Spare Change

making a difference with social marketing
by Nedra Kline Weinreich
I have unilaterally appointed myself as the president of the Brian Humphrey Fan Club. Brian is the Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman, currently one of two firefighters covering all of the department's media and public relations activities around the clock (on different shifts). More importantly (for our purposes here), Brian started the LAFD News & Information blog, and in so doing has set the bar for other public agencies to follow in using social media to serve their communities.

While his colleagues help to contribute posts to the blog when he is off duty, the blog is really his baby. The posts are most often summaries of incident reports, describing a recent firefighting or rescue operation in vivid detail (and they are sometimes used verbatim in local news reports). Other times he talks about timely safety issues, helpful resources or upcoming LAFD events.

Anyone who reads blogs about the city of Los Angeles (e.g., LA Observed, Metroblogging LA) has likely seen comments from Brian on posts related to the LAFD or safety issues, written in his usual friendly and helpful style (and always with his signature sign-off, "Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service, Brian Humphrey"). Even when people are griping or downright nasty on his or other blogs, Brian always responds with good humor, sympathy and a genuine desire to be of assistance.

I am definitely not Brian's only fan. He was recently named the LA City Nerd's Citizen of the Year, and when he recently announced that he had to put the blog on temporary hiatus in order to catch up with a backlog of reports due to a staff shortage, a sampling of the many comments that were posted demonstrate how valuable people find the blog (which gets more than 500,000 direct visitors a year, not counting those tapping the feed):
  • I look forward to the speedy return of this resource, one of the best direct information outlets in the entire city. I have written about the LAFD blog in my blog, as have many others and it is seen as a great, respected resource by many.

  • Please bring the blog back soon, I feel closer to my community and Los Angeles with this blog, and have never felt so before. If there is anything we citizens can do to make it happen, I am there to help!

  • As a LAFD CERT [Ed. - Community Emergency Response Team] Member, I too love reading this blog which keeps us in the loop of what is going around the city. At a recent CERT meeting other members were also bummed out to hear about the blog hiatus....It's a great source of information.
I got in touch with the very busy Brian to ask him some questions about what he has been doing with the blog and other social media, and he was kind enough to find some time to answer my questions.

Can you tell me about what your role is at the LAFD? What was the professional path you took to get where you are (i.e., did you start as a firefighter, public information professional or something completely different)?

I am a Paramedic-trained Firefighter and 21 year veteran of the LAFD. At our agency, it is expected that each member will at one time or another volunteer to serve in the handful of 'special duty' positions that support our mission. Most LAFD special duty assignments last no more than two years. I've been asked to serve in a media and public relations role for the past thirteen, and will continue to do so at the pleasure of the Fire Chief. Though all of my training has been on the job, I'm proud to say that I've been well mentored.

How did you become the LAFD blogger? Whose idea was it to start the blog?

To most of my colleagues and our constituents, my fire helmet hides the fact that I am a genuine 'propeller-head' who enjoys technology, especially when it can be leveraged to alert, inform and reassure the public in times of duress. My many years of on-line work in support of our LAFD.ORG website and my genuine desire to focus on content rather than design brought forth the increasingly popular 'LAFD News & Information' blog, which I started in late 2004.

What do you see as the primary purposes of the blog?

While the purpose of our blog has become malleable, the key goal remains to offer timely and accurate information in an appealing manner that can help people lead safer, healthier and more productive lives.

How are you using other social media besides the blog to get the word out about the LAFD, like Flickr, YouTube, MySpace or other applications?

We have developed quite a following at Flickr, with more than a third-of-a-million image views this year. Our established LAFD YouTube Channel, LAFD BlogTalkRadio and *countless* other Web 2.0 projects merely await the staff time necessary to become equally successful. We'd love to take them all to their full potential, and consider them wonderful investments, but it will take more staff to make that happen.

How widespread within the LAFD or other Los Angeles City agencies is knowledge and interest in blogs and other social media?

Until last year, most members of our Department - like those they serve, merely saw our LAFD News & Information blog (which is seamlessly attached to our LAFD.ORG website), as routinely updated web content.
With the advent of RSS and the ability to syndicate or mashup our offerings, more and more Firefighters understand the principles and power of the blog. Sadly, many City of Los Angeles agencies have been late in formally adopting blogs and social media, as they have shunned my most loudly applauded admonition: "We can no longer afford to work at the speed of government!"

Are there others you are working with in the department, or are you the primary person responsible for these activities?

