Research pointed to the fact that most people wanted to maintain a relationship with a single dentist, akin to their relationship with their doctor, and not seek dental care at a public health unit. Further, the research noted that people in this category don’t typically plan for dental visits (they wait for emergencies) and they don’t correlate good dental health with good overall health.

Finally, the research indicated that most people viewed government programs as extremely complicated to access and that the bureaucratic rigamarole involved was demoralizing.

The Solution: This case, more so perhaps than the two above, demonstrates who communications practices influence policy. The research noted that people want to establish relationships with their dentist, so the program was altered to include a client card, which families could use to easily pay their participating dentist.

To make adoption simpler, a single, easy-to-use 1-800 number and website were deployed as the coordinated points of entry. The 1-800 provided help to those with eligibility questions.

And because no one wants to be referred to as “low-income”, a positive campaign was established, that avoided stigmatization:

The Result: The program is just getting underway, so far, several hundred children who didn’t have access to regular care now do.

Thanks for reading,

Leading Social Change 2011 – Part 2 – Changing the Unchanging Individual

Terry O'Reilly

A Brief History of Human Nature

There isn’t sufficient space here to list emcee Terry O’Reilly’s credentials as a living-legend in Canadian advertising. The host of CBC’s The Age of Persuasion opened the day paraphrasing not-so-living advertising legend, Bill Bernbach:

“Human nature hasn’t changed for a million years. It won’t even change in the next million years. Only the superficial things have changed. It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man – what compulsions drive him, what instincts dominate his every action, even though his language too often camouflages what really motivates him.”

Permit me to propose the following: the longer an advertising creative brainstorm lasts, the greater the likelihood that someone will reference the work of the late Bill Bernbach.

Who is Bill Bernbach you ask?

He’s the guy behind the seminal 1959 “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagen, he’s the ‘B’ in DDB, he’s the guy that drives fictional character Don Draper to drink before noon and he’s widely regarded as the individual that revolutionized an otherwise complacent industry.

Famous Advertising Campaign

It was with cautious optimism that I greeted such an early invocation of Bernbach. Indeed, in a room full of marketers, O’Reilly’s reference may have deflated the proverbial elephant in the room (incidentally, there was an actual inflatable elephant in the room, more on that later…), wiping the whiteboard clean and allowing everyone to look to the future, to address the seemingly insurmountable challenge of changing the unchanging individual, using social marketing.

Social Marketing… Like Facebook and Twitter Right?


Well, no. Social Media (like Facebook & Twitter) are important tools for any social marketer, but they don’t describe the field itself.

Formally defined as a discipline in 1971 by Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman, Social Marketing is described as the application of advertising techniques to influence behavior in support of a social good.

The goal of social marketing is to advance (positive, healthy, constructive) behavioral change, but if we’re to take Bernbach (or Freud or Edward Bernays for that matter) at his word, the individual is hard-wired and cannot be fundamentally changed. Does that make the whole endeavor moot?

No. It doesn’t. And this year’s conference reminded me why.

A better title would have been “Un-changing the Changed Individual”


Because, as evidenced by the work presented at this year’s conference, social marketing isn’t about changing people using advertising, it’s about un-changing people who’ve been changed by advertising. Think about it: typical social marketing campaigns are about getting people to eat healthier, to drink responsibly, to practice safe sex… Think about the “Baconator”, think about “this Bud’s for you”, think about how sex-sells (everything). Social marketing is anti-advertising advertising.

There is another aspect to it of course, and that is awareness. As we’ll see, much work focuses on cutting through media chatter and drawing public attention to health concerns, government services and other public issues.  In the coming days I’ll continue updating this blog, looking in-depth at some recent Canadian work that focuses specifically on raising awareness around 3 different health issues, namely: colon cancer prevention, mumps and access to affordable dental care.

Thanks for reading.


The proverbial and actual elephant in the room

Leading Social Change 2011 – Part 1 – The Brief Brief

"This JustIn..."


At the request of the event organizers, I was asked to report on the proceedings at this year’s Leading Social Change conference. Now in its third year, Leading Social Change is a one-day event held during Canada’s National Advertising Week dedicated to celebrating social marketing, highlighting successful collaborations between government and advertisers, discussing current challenges & methodologies and inspiring the next crop of like-minded marketers. It happened at the MaRS Discovery District, in Toronto, Tuesday, January 25, 2011.


