New Beginnings

Sep 20

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

As a member of the Social Change Marketing practice, we work for clients, campaigns, programs, and initiatives that strive towards the goal of behavior change. In short, we aspire for people to embark on new beginnings—a conscious or subconscious decision to think about things a little differently or a little clearer. To reframe. To refresh.

I don’t mean to imply that suddenly, as in a cartoon, we have an epiphany moment where the light bulb goes on and we say “ah ha!” In reality, it is gradual yet iterative changes that develop into new beginnings—whether the end goal is to lead a healthier lifestyle, practice financially conscious decisions, or to be free of mental impediments. This was beautifully illustrated in a video I saw this week entitled, “New Beginnings.”

Filmed at sunrise on the 57th floor terrace of Four World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, “New Beginnings” features New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal dancers Maria Kowroski and Ask LaCour in Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux After the Rain. The video was posted by NYCB at sunrise on September 12, 2013.

A man and a woman stand tall—strong pillars against the wind whistling around them. As the music begins, cascading like falling raindrops, the couple begins to sway. Their effortless movements are synchronized and grounded. While they mirror each other, their rhythm mimics the melody of the music. And like a lullaby the simple and repetitive score supports and propels them into motion. As their hands touch for the first time and they look out at One World Trade Center, their bodies separate, exploring the intricacies of the sparse yet fluid music.

Despite its title, the choreography (and music) lacks any [new] beginnings (or ends). One movement flows into the next as the dancers seamlessly skim the surface of the skyscraper’s terrace. Indeed there is something otherworldly about the score and the dancers that evoke a sense of tenderness, and perhaps even sadness.

[“New Beginnings”] is a “testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a tribute to the future of the city that New York City Ballet calls home,” articulates NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins. “New Beginnings” is sparse. Simple. And painfully beautiful. And even without a storyline, it takes you on an incredible journey of change.

“Courage doesn’t always roar” and changes of behavior and perception don’t happen overnight. It’s not about a giant leap or a huge lift. It’s about repetition and intention, about thinking clearly and understanding where you want to be. And having someone there to support you; to guide you. So that at the end of day you have the strength and the courage to try again tomorrow. And to keep trying to be better, to live better than you did the day before.

Does Fear Work Afterall?

Sep 10

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Tips from Former Smoker’s campaign, which featured raw graphic images in a national paid media initiative to reduce tobacco use, has made a big splash since hitting the air waves in 2012. A new study published on Monday in the Lancet indicates that these ads may have prompted more than 100,000 Americans to give up smoking for good.

These findings were a bit surprising because the literature has suggested that fear-based approaches typically are not effective in eliciting behavior change. In a New York Times article, CDC Director Dr. Frieden attributes the effectiveness of the campaign to the fact that they aren’t using ‘death’ or lung cancer as the motivator, but rather focusing on how the remainder of a smoker’s life may be very unpleasant—so  a more relatable or believable consequence. In discussing this with colleagues, we wondered whether the maturity of the anti-smoking effort is helpful in eliciting behavior change in this case.  Could it be that because the issue is more and more in-grained in culture, that ONLY fear based approaches can break through and motivate change?  Or is it that those for whom these ads were effective were at a certain ‘stage of change’ that allowed the fear-based message to be an effective motivator in prompting them to finally consider changing their behavior?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below on these promising results for a creative approach that many of us had reservations about.

Obesity Rate Declining Among Low-Income Preschoolers

Aug 08

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) delivered good news on Tuesday—obesity among low-income preschoolers declined from 2008 to 2011 in 19 of 43 states and territories studied. California, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico, and New York are among the states that are showing decreases.

This month’s CDC Vital Signs serves as a reminder of how big the childhood obesity problem is, noting that about 1 in 8 preschoolers in the United States is obese, and the rates are even higher among black and Hispanic children. CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden credits improvements to the Federal Government’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and community efforts to increase nutrition and physical activity as factors contributing to the declining obesity rate.

Read about the CDC study in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and see Cathy Payne and Michelle Healy’s USA TODAY article for a look at three trends—physical activity programs, an increase in breastfeeding, and an improved WIC program—that are helping to decrease childhood obesity.

