On January 24th, I found myself along with a capacity crowd of marketers, civil servants, industry people, and interested persons at Toronto’s MaRs Discovery District. We were all there to hear a variety of speakers from New York, Manchester, London, the Caribbean and Toronto discuss the unique challenges faced by agencies, governments and NGOs in social marketing. As the fourth Leading Social Change, this was the biggest one yet (sold out, in fact); part of Toronto’s wildly successful Advertising Week, and an interesting counterpoint to the more commercially-oriented events that happened throughout the week.
A wide variety of speakers, each outlining an unique approach to effecting social change using marketing, and offering some incredible insight into social marketing were on hand. As well, we were offered three case-studies of effective social marketing campaigns at the , and the chance to listen to an international ABC News correspondent give us a firsthand account of the more incredible and world-changing events of our time – the Arab Spring, and specifically the Libyan Uprising, during Jeffrey Kofmann’s keynote address “Witness to Change.”
Clive Blair-Stevens, the Director of Strategic Social Marketing, shook the early-morning cobwebs out of our heads with his first talk, speaking on Social Marketing and Public Health in the UK. A 12 year veteran of working on the government side with policy, he offered a wide variety of insights from experience, tying them into a wider perspective of behavioural science. Blair-Stevens spoke specifically of “Mindset changes” – strategic ways of approaching a social problem and changing behaviour that can produce results at a significantly reduced cost. Blair-Stevens said that it’s obvious from years of failed programs and campaigns that the traditional communications/rational actor approach has failed, and in an era of lowering budgets and escalating social problems, it’s time to take a new tack. The solution is to intelligently apply lessons learned from the behavioural sciences and other jurisdictions to achieve positive social results.
As the conference’s first speaker, Blair-Stevens did a great job in both laying out the challenges that social marketers have faced, and how the new paradigm of a citizen-focused, customer-centric approach to behavioural challenges can produce more effective, cheaper results. One of the interesting examples Blair-Stevens brought up was that of the UK government’s experience with ensuring all students ate a balanced and healthy breakfast. When students have a healthy breakfast, they’re less likely to be disruptive in class, concentrate easily, and are (in general) simply better students. The government found that simply offering healthy breakfasts did not do much to encourage actual participation. Students were being required to come early to school (not an easy sell ever, really).
A different kind of breakfast club
A breakthrough came when instead of marketing it as a healthy breakfast program, the government billed it as an MTV Music Club – an opportunity to meet with friends and socialize before school, that had the seemingly incidental benefit of offering a healthy breakfast. Participation in the program greatly increased, and the associated behavioural problems associated with an undernourished student populace (lack of concentration, acting out, and so forth) were greatly reduced. For more information on Clive Blair-Stevens, his background, and a copy of his presentation, please visit his speaker’s page.
Population Services International‘s Marketing and Communications director for the Caribbean Kerry Singh was the next speaker, offering a perspective on the unique challenges of promoting condom use in the Caribbean to fight growing HIV/AIDS prevalence rates that are the second highest in the world. PSI faced a lot of ingrown resistance to their program – resistance from religious groups, the socio-cultural biases against condoms, transaction sexual relationships, and funding were just a few, but with ingenuity and a fundamental understanding of the psychology and behaviours of the audience, was able to create a wide-ranging campaign that met many of those challenges, and with a sense of humour.
One of the more intriguing campaign challenges that Singh and PSI faced was how to normalize lubricant. Lubricant was seen as a product exclusively used by homosexuals, and as the Caribbean tends to be a very homophobic region, there was a mountain of suspicion to climb. A cheeky and fun TV spot that positioned lubricant not as a “safe choice” or “the right thing to do,” but rather as the necessary ingredient for a “quickie” sexual encounter was able to change prevailing attitudes towards lubricant.
But PSI also worked to creating visibility outside of the traditional areas of print, radio and television ads – ensuring that condoms were available at barber shops (social meeting places exclusively the domain of men – and therefore hubs of “blue” conversation), producing “Ride Safe” branded bumper stickers, informative tents at cultural events, and countless other low-cost initiatives that helped normalize condom use.
The wide variety and breadth of micro-campaigns related to this emergent health crisis was truly astonishing, and too extensive to go into detail here, so I definitely encourage anyone interested to read please visit Kerry Singh’s speaker’s page or the Got It? Get It campaign page.
Immediately following Singh’s presentation was an eye-opening talk on Behavioral Science and Energy Conservation, another truly pressing issue, from Dr. Hunt Allcott, of NYU and the National Bureau of Economic Research. I’ll go into his talk, as well as that of other speakers like New York Times best-selling author Steve Martin in the next part of the event wrap-up.