Happiness is Coming: Revisiting the Campaign that Defeated Pinochet

Apr 04

In 1988, after 15 years of military dictatorship in Chile, the public voted in a national plebiscite to determine whether Augusto Pinochet should stay in power or whether there should be an open presidential election.

The story of how both sides—particularly the “NO” campaign (which was led by the Opposition and favored democracy)—used advertising campaigns to advance their cause is the subject of the Oscar-nominated film NO, starring Gael Garcia Bernal. Garcia Bernal plays the ad exec behind the Opposition’s colorful and cheerful campaign, “Happiness is coming,” which forgoes fear-based imagery and messaging depicting military-fueled violence, imprisonment, exile, and “disappearances” in favor of rainbows and upbeat images of joyful, exuberant people freed from dictatorship.

After the 27-day campaign, during which each party had 15 minutes of nightly television ads to present its side, the “NO” option won with nearly 60% of the votes. Not only was Pinochet defeated, an unprecedented 97% of registered voters turned out at the polls.

The film brings to light an issue that social marketers grapple with every day. How do we create break-through communications that raise awareness AND prompt behavior change? Did the Opposition win in 1988 because they avoided the negative and instead promised a better and nicer future? Are campaigns like the CDC’s hard-hitting “Tips from Former Smokers” the way to go (more on the use of fear in Social Marketing here)? Or are humor-based approaches like “Avoid the Stork” (recently profiled on this blog) more effective?

Researchers have studied the effect of scare tactics and found mixed results—some find that fear influences behavior, others do not. It depends on whether the audience perceives a threat to their health or well-being and how they react to that threat. When faced with scare tactics in health-related communications, some people will commit (or re-commit) to healthy behaviors. Others will reject the message and deny that a current behavior is dangerous or fail to take serious, adverse outcomes personally. Some may dismiss messages that poke fun, try too hard, or are over the top.

This is a complex issue. There are a myriad of individual, interpersonal, social, and cultural factors that uniquely influence each of us, and there is no silver bullet. So we rely on theoretical models, audience research, message testing, and careful planning to create “surround sound” campaigns that try to fill the gaps through partnerships, media relations, and other tactics. Sometimes we get lucky, and a big idea sticks. Often, it’s the simplest ones, like “Happiness is coming.”

PS – Check out the film. It’s shot on a retro U-matic video camera to match the look of the period, and there are acid-washed jeans, rat tails, and skateboards to transport you right back to the 80s.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 4th, 2013 at 4:36 pm and is filed under Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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