Social Marketing: Just like Parenting

Jun 27

As the mother of an almost 1 year old, my daughter Grace is fast developing a personality and each day understands much more about her world. She now understands simple commands and recognizes people and places. She’s also learning to test boundaries (and sometimes my patience). I want to shape the person she becomes – from her sleeping and dietary habits to avoiding public tantrums (I can dream, right?).

Clearly, I've not yet been successful in teaching Grace that it's not OK to put your feet on the table.

I constantly scour blogs for the latest in parenting news and research, and it recently dawned on me that my mommy and professional worlds are colliding. As a social marketer, I’m in the business of shaping behavior. When developing a social marketing campaign for a client, we employ a trusted framework and lean on behavior change models and theories. The same is true in parenting, and there are a lot of parallels. The majority of mommy literature reads somewhere between the socio-ecological and social learning theories – using the environment and influencers (peers, parents, grandparents, daycare providers) to shape a child’s behavior – and the theory of reasoned action – moving a child from awareness to action. The more I think about it, the more the lines are blurred, and I see myself applying lessons from social marketing to raise my daughter, and vice versa. Often, parenting models and frameworks are simple, direct, and practical. It’s this kind of no nonsense approach that can have a big impact. I recently came across a tip sheet from the Penn State Extension’s Better Kid Care resource center and thought it applicable to our field. Here are their top four tips for “Guiding Infant and Toddler Behavior,” which I think is a relevant framework for any public health challenge.

1. Prevent Problems. Just like a toddler who knocks everything over in reach because “it’s fun,” we all give into temptation for the same reason. Removing stimuli from one’s environment is an important and effective step in shaping a desired behavior. This can be a policy change – a tax on sugary beverages or banning smoking in bars – or a shift in the environment that makes it harder/easier to do something – access to walking trails that promote exercise. This also speaks to the importance of knowing your audience. The sheet actually directs you to “crawl around the floor on your hands and knees.” Knowing your audience and their world is the first and most integral step to shaping behavior.
2. Ignore Some Behaviors. Let’s face it; no one is perfect. This is why there are cheat days in diets and why social marketers hone in on the most important behaviors to address. To me, this step is about setting and prioritizing goals.
3. Distract or Redirect. In social marketing, we often employ this approach by communicating the advantages of a new or desired behavior to help shift attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately behaviors. This is the strategically placed calorie count on popular menu items.
4. Respond in the Moment, Calmly, like a CEO. The author of this step must have a communications background. I chuckle every time I read it. This is that credible thought leader or spokesperson delivering your message. Any good social marketer or communications pro knows that a message must be authoritative, direct, and timely.

There are many ways to approach social marketing just as there are parenting. We all have our tried and true frameworks for shaping behavior. But, for your next big social marketing challenge, shake it up. Think outside the box. There’s a lot to learn and borrow from other disciplines (be it parenting or something else) that can prove relevant and successful in social marketing.

Is it Enough to Get People Talking?

Jun 14

Despite a 33% drop in the teen pregnancy rate in Chicago, the city’s rate is 1.5 times the national average. To address the issue, Chicago has recently launched a new teen pregnancy campaign that is…unexpected.

The PSAs have gained local and national attention for their surprising take on drawing attention to the issue and reminding people that boys are also affected by teen pregnancy. The campaign has been featured on Good Morning America and The View.

Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair has stated the campaign is intended to be provocative and spark conversation. Clearly that goal has been achieved.

Shocking people with an unanticipated twist is not a new way to spur conversations about teen pregnancy, as seen in this PSA form the UK.

However, now the true test will be to see if the PSA catalyzes action as well as conversation. Will teens visit to learn more about sexual health, contraception, and relationships? Will they change their behavior?

What do you think?

What Can We Learn from Dove’s Most Viral Ad Video of All Time?

May 30

According to Dove published survey data, over half (54%) of women globally—equating to an astounding 672 million women worldwide—agree that when it comes to how they look, they are their own worst beauty critic. The three-minute “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” video that launched last month has garnered more than 114 million total views, making it the most viral ad video of all time. In the video, a forensic artist sketches women’s faces first based on their self descriptions, and then based on that of a stranger. The stranger’s descriptions yield more attractive and accurate sketches. The video ends with “You are more beautiful than you think”—reinforcing the core message of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, that women are often overly critical of their appearances and don’t see their true beauty.

