Posts Tagged social marketing

What does behavior change have to do with True Blood?

In HBO’s True Blood you gotta bring the whole bag of tricks to protect yourself from vampires, werewolves, maenads, warlocks, faeries and who knows what else is comin’. According to social marketing expert Mike Newton-Ward, if you showed up in Bon Temps with only garlic or only a wooden stake, you’d be in a whole lotta trouble.

For many issues in life, you need more than one strategy to deal. Think about rationalizing with children – different personalities and ages may need different approaches. Strong negotiators have many tactics up their sleeves, ready to pull out as needed. Consumer products companies have endless marketing and sales strategies to get us to buy. Even justifying a new shoe purchase – many women know a variety of ways to do this. So why would we think it’s enough to apply one solution, one strategy, or one event to complex, vexing social issues and public health problems, and expect much change? Or, to apply the solution or strategy or communication only one time?

These problems haven’t gone away yet for a reason. For a good discussion about this, check out Mike’s social marketing blog and his post “Stop Looking for a Silver Bullet! We need Wooden Stakes and Garlic, too!” for a reminder of how the 4 P’s of marketing applied to social issues allows you to more effectively attack a problem from numerous angles. 

I also appreciate how he shares this quote: “Problems worthy of attack, prove their worth by hitting back.” It’s not bad if your prevention and behavior change efforts get push-back. Especially if you get major push-back from industry. Instead look at it this way — it means you are on the right track. It’s a sign of your effectiveness, and that’s a good thing.


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Rage against the alarm clock

This article about exhaustion and sleep in the Chicago Tribune got me thinking about barriers to behavior change.

Who would have a problem with sleep?

But in a culture turbo-charged with things to do, where speed is important, hours of sleep kind of get in the way. Burnout is seen as a badge of honor. And as this article mentioned, seeking treatment for exhaustion can elicit eye rolls. People can be seen as lazy when they sleep more. Who wants to be seen as lazy?

The thing is, people really can be doing too much and sleeping too little. Burnout is not a good thing when people have things they want and need to do — it doesn’t deserve a Burnout Award, it’s counter-productive. Feeling exhausted can be a sign of mental illness and other diseases like cancer.

Compared to that, doesn’t it seem stupid to not seek what we need because people might think it’s lazy?

But attitudes like that are real barriers to behavior change. Cultural beliefs are barriers to behavior change. In order to help people feel free to get better, we should minimize these barriers in addition to advising people about actions they could take. Do research, do some digging into people’s concerns, into their outright fears. What is really getting in their way?

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Melinda Gates wonders about learning from Coca-Cola for social change too

Maybe we’re on to something during recent discussion here about how health behavior change can learn from soft drink marketing. Melinda Gates has her eye on this too for the Gates Foundation.

About her TED talk, Melinda Gates says:

… we can also learn from the successes in other sectors. My TEDxChange talk focuses on the question of how Coca-Cola has become so ubiquitous around the world and what governments and the development community can learn from the company’s success. By analyzing what Coca-Cola has done to become so prevalent, we can apply those lessons to the millennium goals and save even more lives.

What can nonprofits with social missions learn from Coke? Melinda shares three key things. Marketing is one of them:

She says that Coke’s marketing is aspirational. It sells the life that people want to live. It sells happiness. And how it sells happiness varies for different cultures. Even she says, “it feels pretty good, right?”

In contrast, she notes that health professionals often sell based on avoidance, not aspiration. She thinks it’s a mistake to not make people want something that they need.

She talks about how in some areas of the world, you really do have to sell a toilet for its intended use. The goal is to reduce diarrhea and open defacation, but people don’t necessarily want to use toilets when toilets are given to them. The toilets have been used to store grain and as chicken coops. So instead of selling a toilet for its intended use, in India romance has been used as the selling point for toilets: “no loo, no I do!” Now that’s aspirational motivation.

Related posts:

Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 2)

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Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 1)

Type “yuck” into‘s search and you’ll see many totally unmotivated people, like this cutie who has bad thoughts about that salad. Where do kids get that attitude so young? At any rate, it’s a hard sell at this point to get this kid to eat his veggies. You’re selling something to him that he doesn’t wanna buy.

(I apologize, by choosing this photo, I just realized I’m adding to this attitude. But he’s so cute. And he gets the point across. And I don’t think 4-year-olds are reading this blog.)

What company would sell things that people don’t want to buy? How long would that company stay in business? But in public health, we do this a lot. Too often,

  • We tell people not to do things they want to do.
  • We tell people to do things they don’t want to do.

We tell them they should do this for their own good, in one way or another. And we expect that to change behavior.

Well you know what, that appeal isn’t good enough.

What if people had to pay for what we’re “selling” in public health? And yes, we are selling. We’re selling people on an idea, a belief, an attitude, a behavior. How many people would buy what you’re selling? Would enough people buy to keep the lights on in your office? To pay a salary that would cover your basic bills? To pay a salary that would pay basic bills plus your kids’ college tuition, nice vacations, new roof or kitchen re-do whenever you need or want it, ample retirement nest egg, etc.? Really think about this. Would enough people buy what you’re selling so you could “stay in business”?

Many public health professionals work in government and non-profits because the behaviors that we promote for the good of individuals and the public don’t involve an exchange of money, like consumer sales and business-to-business sales do. The private sector won’t take on our issues for a financial exchange. But I challenge that although there’s no exchange of money between us and our audience, we still must deliver the most effective appeal that our audience would buy. Because in our case, the “buy” is behavior change. When our audience buys in, they change. And we’re not selling another pair of fashionable winter boots, the latest hosta hybrids for a garden, or the most beautiful travertine tile for a new bathroom floor. Although I’ve bought all of those over the past few years, I’d say we’re selling something more critical than those things. We’re selling the well-being, health and safety of people.

And although most people would say they want to be well, healthy and safe, we know they don’t always “buy” the behaviors that deliver that. Selling what people don’t want to buy is not the best road to behavior change. We need to find ways to influence behavior change by using appeals that our audience does want to buy.

I don’t mean to leave you hanging, but more on this later. … (OK maybe I do mean to leave this for now, it’s a gorgeous weekend in October and we’re going up to Door County! You can’t make me buy more time indoors this weekend, no way!)

Related post:

Selling what people don’t want to buy (part 2)


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