The event organizers endeavor to pull in presenters from different ends of the social marketing spectrum; advertisers, government communications people, researchers, thought-leaders and policy-makers. This year’s speaker list was no exception.

The keynote speaker was Justin Trudeau, federal Liberal MP for the notably pluralistic Montreal riding Papineau, and, of course, son of the late, great Pierre Eliot Trudeau. The event was emceed by Canadian advertising legend Terry O’Reilly.  Between those two poles, of successful advertising and progressive politics, lay the essential inquiry of the conference: how can government and mainstream advertisers work together to further the public good; to affect positive behavioral change and to advance social policy for the better? The assembled presenters offered means, ways, cases, strategies, challenges (and more questions) in response to that essential inquiry; the result was an enriching, inspiring day.

The speakers were:

  • Laurie Sloan, from Ontario’s Advertising Review Board
  • Kevin Finnerty, executive director of the Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care
  • Will Goodhand, from the U.K. based research firm, BrainJuicer
  • Jean-Michel Gilbert, representing Proteines, a Paris-based social marketing advertising agency
  • Les Pappas, creative director of  San Francisco’s Better World Advertising
  • Yvette Thornley,  manager, integrated marketing solutions at Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care
  • John Yorke, president of integrated marketing agency, Rain43

Additionally, we were treated to three Canadian case studies that Yvette Thornley mused were “either about booze, sex or emergency rooms” adding, “I guess either of the first two could land you in the third…”

Key Insight: A Just Society

"Just Society" Watch him

I’ll be devoting an entire post to Justin Trudeau’s talk, but at the outset I’d like to say this: way back in 1968, his father used the term “just society” to describe his vision for Canada. In advertising terms, it’s a brilliant slogan or a tag line (or even a tweet). Over 40 years ago, in two small words, he laid forth a challenge for the country that frankly, we’re still trying to meet. A lot of progress has been made in the intervening years, but a truly just society eludes us as a nation (in fact, young Trudeau himself was quick to point out that while many “rights” have been won over the decades, a sense of individual human “value” eludes many). It’s my feeling that at a fundamental level, the works presented at events like Leading Social Change represent small steps towards bringing about that just society; whether the goal is better dental care for those who believe they can’t afford it, or working towards a less-strained healthcare system, all these endeavors advance the vision of a just society. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.

Next Steps:

There was a lot to take in. In the coming days and weeks I will look in-depth at each of the presentations and conduct follow-up interviews with some of the presenters, and add highlights from their slideshows, updating the blog as I go.

Until then, I think it’s apt to begin with some reflections on Social Marketing and what it represents to society in general and to myself personally as an advertiser. Thanks for reading.


Agencies of Change: Part 1

Leading Social Change Day,  January 2010.

How Government and Advertisers Want to Change your World

I was asked by event co-sponsor Partners and Edell to report on this year’s Leading Social Change conference, a series of talks centered on the premise that the collaboration between government policy-makers and the advertising industry represent a force for the public good. Among the day’s speakers were:

Take a look at my musings, reporting and analysis of the event broken into 4 parts beginning below.

Part 1: Overview
The State of the Union between government and advertisers

The event opened with a highlight reel showcasing three decades of successful campaigns for social change. The content ranged from provocative to emotive, tender to stern, but the messages were simple: don’t drink and drive; smoking kills; practice safer-sex, etc…

The cynic in me was tempted to contemplate the inherent irony of this display: wasn’t it the advertising industry that popularized smoking, that subtly promoted alcoholism as a lifestyle, that saturates the culture with sexual imagery?

That said, I was struck by how familiar each of these ads were, how they each occupied some permanent mental real-estate in my memory and how easily they were distilled to their essentials. These were powerful, effective messages, that still resonate today.

It occurred to me that the assembled crowd represented a new kind of marketer. Not content with simply selling things, these folks were after something bigger; they wanted to change behavior.

The question was how? And primarily, how to exploit burgeoning new mediums to connect with audiences.

It seems entirely natural to this writer that concomitant with the explosion in social media is an increased interest on behalf of advertisers to promote the social good. The consumer, the target, has grown from abstracted metric or demographic to a fully-actualized individual; a person with a unique set of interests, concerns, challenges and aspirations.  Put simply; the advertiser is getting to know consumers the way the government does, and wants to be their friend.