Despite some criticism of the video’s approach and choice of women profiled, and evidence from psychological research suggesting the inaccuracy of women’s general dissatisfaction with their physical appearance, the video clearly resonated with a massive audience.

The ad was uploaded in 25 different languages to 33 of Dove’s YouTube channels and has been viewed in more than 110 countries. Additionally, 14 video parodies of the ad have been created and, to date, there are an estimated four billion PR and blogger media impressions.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the video’s creative approach and message—what was it about Dove’s strategy that made this ad so popular?

I agree with the following three components mentioned in a recent Business Insider article on the ad:

  • Emotional appeal – The unique testimonial style video made the viewer a part of the featured women’s experience, eliciting a strong emotional response from viewers.
  • Shareability – Video virality increases when viewers don’t exclusively watch it on YouTube, but also share it with their friends, all of which is related to compelling content. Of note is the fast momentum starting the day of the ad launch. During the first two weeks, there were 3.17 million shares—more than any other ad has managed in the same period—including VW’s “The Force,”  TNT’s “Dramatic Surprise,” and Melbourne Metro Train’s Dumb Ways To Die, the first, second and fourth most shared ads of all time.
  • Dissemination strategy – Dove did some careful media planning, first launching the video in four key markets: the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Australia. Dove also partnered with YouTube and distributed the video to top media; initial placements were generated on the Today Show, Mashable, Huffington Post, and the Channel 7 Morning Show in Australia.

Physical appearance is obviously something we all can relate to, which most definitely contributed to the popularity of this ad. As health communicators, we don’t always have the most “sexy” topics or largest of budgets, but Dove’s success is a reminder of the importance of developing content in a creative and compelling way; thinking through how to maximize shareability; and securing relevant media placements. What other characteristics of the Dove ad have made it so popular? What other recent successful viral videos or campaigns can we learn from?

Can We Be Over-Aware?

May 22


I recently read Peggy’s Orenstein’s thought-provoking New York Times article, “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer,” and I’m hoping every social marketer will read it too. It has sparked widespread dialogue within the social marketing community, and left me feeling unsettled and with many questions about the meaning behind my work.

The article suggests that the spectacularly successful pink-ribbon campaign has ultimately made women less conscious of the facts surrounding breast cancer, “obscuring the limits of screening, conflating risk with disease, compromising our decisions about health care, celebrating ‘cancer survivors’ who may have never required treating”. Orenstein — a breast cancer survivor who benefited from early detection — suggests that the very notion of early detection contributing to a cure is actually a mis-truth or oversimplification.

Orenstein did a thorough job of sharing facts and statistics that were very surprising (to me at least). For example, I didn’t realize that since mammograms/screenings have been introduced there haven’t been corresponding decreases in incidence of metastic cancer. And, that while there has been a 25% drop in breast-cancer death rates since 1990’s, many researchers attribute those declines to treatments, not screenings. Apparently mammograms are not as good at detecting the most lethal forms of breast cancer at a treatable phase. There was much more in the article, and I learned a lot about the history of breast cancer science, treatment, and prevention.

Still, the article was not just about the science behind breast cancer – it analyzed the marketing of the awareness of this disease and definitely took the stance that awareness initiatives like Komen’s pink-ribbon contribute toward overselling “both the fear of cancer and effectiveness of our prevention and treatment”. It posits that being over-aware of our risks for breast cancer can lead to unnecessary screening and preventive treatments. Orenstein goes on to suggest that while fear of cancer itself is legitimate, how we manage that fear, responses to it and emotions around it, can be ‘manipulated, packaged, marketed and sold’. The suggestion is also made that many social marketing/public health initiatives (prostate cancer’s Movember, testicular cancer’s yellow bracelet, heart disease’s red dress) all share a similar superficiality in terms of the response they require from the public.

Paul Holmes recently made a similar argument in an article for The Holmes Report, in which he references the New York Times article and indicates that social marketing interventions may have “ taken a huge step backwards in recent years.”

I bristle at this perspective. I’ve worked on social marketing initiatives for more than a decade, and know the rigor of behavioral theory and planning that is at the heart of much of this work. By applying behavioral science, we drive actual changes in behaviors, beyond simply creating awareness of an issue. Maybe the issues I work on are different by their very nature, where there is no one screening to detect, etc. Still, Orenstein makes a very strong argument for how, in the case of the pink ribbon and breast cancer, the level of awareness does seem to contribute to heightened levels of screenings and diagnoses that may not in fact require treatment.