The LAFD has only three persons permanently assigned to the Public and Media Relations desk to provide service around the clock, every day of the year. We each cover a 56-hour minimum work week identical to our colleagues at Neighborhood Fire Stations. Like the crews at the Fire Station, we each have our specialties, mine being the blog - but my colleagues pitch in with content when I'm gone. Our primary roles though, are informing the public, the news and entertainment industries, academia, allied agencies and our own members about the workings of our Department and vocation on a daily basis. For every blog post you might see, we've done a hundred or more interviews for radio, television and print media around the globe.

How much of your time do you devote to this part of your job?

Do I have to answer that question? Let me say that I rarely spend less than 19 hours of my tour of duty at the desk multitasking. And yes, given the nature of our work, it is a passion that is both energizing and exhausting.

Some of your posts read like the plot of a TV show, with a level of detail that make it easy to visualize the scenes (like your post on the helicopter crews).

Thanks for your kind words regarding our endeavors. I say 'our' because in the Fire Service, it's all about teamwork. If I do something correctly I must rightfully share the credit. If we do something wrong, I must be willing to take the blame. It may not be my fault, but as a Firefighter it becomes my problem to solve.

I sadly wasn't able to afford a formal education, so I read everything I can get my hands on, and I think that helps. In our vocation, co-workers never hold back on criticism or compliments, so I get the benefit of continuous feedback that I always put to use.

How do you get the stories you post on? Do you go out in the field, listen to the radio communications, read the written reports?

All of the above. Though I hold the lowest rank in the Department, those who skillfully lead our agency understand the importance of effective internal and external communications, and work outside the our typical Chain of Command to see that I get what I need in a timely and efficient manner. Thinking of the old film and television series M*A*S*H, I'm sort of the 'Radar O'Reilly' character played so effectively by actor Gary Burghoff. I may exist and at times speak among the Colonels, but I'm just the Company Clerk helping to make things happen.

Are you deliberately crafting the posts to get that emotional connection from the reader or to convey a safety message within the story?

Our most effective messages are real world examples that resonate strongly in both the heart and mind. It is indeed these rare but memorable missives - sometimes offered in the context of a calamity, that help people towards safer, healthier and more productive lives.

Do you work at all with writers on TV shows or screenwriters to help them portray the work of firefighters accurately?

Oh do I! I'd say that at least five full hours a week are spent on the phone, e-mail and sometimes in person helping the myriad of entertainment industry professionals from writers to costumers accurately portray our vocation, which in itself is quite complex. And its not just TV and film. A typical week will have us working with everyone from film students to romance novel writers, all of whom seem to have at least a passing interest in the work that we do.

What other PR or marketing strategies does the LAFD use to try to persuade the public to take action for safety, disaster preparedness and fire prevention?

To a person, members of our Department realize that we are not judged merely by our admirable emergency response efforts, but also by our daily encounters with those who must know we'll be there for them, should the need arise. While we have developed many excellent programs right here in Los Angeles, such as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, which is now the global standard for community self-reliance and disaster preparedness - much needs to be done for our formal marketing and outreach strategies that continue to languish in this information age.

How much resistance have you encountered from the bureaucracy to sharing information about the LAFD’s activities through the blog?

Thankfully, our Fire Chiefs past and present have been supportive, and we always welcome feedback from the public and our colleagues. We're always accountable for what we do, and they have yet to say stop.

Have you run up against any legal issues or concerns about making certain kinds of information public? Are there other challenges you’ve faced as a blogger for a public agency?

Sadly, there is no access to any manner of 'new media' savvy legal and technical help within our realm. We have however, been blessed with plenty of advice and expertise from members of LA's well-established blogging community.

One of the things I am most impressed with is how you have become part of the blogging community here in LA, leaving comments on other people’s blogs and responding to comments on your blog. What has been the response of other bloggers and blog readers to your posts and comments?

Delving into the blogoshere (there, I used the word!) has allowed us not to merely speak to others more effectively and efficiently, but most importantly it has allowed to better listen. It never ceases to amaze me how few public agencies realize the importance and potential of listening while atop the mountain, rather than just being there to make noise.

Do you know of other public agencies in LA or elsewhere that are also trailblazers in using social media? Are there any firefighters who blog about their jobs in an unofficial capacity?

I have to offer a tip o' the LAFD helmet to Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, who has embraced and supported our efforts while leading us by the example of his own blogging. As for Fire Departments, I find precious few. On the other hand, there are a few Firefighters who post on blogs.

How do you see blogging fitting into a public agency’s overall outreach strategy?

If you want to be successful in fulfilling your agency mission, you have to communicate. Blogging tools make it among the most affordable and productive mediums for communication. Trust me.

For people at other public agencies who may be considering starting a blog, what advice would you offer?

Lurk for at least six months before you blog, then get your team together, and make it happen. People want access and transparency, and they ultimately come to understand that a blog is a work in progress. They will become both your mentors and your apostles if you let them.


