This is why I love my job!


Written by Geopatra

Because I get to ponder photos like this and the creative, sometimes controversial methods social marketers use to affect change.

This is a picture posted by a colleague in an Internet list-serve I belong to,  run by Georgetown U. The forum is made up of people like me who study and practice the art of behavior change. The photo was taken in Singapore, where public space is being used to market exercise.  Fascinating how this little photo sparked so many interesting comments on the list-serve, so I thought I would share.  I can’t include the comments without permission, but here is the gist of a few.

One  mentioned that in Singapore, “desired” behaviors are strictly enforced and therefore complied with.   A dog can’t pee in public without a significant fine imposed, much less the owner, and even spitting is strictly forbidden.   These laws have led to real changes in social norms, that is, people have evolved into accepting these “desirable” behaviors as the norm and adopted them.  But part of what we learn in social marketing is to start with the audience.  Who is this particular campaign targeting? One would guess, overweight people, or people who don’t exercise.  (I looked it up and Singapore has just launched a “Lose to Win” campaign to combat a nationwide obesity problem.)  But is this ad reaching the target audience or offending them?  One on the list mentioned that Coke uses skinny, pretty models to sell it’s product, why shouldn’t the Singapore health department do the same? (Or skinny stick figures that is.)

In my opinion, it’s a balance of using what we know works in marketing with what we also know about social marketing — that is, social is not there by accident:  we ultimately want to have  an effect on the greater good, not just the bottom line. In Coke’s case, this means getting people to buy Coke, in ours, getting people to start moving.  But do the means justify the ends in this case?  It’s unclear whether the marketing team did any research to see whether the ads resonated with their target audience, if the target audience found them offensive, or they saw the chubby stick figure and said “Hey, that’s not going to be me anymore!” and took the stairs.
Regardless what we think as social marketers, if the audience was researched, the proof will be in the porridge, i.e. behavior change.  But I also argue that we have an added social responsibility that advertisers don’t: to be conscious of more than the “bottom line of behavior change,” as well as to be aware that our messages may (if we’re not careful) have a perverse or negative affect, by strengthening dysfunctional social norms, i.e.:  “Look at that FAT person who is so LAZY taking the escalator!” One mentioned that those outside the target audience, like the disabled, will know that this ad is not targeting them.  We don’t know that.  What seems like a cute, innocent ad (to the svelte?) seems to me to be promoting the labeling of others by outward appearance,  name calling and I dare say bullying–  a risky if not unethical approach.   What do you think?
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