So, I am left with questions. Are the initiatives we intend to be preventive actually doing harm? How do we protect against that and ensure they are not having a backlash that is unintended or expected? Is raising awareness as a first step toward behavior change justified, as long as the ultimate goal is an actual behavior change? What implications does this analysis hold for our work?

The Kickstarter Dilemma: You vs Veronica Mars

May 16

In April 2013, Kickstarter celebrated its fourth anniversary, marking four years of bringing to life the projects of ambitious filmmakers, musicians, artists, and designers. The accolades are pretty impressive—10% of the 2012 Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW film festival acceptances were funded on Kickstarter; six films have been nominated for Academy Awards (and one won!); one artist’s album debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart in 2012; and dozens of projects have launched objects into space.

According to their stats, Kickstarter projects have enjoyed a 43.95% success rate, raising over $520 million for projects (most individual asks are $10,000 or less). They have been responsible for funding more than 41,000 creative projects.

This year, Kickstarter has received more press–not about helping aspiring artists achieve their goals, but for their controversial support of helping the “rich get richer.”

On March 13, 2013, Rob Thomas (creator of Veronica Mars) launched his Kickstarter campaign to bring his TV show to the big screen. Within 12 hours, he raised $2 million, becoming the fastest Kickstarter campaign to reach its goal. By the end of his campaign, Thomas had raised more than $5.7 million.

Screenshot of Veronica Mars Kickstarter page

In what some have called a bothersome and abusive trend, other celebrities have successfully used Kickstarter as way to launch their own projects—actor Zach Braff received more than $2 million to produce a sequel to his film, Garden StateRen & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi raised $137,000 to produce a cartoon; and Whoopi Goldberg raised $74,000 to film a movie on comedian Moms Mabley. There are even rumors of a Friday Night Lights movie Kickstarter.

But not all celebrity projects have been successful. Recently, actress Melissa Joan Hart cancelled her Kickstarter project after it fell woefully short of its $2 million fundraising goal—collecting just more than $51,000, proving that patrons don’t find all celebrity projects worthy of funding.

Still, critics argue that celebrity-initiated projects make it harder for lesser known artists (Kickstarter’s original muses) to meet their fundraising goals. For those individuals, crowdsourcing is the only way they can collect funding for their projects. Critics say it’s unfair to use Kickstarter as a means to fund something that you either 1) already have the money for or 2) have the professional connections to make happen. Celebrities, they argue, meet both of those.

Kickstarter founders, Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler, and Charles Adler, took to their blog to defend celebrities’ projects:

Excerpt from Kickstarter blog

But seeing how Kickstarter makes 5% of the total funds from a successful project, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they wouldn’t support a multi-million dollar celebrity project as a way to boost their revenue potential.

Yet, there is something to be said for a person’s ability to choose which projects to back—they can elect to help fund an A-list actor’s movie or an aspiring singer’s new album. Isn’t that the democratic way? Still, I wouldn’t want my creative masterpiece stationed on the Website beside the Veronica Mars project. The long term effects of celebrities on Kickstarter has yet to be seen. But their presence does beg the question—is it fair?

Cinco de Mayo: More than Margaritas

May 03

¡Arriba. Abajo. Al centro. Pa’ dentro!  If you’re not familiar with this Mexican phrase, now’s the time to learn it! Sunday is Cinco de Mayo, and margaritas are in order. In the U.S., we celebrate this day to recognize Mexican heritage and pride. As a native of South Texas, I’m usually one to take part – with tequila! What I love about this day is not only the significance for Mexico, specifically the state of Puebla, but also its meaning to the U.S. The date of May 5 originates from the Battle of Puebla, when 4,000 Mexican soldiers defeated the French, who stormed Veracruz with double the strength in 1861. Some historians believe this defeat also inhibited Napoleon from aiding the Confederate rebels during the American Civil War. But it’s not only in history that this day holds significance for both the U.S. and Mexico. It’s important today because of the intrinsic ways our countries are connected to one another through our people.