Are you ready to join the fan club now too? Meetings will be every Wednesday at noon at a different firehouse each week. :-)

Brian invited me to come visit him in the LAFD's bunker four floors underground in City Hall to see the dispatch center where the City's fire and medical 911 calls are handled. I don't want this to get too long, so I will continue the story of my LAFD field trip in a separate post soon, with more on Brian and the other amazing people he works with, some interesting tidbits on what I learned about how the 911 system works, and a few pictures.

UPDATE (3/1/07): Here is my look behind the scenes at LAFD.

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And now for this week's snippets that don't fit anywhere else.
  • Kaiser is not on board the HealthTrain, refusing to engage its critics openly about problems with its HealthConnect system and declining to speak on a panel at the Healthcare Blogging Summit. Dmitriy shares an article in Kaiser's hometown newspaper on this and makes the very good point that Kaiser is turning their refusal to talk into the story itself.
  • Despite its major marketing push with partners like Apple, Gap and Nike, Bono's (RED) campaign reported that it raised a total of $11.3 million in contributions in 2006. While that number is nothing to sneeze at, this is just a drop in the bucket for the Global Fund, which has committed $6.6 billion for 460 programs in 136 companies. Considering all the hoopla at the campaign launch, and the tons of advertising and free publicity, it would seem that (RED) is either not living up to its potential or the public is just not impressed.
  • I tried to leave a comment on Evolusent's blog, but couldn't get it to work for me, so I will comment here. They say:
    Pleased to see marketers embrace medium, in a fashion that demonstrates their understanding of social marketing. As is the case in Dell’s recent release of IdeaStorm a community driven blog, where customers tell Dell how to make them buy more. More organizations are exploring the merits Web.20 technologies, including internet tv, podcasting, blogs and online communities, as the numbers deliver.
    I say, too bad Evolusent doesn't demonstrate their own understanding of social marketing.
  • Egyptian blogger Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman was just sentenced to four years in prison for expressing his opinions about the government's failure to protect the rights of religious minorities and women, as well as other criticisms of Muslim extremism. The 22 year old is the first blogger in Egypt to be prosecuted for the content of his posts. His sentence included three years for inciting hatred of Islam and one year for insulting the president. Reporters without Borders is calling for the UN to deny Egypt's request to host the Internet Governance Forum in 2009. Knowing the UN, which has a great love for putting repressive governments in charge of human rights issues, and has already let Tunisia, another violator of online freedom, host the World Summit on the Information Society, UN delegations will be wining and dining in Cairo in a couple of years.
  • MarketingVOX highlighted a great use of social media on behalf of a nonprofit. The same concept could be done with many other issues:
    Titled Cute with Chris, a new three-minute video blog is using often-irreverent humor to target pet lovers, urging them to save homeless animals in Los Angeles, according to Three Minds.

    "Cute" also invites viewers to submit pics of animals to be featured on the show, which also partners with the L.A.-based Glendale Humane Society to allow fans to adopt a pet of their own.

    The video blog is optimizing its viewership by being available on all the major web destinatoins: in addition to the video blog site, episodes can also be viewed on MySpace and iTunes.

  • A new study found that African American women are less likely than white women to receive well-communicated results of their mammograms, especially when the results were abnormal. A higher proportion either never received the results or misunderstood what they were told, thinking the results were normal, when they were actually abnormal. This shows we can't just blame health disparities on lack of access to medical care or cultural issues, but we need to make sure that healthcare personnel are trained in effective health communication as well.
  • And finally, we'll end with what I think is some incredibly profound spam poetry that I received with a hot stock tip today:
    Ethics policy patent privacy policycopy inc part new york?
    Dashed at last minute dont think it.
    Yellow pages forumsmost popular american idol contestant.
    Info news events work sitemap reprints? Pages, forumsmost, popular, american idol? Party english koreatired of dealing broker chainsmost idolbest. Since after, watching again on tape. Pick so go see next.
    Blatant, attempt steering away.
    Policy patent privacy policycopy inc part?
    Started, found out would allowed. English koreatired of dealing broker chainsmost idolbest greeting cards?
    Eventstop things, to do, in, gay.
    Patent, privacy policycopy inc part new york times.
    Compare prices find date job online. Know whether, shed finalists since after watching. You, are newspapers radio tvgt upcoming eventstop things to.
    Upcoming eventstop things, to. March gets second chance even simon agrees she was. Did not start well though?
  • I'm feeling koreatired. So, until next week's Tip Jar...