The event proceeded along an interesting narrative arc: at first, the discussion centered on marketing tactics, followed by thoughts on the impact of new technologies, climaxing with Tara Hunt’s call to eradicate the remaining disconnect between business values and community values, and culminating in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s straight-up plea for rational, but immediate action on climate change and pollution.

It was as though the event itself encapsulated the progress the advertising industry itself has made over the decades, it’s ultimate conclusion being a call to social action, void of award-winning cleverness or smug pretense, yet still presented with a “Just Do It” kind of urgency that government alone could never quite express. RFK Jr. was not there to speak to marketers and government about how to initiate social change, he was initiating social change.

Continue to Part 2

Agencies of Change: Part 2

Case Studies. The business of winning hearts and minds

The event began with David Stevenson of The Rocket Science Group from London, U.K, sharing his insight into various campaigns he or his European peers have worked on to promote social awareness on a variety of topics, focusing especially on teen-drinking and pregnancy (see video below). He advocated an integrated approach, where the message is determined partly by the receiver, where focus-groups are essential to crafting the campaign, where listening is as important as broadcasting and where the broadcasting occurs over strategically selected channels. In the context of this event, Stevenson took on the role of pragmatist, describing in detail the value of research, delivery channels and stressing the importance of PR, not to promote the message exclusively, but to pose questions, talking points, to the target audience.

We were then witness to a highlight reel of recent Ontario government success-stories, including Bensimon-Byrne’s RecycleMe campaign promoting organ donation, GJP’s Foodland Ontario campaign focusing on locally-grown produce, and Partners and Edell’s Mumps awareness campaign, spearheaded by recent inductee into Marketing Hall of Legends, Marlene Hore. Hore, like Stevenson, approached the problem of Mumps awareness from the bottom up, with an endeavor to understand just what it is that college students (the target demographic for this campaign) were concerned about. The campaign resulted in 30,000 vaccinations.

Continue to Part 3

Agencies of Change: Part 3

Ideas. The Changing Role of Communities

Next up was Eli Singer of Entrinsic. His talk tied the successive waves of success of various social media platforms to real-world political events. This represented something of a breath of fresh air, as Singer took a philosophical approach contrary to most of his contemporaries who readily state that it is social media that influences politics, not the reverse. Perhaps most thought-provoking was Singer’s contention that Obama’s political campaign of 2008, that relied heavily of social media, was an example of a “top-down” campaign, where the recent protest of Iran’s presidential election employed the same technology from the “bottom-up”, evidencing (in Twitter parlance) that form often “follows” function.

Then came Tara Hunt, author of “The Whuffie Factor“, who’s talk, entitled “Yes, I DO Mind the Gap” very eloquently proposed that the very separation of marketer and audience ultimately represented a philosophical failing on behalf of those interested in using social media to advocate for social change. She pointed to the disconnect between business values and community values and how this translates into businesses being “community tourists”, attempting to exploit the intrinsic value of internet communities without understanding, respect or deference. Hunt’s argument was that, in order to truly connect with target communities to affect social change, one has to become part of those communities. One has to truly espouse those values that make a community a community. In some respects, Hunt takes Stevenson’s argument for listening to its natural conclusion.

Continue to Part 4

Agencies of Change: Part 4

A Call to Action

Dennis Edell, president and founder of event-sponsor Partners and Edell then shifted gears. Rather than discuss tactics, case-studies, metrics or technologies, Edell instead posed a question to the audience: is not climate change the greatest threat facing humanity today? His talk set the stage for RFK Jr., who subsequently delivered an expertly eloquent, personal, almost off-the-cuff monologue about the “real cost of coal” and a very rational, economic argument for the adoption of clean energy in the United States and beyond.

RFK Jr. represented an encapsulation of Hunt’s argument. The moment he graced the stage, the event shifted in tone. It was no longer about marketing social change, it was about social change. He was bridging the gap that Hunt described. There was little in the way of advertising parlance in RFK Jr.’s talk. Rather, he almost casually rattled off a very sound argument for those nay-sayers who propose that clean energy comes at a cost to the economy. His propositions were fluid, his gravely, affected Kennedy inflection added gravitas to the discussion, his anecdotes ranged from interesting to terrifying to inspiring. Whilst listening to him, one was overcome with a sense that he had great comfort with the material he was presenting. That for him, this talk was something he’d run through at lunch with various congressman friends and that he ultimately believed, that just around the corner, was a better world. A cleaner world. A richer world for all of us…

If we were to “just do it”.