Mexican Americans comprise the majority of U.S. Latinos, and as experts in social marketing who specialize in helping Americans live happier, healthier lives, the U.S. Latino audience is one we inherently recognize and address in our day-to-day work. As we do, we take great care in approaching Latinos with cultural understanding and not simply the Spanish language―just as we would with any other population as fundamental to our country’s make-up.

The HHS’ Office of Minority Health demonstrates how important these efforts are in health care, in particular, and sets an example we should follow. In April, it released enhanced standards to help promote equity and remove ethnic disparities in health care. The National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards in Health and Health Care offer guidance to health organizations on how to better deliver care to culturally diverse populations. A recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality states that the estimated cost of inequitable and inadequate care due to ethnic and racial disparities is $1.24 trillion!

CLAS Standard #1: Provide effective, equitable, understandable and respectful quality care and services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs. The remaining 14 standards cover three categories: (1) Governance, leadership and workforce; (2) Communication and language assistance; and (3) Engagement, continuous improvement and accountability. You can read them in their entirety here.

HHS calls these standards a “blueprint” for delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate health care. As social marketers, we should develop our own blueprint, our own set of standards, for communicating with the U.S. Latino audience. This would ensure that the messaging and strategy we develop resonates culturally and is, in fact, effective among this important population. In addition, when programs call for outreach to Latinos, the strategy should be developed as a core pillar to the program rather than an add-on or afterthought. I’m proud to say this is something that Ogilvy is passionate about, and I look forward to seeing how our work grows stronger as we approach Latinos with thoughtful, methodical communications programs.

So, as you raise your margarita and dig into that guacamole this weekend, remember that Cinco de Mayo commemorates more than a date in history but also a rich and significant part of today’s American culture – one that deserves our consideration not only on the 5th of May but year-round.

Ogilvy Washington’s Social Marketing Practice offers Hispanic marketing services through Think Latino, an in-house group of bilingual and bi-cultural Latino experts.

Web Sites: It’s a Journey, Not a Destination

Apr 30

I’ve spent much of my career advising on Web site design and content strategy. Essentially, I serve as the translator between the content lead at the organization and the Web site developer.

I’ve really enjoyed this role. I love finding creative solutions to help organizations get the dynamic and innovative features they are looking for within their budget. How does their often non-technical vision for a technical platform become actualized? And on the other side, I can help the technical experts understand why a new way to navigate or feature certain content may obscure key messages.

My first official Web project was in 2004—helping the organization I worked for conceive of and implement a better strategy to communicate research findings to the public and press.  That first project helped me understand that, since the birth of World Wide Web, media is in a constant state of change and progress.

Email had just arrived on the scene during my sophomore or junior year of college (and you had to go to the library to check it!), I bought myself my first cell phone with my first pay check at my first job, and it was two years into that first job when we got on AOL Instant messenger (and AOL email) as a company platform. I’m not kidding when I say the first week we were all panicked by the constant dinging and “You’ve Got Mail!” resounding throughout the office.

Now, we have Twitter, Facebook, and apps (check out my colleague Lauren Littleton’s post about Snapchat, Instagram, and Vine) to convey information instantly through social networks.

In a world where a Tweet can cause trading companies to dump shares in a matter of seconds, Web sites can’t compete with being the source for breaking information. They need to provide context, tell a richer story. They need to do more than tell the story—they need to take readers on a journey through a series of customized stories.

Screenshot of The New York Times Web site redesign.

Photo Credit: The New York Times

For example, The New York Times is redesigning their Web site to “encourage app behavior of moving through articles, rather than back to the home page.” Is The New York Times Web site going to get the information out into cyberspace first? Probably not. Their social media platforms (or those of their competitors) will. But their plan is that when social media leads you to their site, you’ll stick around, learn more, explore more, and then share more—through on your own social media channels. Even though you hear it first on Twitter, you’ll go to The New York Times Web site for their trusted, reliable brand experience.

Read this article by tech blog Mashable, Inside the ‘New York Times’ Redesign. You may have already seen some of these features emerging (sometimes sporadically) on sites you work on or frequent. What do you think of their redesign? Of responsive design? Of more white space? Larger images? The diminished traditional navigation bars? You can also experience the preview yourself and sign up to request access to the prototype through The New York Times.

Further, what have been your challenges and successes in encouraging clients to change the way they view media—for example, by mimicking “app behavior,” diversifying media, or re-envisioning their Web site as more than just a repository?