Private Sector Engagement in Social Marketing – The Courageous Path Forward

Apr 26

One of the debates this week during the World Social Marketing Conference in Toronto, Canada that stood out the most to me was the conversation around the need for the private sector to play a role in social change and the challenge presented to scientists, advocates, and the business community to work together to successfully create that change.

The dialogue was introduced by OgilvyEngage’s interactive panel discussion on the private sector’s engagement in Social Marketing and why businesses should foster behavior change.  The panel helped sharpen perspectives on the issue and examined the multiple roles that the private sector can play as well as how to get the most out of private sector collaborations.

The panel featured key thought leaders in the social marketing field, including:

  • Nancy Lee, President of Social Marketing Services, Inc. and Adjunct Faculty at University of Washington;
  • Jay Bernhardt, President of Digital Health Impact, Inc. and Professor and chair of Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida;
  • Celeste Bottorff, Vice President of Living Well at The Coca-Cola Company; and,
  • Tom Beall, Managing Director of the Global Social Marketing practice at Ogilvy Public Relations.

Overall, the discussion centered around how government and other traditional leaders of social marketing movements can benefit from private sector leadership and support on behavior-related initiatives. Kicking off the panel, Nancy Lee touched on the evolution of corporate social marketing and clarified how it differs from Corporate Social Responsibility and Cause Marketing, saying that corporate social marketing is perhaps the most important direction for Social Marketing.  Tom Beall chimed in to shed light on the communications aspects of behavior change programs.  Jay Bernhardt furthered the discussion by offering perspective on how important it is, when seeking help from the private sector, “to think of them as partnerships not sponsorships,” and further added that “starting small is key to building trust and momentum.”  And in support of Jay’s comment on partnerships verses sponsorships, Celeste Bottorff noted that money represents the least powerful of corporate resources and that for Coca-Cola it’s “their voice, distribution, and customer relationships that add the greatest value in public private partnerships.”

But the most valuable takeaway for me was a point made by Jay – “the solutions to our society’s most wicked problems will only be solved with involvement of all sectors.”  It is clear that there are many very strong, and sometimes opposing opinions on this issue, and as a practitioner I recognize that it can sometimes be uncomfortable to venture into this space. But as Social Marketing as a discipline is evolving,  it’s going to be increasingly important for all of us to accept the new way forward and acknowledge the mutual benefit that comes through the private sectors engagement in social change.  As Celeste noted, “both sides of public-private partnerships need courage,” but “it’s the right thing to do, and we should do it because we can do it.”

Our dedicated behavior change practice, OgilvyEngage partners with companies and organizations to help create customized communications programs that prompt and support shifts in attitudes and behaviors among target audiences and enhances return on investment for businesses. To learn more, check our paper From Cause to Change: The business of behavior, which discusses how businesses can harness the power of behavior change and show that what’s good for individuals and good for society can also be good for business.

10 Reflections on the 2013 World Social Marketing Conference

Apr 23

In the few short hours since the 2013 World Social Marketing Conference concluded earlier this evening, I’ve found myself reflecting quite a bit on the presentations and discussions.  So, while it’s all still fresh in my head, here are some of my personal takeaways (in no particular order):

1.  Social change marketing, as I’m now referring to our discipline, is still brand challenged — most notably by the ever-growing confusion with “social media” and the fact that to some “marketing” is a bad word.  Yes, we need to do a better job of “marketing social change marketing.”  So let’s stop talking about it, and let’s start doing it.

2.  It was refreshing to hear some presenters admit they don’t have all the answers and call for the field to collaborate on finding solutions to big problems.

3.  It was disheartening to see the divide that still exists between academics and practitioners.  As my colleague, Tom Beall, eloquently said: Let’s build on our commonalities and not exploit our divisions.

4. I wish there were more time to experience the culture of Toronto.  To open the conference, we were treated to a beautiful blessing from a member of First Nations followed by a performance by a World Champion Hoop Dancer — something I’d never seen before and thoroughly enjoyed.  Yet, I found myself wishing for more opportunities to experience the culture of Canada and the beautiful city of Toronto throughout the next 2 1/2 days.  The next time we gather, I hope there are more opportunities to do so that are baked in to the conference agenda.

5.  Presentations that rely heavily on visuals and compelling stories are far more engaging than text-heavy slides.  (This is not a new learning but one that was re-confirmed after watching 2 1/2 days of consecutive presentations.)

6. Experts from outside the field of social marketing but who work in a related field bring a valuable perspective — we should strive to hear more from them.

