The best social marketing products are ones that people would want anyways even if they were not good for you or helpful to others. Clever product designers take a desirable product and figure out how to attach a secondary use that might ordinarily be more difficult to get people to adopt or do in a different way.
I love the concept of the PlayPump pictured above:
It’s a simple idea. As children spin on a merry-go-round, water pumps from below the ground. It is stored in a tank just a few feet away, making a safe, plentiful supply of water available in the community.
Nearly 700 PlayPumps have been installed in South Africa, providing safe water to a million people living in rural communities. Thousands more PlayPumps will be installed throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, bringing the many benefits of ready access to clean drinking water to millions of underserved people.
It’s brilliant. Having easy access to water improves so many other health and social issues:
- Children can play and stay in school rather than hauling water.
- Women no longer have to risk injury from carrying heavy containers of water over great distances, and have more time to care of their children and even start their own businesses.
- The PlayPumps can have public health messages on two of their sides.
- The other two sides can be leased for consumer advertising, with the revenue paying for pump maintenance for up to 10 years.
This goes beyond the cause marketing model used by a brand like Ethos water, which was recently sold to Starbucks. For every bottle of Ethos they sell, Starbucks donates five cents toward helping children around the world get clean water. They recently announced a $250,000 grant to fund water-related projects in Ethiopia. But the Ethos model is still pretty much standard cause marketing.
What I’m talking about is a product that serves two functions simultaneously. Like a shirt that has microelectronics built in that can monitor the health of the wearer (i.e., blood pressure, blood oxygen, temperature and ECG) and trigger a call for help in case it is necessary. Or a version with built-in gyroscopic sensors to determine whether the patient has fallen over.
Or a program in which volunteer health workers in South Africa care for their neighbors who have AIDS, while at the same time learning to read, write and solve math problems. They are part of an adult education program called Reflect, which is “an education methodology developed in the mid-1990s that connects education with community action in hopes of making learning relevant to adults.”
Or a cell phone that comes with a built–in pedometer and digital music player — three things that you might take with you when you exercise anyways, but in a convenient combination.
Or a UV sensor watch that tells you when it’s time to protect yourself from the sun.
There are many more familiar examples of dual purpose products:
- Nicotine gum that helps you quit smoking
- Margarine that lowers your cholesterol
- Insect repellent sunscreen/moisturizer
- Gummy bear vitamins
- Dance Dance Revolution (video game + exercise)
Your promotional materials can also serve another purpose besides getting your message out. This is nothing new — think promotional pens, bags, baseball caps, first aid kits… But if you can make your advertising into something directly useful in solving the problem you are addressing, that can make it even more effective. Like these Salvation Army blanket/billboards that can be used by homeless people to stay warm. Or illegally planting trees to protest trees being cut down illegally around the world.
As always, bonus points for creativity to those who can apply this model to their own product or campaign.