Stop telling me to be good

Public's Phil Haid on why awareness isn't enough and why when it comes to CSR, you have to engage.

This story appears in the April issue of strategy.

By Phillip Haid 

A funny thing happens in marketing when it comes to social issues: we convince ourselves that awareness is an end in itself. In reality, defaulting to awareness is tantamount to letting ourselves off the hook.

Who can forget iconic campaigns like Smokey Bear telling you to put out your campfire or the Partnership for a Drug-Free America showing an image of a fried egg and warning you, “This is your brain on drugs,” or our very own Hal and Joanne telling us to take a “Body Break?” Because of these successful campaigns that told us to “do good,” we now see awareness campaigns everywhere: drinking and driving, eating disorders, animal cruelty, texting while driving, the list goes on.

The problem is they all put a premium on awareness as opposed to engagement, preferring you understand versus enabling you to make a material impact on your health or the community.

So I am here to tell strategists and creatives it’s time to stop doing the awareness thing. Telling people to do good or be better won’t work anymore.

Instead, engage people and you will create meaningful social impact.

The type of engagement I am talking about displays these golden rules:movember_print_ship_aotw

Give me something to do (and a reason to do it). One of the great things about Movember is that the campaign tapped  into a behavioural truth: most men at one point in their life want to see what they look like with a moustache. The campaign gave them an excuse to grow a mo and a good reason to do it.

Make it simple. A few years back, Telus asked its Facebook fans to go pink for breast cancer by changing the colour of their profile picture. For everyone who did, Telus would make a small donation. Not sure what to expect, they were amazed when more than 800,000 people participated. Simplicity works.

Make it fun. Volkswagen introduced “fun theory” to a mass audience by running a series of social experiments, including turning a subway staircase into a people-powered piano (remember the movie Big?) to increase the use of the stairs versus the escalator next to it. The result was a 67% increase in stair use.

Make it rewarding. To combat distracted driving, Samsung Australia introduced S-Drive, a gamification app that rewards drivers with movie tickets, concerts and other prizes for driving the speed limit, making good turns and not texting while driving.

Make it a win-win-win. To encourage Canadians to get their flu shot, Rexall introduced “Shot for Shot.” For every flu shot given at a Rexall store, the company also vaccinated a child in northern Uganda. The program was a win for its non-profit partner Amref Health Africa (who delivers the vaccines), the children and families vaccinated, consumers who felt good about getting their flu shot and the company.

Play to my interests. The Canadian Hemophilia Society wanted to make young woman aware that they could be at risk of a bleeding disorder, but rather than run an ad campaign, it created an e-novella on Wattpad called A Negative. It wove the public education message and call to action into a Harlequin-esque story for unsuspecting readers who like romance novels and follow the popular author. The result? More than 135,000 reads.

Show up in unexpected ways. Partners for Mental Health needed youth to sign a petition calling for changes to the way we support and fund mental health services for young Canadians. So as part of a national campaign it wrapped a chip truck with the campaign branding (“Let’s Call BS”) and showed up outside of schools and movie theatres with a simple catch: sign the petition and enjoy some free fries. Two days later with more than 10,000 petitions signed – success.

Be authentic. There is probably no better example of a brand authentically engaging in social issues than Patagonia. Its “Worn Wear” campaign encouraged customers to fix and wear its products for as long as possible. The results? A 46% increase in sales from the previous year.

Embrace failure. Engagement necessitates trial and error with your audience to see what they respond to and how. So it is vital to re-frame failure as learning, iterating as you go. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So next time you are asked to create an awareness campaign, turn it into an action campaign instead – one that seizes the moment, delivers an irresistible incentive and incites engagement. Telling me to be good is one thing. But showing me the way and enabling the behaviour will have a greater impact – much more than words can say.

Phil PhotoPhillip Haid is co-founder and CEO of Public Inc., a Toronto-based social purpose agency and innovation lab.


Movember image: Print ad by BBDO.