7.  The solutions to our society’s most wicked problems will only be solved with the involvement of ALL sectors of society.  (Jay Bernhardt)

8. Both sides of public-private partnerships need courage for there are always detractors.  (Celeste Bottorff)

9. Social and Marketing go together like a horse and carriage.  Lyrics by Nancy Lee.  Vocals by Nancy Lee’s Granddaughters.

10. There is amazing insightful, creative, and innovative social marketing work happening around the world.  I’m inspired and am looking forward to getting back to work to apply some of what I learned this week!

Onward to Toronto! The 2013 World Social Marketing Conference

Apr 18

In a few days, I’ll be joining more than 500 colleagues, academics, researchers, and students in Toronto for the third biennial World Social Marketing Conference. As the title sponsor, Ogilvy Public Relations is honored to contribute to this pioneering event. This is the first time the conference will be held in North America.

For those who haven’t attended this event in the past, the conference is a unique opportunity for social marketing practitioners to meet and discuss behavior change principles and techniques that ultimately help people lead safer, healthier and more productive lives.

This year’s theme – exploring new challenges and solutions to social change – spotlights how social marketing practitioners are overcoming barriers to designing and  implementing highly effective, sustainable interventions. Panels, posters, and educational sessions on health, the environment, criminal justice, transport and finance will be presented with particular focus on sustainability, intra-disciplinary working and the relevance and application of behavior change practice and science.

The conference will feature notable speakers including: conference Chair Jeff French, a recognized global leader in the application of behavior change and social marketing, and Chief Executive of Strategic Social Marketing Ltd.; Nancy Lee, international economist, author, and president of Social Marketing Services, Inc.; Brian Wansink, professor at Cornell University and author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think;” and Phillip Kotler, professor, author, and founder of Kotler Marketing Group, Inc.

The conference will also feature renowned author and environmentalist Ma Jun, Founding Director of China’s Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, as a keynote speaker.

For those of who cannot attend this year’s conference, I encourage you to follow and spur discussions about the conference online through Twitter, using the hashtags #wsmc and #OgilvyWSMC. You can also follow the conversation here on the Social Marketing exCHANGE and through the conference website, www.wsmconference.com.

Do you have issues that you would like to see World Conference participants address next week? Do you have recommendations for how we together build a stronger global movement dedicated to capturing, spreading and nurturing even better and more effective social marketing practices? Leave a comment here and I’ll share it with the conference organizers and participants next week. We will do our best to get your questions answered and your ideas considered.

Do You See and Hear, What I Do?

Apr 16

In the aftermath of any devastating event, whether it is the Oklahoma City, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, or Boston I’m always aware that I feel not only dumbfounded that such acts of violence occur, but also humbled.  We live in a world where most days are spent ignoring each other either in the office, on the metro, on the bus, or on the street. Yet we are more connected now than ever before through social media. Why does it take monumental events such as yesterday’s Boston marathon bombing or Virginia Tech shooting six years ago, where lives are forever changed for us as people to take notice?

I’m guilty as charged when it comes to keeping your head down and commuting in silence. Take this morning for instance, while on my way to work I, like those around me, was looking at my phone. I read the Washington Post, read emails, and poked around Facebook. It was then that I remembered a post from a high school friend called, Stop and Hear the Music. It is particularly poignant to the observation that we as individuals no longer stop to take notice of the little things. We take for granted that those people we encounter on the street, on the bus or metro, the things we see in our structured schedules will be there for the duration. When did we stop smelling the roses, or listening to the music?

In an experiment initiated by The Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten on January 12, 2007, American Grammy Award-winning violinist Joshua

Photo courtesy of http://www.joshuabell.com/photos

Bell donned a baseball cap and played as an incognito busker at the Metro subway station L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC. The experiment was videotaped on hidden camera; of the 1,097 people who passed by, only seven stopped to listen to him, and only one recognized him. For his nearly 45-minute performance, Bell collected $32.17 from 27 passersby (excluding $20 from the passerby who recognized him). The night before, he earned considerably more playing the same repertoire at a concert. Weingarten won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for his article on the experiment. I challenge us all to stop and make the time to GO down to the Tidal Basin on your lunch hour, SAY hello to the person next to you on the bus, PUT your phone away, and LISTEN to the music.

Below is a brief excerpt from Weingarten’s article:

“A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by The Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?”

What’s your Moneytude? And where did it come from?

Apr 11

With Tax Day looming, this is always the time of year that I tell myself it’s time to get more motivated to focus on how I’m spending and (importantly) what I’m saving. As a “late thirty-something,” I have also reached the age and personal circumstance where I’m not only planning for my own future, but also looking at the real possibility of helping manage the financial impacts of health challenges my parents are facing.

