Better World Advertising, which is known around these parts for its controversial in-your-face HIV prevention social marketing, is taking a different tack with a new campaign to address HIV risk behavior during meth use in San Francisco.
A billboard went up above Cafe Flore in the Castro today (Thursday, February 1) and newspaper advertisements will run all month. The ads are pretty much blank except for text in red ink that reads “(your ideas here)” over a white background. In yellow text the ads ask, “What should we do about METH [sic] in our community?”
The public is then asked to send its “advice, experiences and opinions” to the Web site http://www.sfmeth.org. [The new Web site went live February 1.]
The health department has budgeted $185,000 for the meth campaign, but will not know the total cost for it until the final concept is selected. The billboard alone is costing about $15,000 for the month.
Both Tracey Packer, the department’s interim HIV prevention director, and Les Pappas, owner of the ad agency, insisted the approach is not a response to the criticism in recent months of the previous campaigns.
“We definitely, if there are people out there that have ideas and opinions about this, we want to give them an opportunity or method to participate. I know there are some people who probably feel like there isn’t enough participation in the development of these kinds of things,” said Pappas. “We have a lot of people involved in these projects but nobody really knows about it. This will make it very clear we are interested in people’s opinions.”
Packer said she wanted to ask for the public’s ideas “because the issue of meth in a campaign is not simple and straightforward.”
“We would like to see what community members have to say. What should be said about meth use?” asked Packer. “We really hope community members respond to us and it will build a better campaign by getting community input.”
With four companies using consumer-generated ads in the SuperBowl on Sunday (NFL, Doritos, Alka Seltzer & Chevrolet), Better World seems to want to get into the act. Not to mention that this approach hinges upon community participation — something that the ad agency has been criticized for not taking into account in past campaigns.
Is this a good way to create social marketing campaigns? Can citizen marketers be effective in reducing HIV risk during meth use, or is it something that should be limited to less important products like marketing movies or cars?
I think the answer is not clearcut. The approach they are taking seems more like conducting a citywide focus group than like the commercial CGM campaigns linked above that solicited actual ads. They are not leaving the strategy or execution to the whims of the public, but perhaps will get some new ideas from people within the target audience. The risk they take with this approach is that it is not yet seen as a legitimate or accepted form of marketing by many (and especially by public agencies not used to being on the cutting edge).
Supervisor Bevan Dufty called it a waste of money and makes the city, which established a task force on crystal meth almost two years ago, seem stupid and lacking a plan.
“I am dumbfounded,” said Dufty after being shown the ads. “It begs the question if we have had a task force operating for two years why would we pay for a billboard that makes it seem we have no ideas or suggestions?”
The key to the campaign will be in how well Better World is able to combine the input they receive from the community with best practices in social marketing. Just because someone has what seems like an innovative or interesting idea does not mean that it will be effective in bringing about behavior change. People love to throw out cute slogans, but a catchphrase does not a strategy make. We’ll see what is rolled out in June, when the final campaign is supposed to be ready. I wish them luck in sorting through the submissions and turning them into an effective campaign.