So here are a few things that I’ve done – in no particular order— in the last few months:

  1. Set monthly budget check-ins with my husband on our shared calendar
  2. Committed to discussing changes to my 401k and other saving goals with our financial advisor
  3. Begun to help  my Dad organize my parents’ financials and estate plans
  4. Failed at curtailing my online shopping habit – ooh, a package from J. Crew has actually just arrived
  5. Sweated about the fact that my husband and I really haven’t stuck to our monthly budget check-ins (see #1 above)

What I haven’t done – or done proactively – is talk with others, my friends, or even family, about my opinions, my choices, and my fears.  While we may have more access to information, software, and financial advice in 2013, talking openly about savings, spending, or investing is not the topic of choice among social and peer groups.   Even writing this blog post makes me a bit uncomfortable as I mention things about our financial advisor, how health issues have so suddenly changed how I approach my family’s financial situation, and about my new clothing purchases. Yes, I know I didn’t need those new spring tops, but at least they were on sale, right?

As a social marketer, I’ve committed much of my professional life to tackling issues around financial planning and security – as they relate to behavior.   So moving forward this year, while I’m going to look for ways to be more active and open about my own behavior regarding money, I’ve also outlined a few specific topic areas that I’ll be taking a deeper dive into in this year on the exCHANGE.

  • Our opinions and behaviors (our Moneytudes) are still widely shaped by those close to us – our family, our upbringing. And while attitudes can differ by generation, recent studies have also shown the influence that parents can have on younger generations.
  • The country’s economic climate can influence attitudes about money, but some experts have commented that it may not translate into behavior change. Anxiety has been higher as a result of the housing and economic crisis, for example, but this has not always resulted in changes in spending and savings.  In contrast, personal life events continue to be seen as major drivers of financial decision making  (e.g. marriage, job change or loss, family growth)
  • What it takes to successfully save for retirement (and the unexpected) is still largely misunderstood by many Americans, and can lead to mistakes, inaction, or being misled by fraudulent entities.
  • Technology, especially online banking and mobile apps have expanded access to financial planning tools and resources – for all ages and income levels.  Websites like Mint.com have become very popular, and even the U.S. Department of Treasury rolled out a contest last summer, called the MyMoneyAppUp Challenge, for the best mobile app ideas to help Americans make smart financial decisions.

These are just a few of the ways in which Americans’ relationship with their finances is evolving.  What do you want to know more about?

What has shaped your attitudes about money, or planning for the future?

What are you personal barriers to paying off debt or saving more?

Who do you turn to for advice? Is that different than who your friends or family seek out?



Lunching With The Ravens’ PR Maven

Apr 09

Kevin Byrne, Ravens

Kevin Byrne speaking at The Carmine.

Kevin Byrne is the man behind the Baltimore Ravens’ media plan. He spoke recently at The Carmine in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, DC. He was a personable, thoughtful individual whose passion for his job was palpable. It’s possible he was still riding the Super Bowl XLVII win high, but something tells me that, like any true public relations professional, he has moved on to the next set of challenges.

Working as the Senior Vice President & Community Relations Manager for a professional football team seems as if it’s 50% public relations and 50% crisis management. Byrne has been with the Ravens for more than 30 years and has been providing the franchise with day-to-day advice (how to maintain a strong Ravens fanbase) and counsel on the unusual (how to speak with the media about a possible murder indictment charge); this man has seen, and done, it all.

As a communications and crisis management professional, Byrne provided tips on how to effectively maintain and move forward the image and appearance of a national brand. While social marketing professionals have slightly different goals than the NFL, the advice provided speaks true to what we do.

  1. Internal communication is the most important. It goes without saying that colleagues must talk to each in order to get anything done but what Byrne was referring to specifically was internal dialogue between us and the client. While Byrne is the head of Ravens media communications, he often meets with the owners, coaches, and even players to ensure that messaging is agreed upon and consistent.
  2. Managing vs. controlling. Communications is only a faction of an NFL team. That means a number of differing personalities with different opinions and often different agendas. Instead of acting as the summit of all decisions and ignoring the thoughts and needs of these different parties, Byrne believes he is more effective in promoting the Ravens brand when he is managing these different parties rather than trying to control every detail. Working with the head coaches, owners, and even the players themselves to ensure that everyone is on the same page in a collaborative, thoughtful fashion rather than providing a list of talking points to each strengthens relationships and presents a united front to the media.
  3. Always remember W.I.N. Yeah, sure, we all want to win, but what Byrne is referring to here is to keep in mind What’s Important Now. Often during brainstorms and meetings, it can be easy to forget the big picture. Brendon Ayanbadejo, former Ravens linebacker and marriage equality advocate was looking for opportunities to advocate on behalf of same-sex marriage around the Super Bowl game. While Byrne encourages players to have their individual voices heard, he asks that during the season, all players prioritize the team’s larger goals.
  4. Humanize the brand to strengthen connections. Social marketing professionals are well aware that first-hand accounts and stories are more compelling than lifeless facts. NFL communications also adheres to this rule; Byrne takes time to consistently blog about Ravens news, players, and activities on the Ravens website throughout the year to keep the team connected to its fans. He is sure to present both sides of any news, even if an argument isn’t the most flattering about the Ravens. This establishes the Ravens website as the go-to source for all information.
  5. During a crisis, consider redirecting the focus. Sometimes the media and the public can grab control of information that is unflattering or false. Byrne suggests analyzing the situation and determining whether this needs to be addressed or if there is a bigger, more important issue of which to remind the media. In Byrne’s case, when former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was accused of using deer antler spray to help him recover from an injury, Lewis redirected inquiries toward the more pressing issue at hand: winning Super Bowl XLVII.

Byrne may live in a different world than some of us, with Super Bowl rings and thousands of media inquiries a day, but his presentation showed that no matter the scale of work, communications professionals across the board share similar experiences. Isn’t that refreshing?

What's she doing?

Whoops, how'd that get in there!

Super Bowl Ring

Temporarily stepping foot into Byrne's world.

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.

Solving Hannah Horvath’s Motivational Puzzle: A New Phase of LinkedIn Connections

Apr 02

The motivational puzzle:  The millennial generation—the estimated 80 million young Americans ages 18 to 35—“are the most educated and culturally diverse of any generation before them, they’re also notorious job-hoppers who dislike bureaucracy and distrust traditional hierarchies—leaving many business leaders scratching their heads. What motivates this rising cohort? How do you keep them engaged, earn their trust, and get the most out of them?” asks a recent Forbes article. With such a large pool of generational influencers, their misunderstood purchasing behaviors and professional preferences will forever change the business landscape. But what makes them tick?

Think Girls (yes, the TV show). And think mentoring. “I think that I may be the voice of my generation—or, at least, a voice. Of a generation,” proclaims Hannah Horvath, the aspiring writer and protagonist of Lena Dunham’s HBO series, Girls, which just wrapped up its second season last week. Dunham has the ability to package the raw reality of today’s “Hipsturbia” world into something that people want to watch. It’s crude and intimate, embarrassing yet self-aware. But the 26-year-old executive producer, director, and star of her own hit TV show is also refreshingly honest. She tells the press and her fans alike, that her rise to fame and success was not a solo venture. She couldn’t have gotten where she is today without the mentorship and guidance of comedic film producer, Judd Apatow.

The Cast of Girls

Photo Credit: Mark Seliger/HBO

Working for a large global agency like Ogilvy, with more than 450 offices in 120 countries, I am lucky to experience the hierarchy of business and the culture of mentorship that nurtures young minds to become brand innovators and leaders. I’m also lucky to live in Washington, a city of people who have the experience and creativity to be great mentors—and are just waiting to be asked.

Could social mentoring be the next big thing? The digital consumers of the millennial generation have Facebook for keeping up with friends, Twitter for news, Instagram for photo sharing, and YouTube and Vine for video. But what’s the online equivalent of the profitable phenomenon of professional mentoring? Is this LinkedIn?

Everybody knows LinkedIn. It’s the social networking site for professional occupations. With more than 200 million members in over 200 countries and territories, LinkedIn touts that it is, “significantly ahead of its competitors Viadeo (50 million members) and XING (10 million members).”  But positioned against Facebook’s over 1 billion active users and Twitter’s over 500 million users, LinkedIn’s worldwide popularity pales in comparison.

What LinkedIn has going for it—its competitive edge—is that it is the leader in managing your professional identity online. So why aren’t companies and employees more socially engaged when it comes to LinkedIn?

The barrier lies in LinkedIn’s structure—a peer-to-peer connection network model that does not match the structure of a real-life business model. The results? “Manag[ing] your professional identity [on LinkedIn]…through building and engaging with your professional network” is a static and stale pursuit. What is valuable in the real-life professional environment is the access to great knowledge managers and the opportunity to create influential mentoring relationships between industry leaders, trusted counselors, and their eager mentorees.

This is the next space for digital connection. “You know that part on your résumé where they ask if you have any special skills?” Hannah Horvath confesses at the beginning of season two. “I don’t think I have any special skills.” Though Hannah feigns disinterest in fitting into the urban hierarchy for much of Girls’ first two seasons, she, like so many young adults, is plagued by the uncertainty of her own future professional status. Perhaps a social media-social mentoring extension of LinkedIn is what we need to keep Forbes’ job-hopper millennials engaged, motivated, and ultimately earn their trust in the business landscape.

A New Focus for Baby Sleep Safety

Mar 27

I have a baby, which means I spent much of the past few months in a sleep-deprived daze trying to get him to fall asleep—and stay asleep.  I’ve realized through the semi-obsessive talk with my “mommy friends” about how many hours and how many naps, as well as much internet research into what’s “normal,” that the question of how and where a baby sleeps remains controversial.  To prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), the focus of public health messaging for the past two decades has been on putting babies on their backs to sleep.  Thanks in part to the Back to Sleep campaign (created by NICHD in the early 90s and supported by Ogilvy in the early 2000s), this recommendation is well known and SIDS deaths have declined dramatically.  Yet the number of babies sleeping on their backs has plateaued and SIDS continues to be the leading cause of death among infants aged one month to 12 months.  At the same time, rates are on the rise of other sleep-related causes of infant death, such as entrapment or suffocation from accidents like babies getting caught between sofa cushions or adults rolling over babies in bed.

What’s happening here?  Have parents gotten complacent?  The rates of SIDS have decreased so dramatically over the years that perhaps new parents today don’t know anyone who has been impacted by SIDS and may not feel the urgency associated with back sleeping. Could the increase in co-sleeping be an unintended consequence of the success of Back to Sleep messaging?  As any parent knows, babies don’t sleep as well on their backs as on their tummies, but they sure do sleep well snuggled next to mom and dad.

In response to the increase in sleep-related deaths, the American Academy of Pediatrics expanded its sleep recommendations in 2011 to outline a comprehensive safe sleep environment, adding recommendations like breastfeeding, immunizations, and avoiding crib bumpers.  The recommendations also weigh in against bed-sharing, opting for room-sharing instead. This shouldn’t be surprising, given the data that clearly shows the dangers. Yet the recommendations also acknowledge that there isn’t evidence yet showing it can be done safely, not necessarily that it can’t be done safely.

Ad showing a baby sleeping on a bed next to a large knifeWith dangerous sleep practices on the rise, it makes sense there would be a renewed focus on public education.  The Back to Sleep campaign renamed itself Safe to Sleep. And you see campaigns like this one from the Milwaukee Health Department that aim to get the message out about the dangers of bringing baby to bed with you.  Knife-wielding babies?  Yep, that certainly gets my attention.  But did I learn enough from it?  The parent in me has a hard time reconciling this directive with my personal experiences of having my baby sleep longer next to me in those early months.  And the public health educator in me is wondering if we are missing a huge teachable moment here by telling parents not to practice this behavior instead of sharing information on how to do it safely. (By the way, the Milwaukee Health Department released new ads less than a year later with babies in cribs on their backs.)

Will the guilt and blame associated with bed-sharing lead parents to hide this behavior from their pediatricians or support networks?  Are we missing an opportunity here to educate parents about how to bed-share more safely, such as by removing fluffy blankets and tying back long hair?  Perhaps similar to the argument for sex education for teens…if people are going to do it anyway, isn’t it our responsibility to teach them how to do it safely?

What is the right balance between condoning a behavior and teaching safety? Are there messages about other behaviors with this type of dilemma that have it figured out?

Being Funny To Help Folks Get Serious

Mar 22

As social marketers we are often working on issues that are far from funny. We want our audiences to see our work and decide to make a better, healthier, and safer choice. However, often what is grabbing their valuable attention isn’t the solemn PSA or earnest ad placement urging folks to make a change. It’s silly cat videos and Call Me Maybe video parodies.

Using humor can be a powerful way to grab attention. It seems as though in a sea of stressful work and busy lives, that many will take the time to have a good laugh, and even pass it on to a friend. So why not use humor as the hook for a powerful behavior change message?

Last year at a conference, I passed a poster presentation on Avoid the Stork, The University of Iowa College of Public Health’s campaign to reduce unintended pregnancies. I chuckled as I started reading, intrigued and entertained enough to not only read the entire poster but look up the campaign once home.  The campaign has since come to an end but still lives online through humorous and to the point content. Avoid the Stork featured a rather large Stork with a baby strapped to it ready for delivery. It was featured in several  humorous scenarios as a reminder to use contraceptives. I was impressed by not only the creative but the clarity of the message behind the creative.

Avoid the Stork

And I must not be alone, the campaign noted positive results including a significant decline in unintended pregnancies statewide. Now that’s something to smile about!

So tell me, do you agree that being funny can communicate a serious message? What campaigns have you seen do this effectively?