Photo Credit: mikeporcenaluk

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Yesterday during my weekly hour of "me time," when I have my cello lesson and then grab a cappuccino at the Starbucks down the street, a rack of books standing by the register caught my eye. They were "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" by Ishmael Beah. Along with the books were a stack of bookmark-sized folded "Reading Guides" with information and discussion questions about the book. The book is about the experiences of a former boy soldier in Sierra Leone, Africa; he is now in his mid-twenties, and lucky enough to have been swept into the Starbucks marketing machine.

Ishmael will be speaking and signing books at Starbucks locations in 11 major cities (though not Los Angeles for some reason). Starbucks is also organizing discussions about the book at various locations on March 7th, along with an ongoing online discussion and live chat with the author on March 13th. The company will donate $2 from the sale of each book to support UNICEF programs for children affected by armed conflict, with a minimum contribution of $100,000.

To be honest, I have not noticed whether Starbucks has done this extensive a promotion of a book before, though I know they have branched into music and movie promotions. With these activities plus their sales of Ethos Water that contribute toward "helping children around the world get clean water," Starbucks is trying to position itself as the coffee seller with a social conscience, rather than the megaconglomerate that's taking over the world, street corner by street corner. Seems to be working - Starbucks was number nine on the list of 100 Best Corporate Citizens developed by Business Ethics magazine and number five on Fortune's list of America's Most Admired Companies.

Love them or hate them, Starbucks has made itself into a force that has the power to impact the public conversation and influence its customers' thinking on social issues.

Photo Credit: Spencer Batchelder

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I'm sad to report that our pet butterfly Crumplewings finally went to the big garden in the sky. This amazing insect taught us all the meaning of courage and persistence. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but even though he emerged from his chrysalid just before the new year with damaged wings, he (don't ask me how I know it was a male) lived for almost 8 weeks. From what I could find on the web, Painted Lady butterflies usually only live 2-4 weeks, or less in captivity.

Was it my longevity-enhancing recipe for sugar water and orange slices that did it? Was it that he increased his lean body mass by shedding pieces of his wings? Or maybe he just had the will to live against all odds. We'll never know. But I'm sure he outlived most of his brethren who were set free outside a month ago.

What are the social marketing or life lessons in all of this (because, of course, there have to be some)? Maybe that you can never predict exactly how someone will respond to adversity, but you should never write them off. Or even if someone does not make a change in their life exactly as you think they are supposed to, they may still succeed by doing it their way. Or that there will always be some in your audience who surprise you by doing exactly what you do not expect. Or that those with their feet on the ground in business last longer than those with their heads in the clouds. Maybe you can come up with some better ones.

While we're on the subject of insects, I found this short video about cicadas and their 17-year life cycle strangely compelling. Good things come to those who wait?
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The little blog post that just won't die has picked up steam in recent months. About a year ago, I wrote about a commercial for fast food chain Jack in the Box depicting a guy who is clearly stoned ordering tacos from his van at the JITB drive-thru window. There has been a lively scene in the comments pitting stoners, who think anyone objecting to the ad is just an old fogey trying to harsh their buzz, against people who are outraged by the fact that the ad is still on the air.

One anonymous commenter (edited for brevity) just let me know:
The American Lung Assocation, Health Advocates Against Marijuana (H.A.R.M.), several non-profit agencies and local PTAs are staging a sit-in at corporate headquarters to protest this commercial.

JITB promised viewers last fall they would stop airing this particular commercial. Yet it came back with the SuperBowl and is seen nightly on local channels.

Interesting,considering Jack in the Box's own code of conduct (p. 4, 15, 16)
http://www.jackinthebox.com/investors/pdfs/codeofconduct.pdf

Contact JITB and let them know that drug use is not "humorous" as they claim.

Ms. Linda Lang, CEO Jack in the Box, 9330 Balboa Avenue, San Diego 92123, (858) 571-2121
No information on when the sit-in is happening, though it was generally mentioned in a recent news story about the organizations' demand that the commercial be pulled. According to the report, their main concern is that the commercial promotes pot smoking. My issue has always been with the fact that the commercial shows someone driving under the influence of drugs.

Jack in the Box's response? "Our commercials are intended to present information on our products or promotions in a fun, entertaining way. Our goal with this ad was to suggest that our tacos are an affordable and delicious way to satisfy one's appetite." Completely unresponsive. Except to the Stoner-American population.

Given that advertisers have been compelled by various advocacy groups to pull commercials off the air left and right, Jack in the Box should take these concerns seriously.

If anyone from the ALA, HARM or other San Diego organization participating in the sit-in has information on the scheduled date and time, please let me know and I will post it here. For anyone else who thinks this ad should be off the air, get in touch with JITB at the address/phone above or use their online comment form.

In case you have not seen the spot yet, here it is:
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While reading this week's Jewish Journal (the main LA Jewish paper), I was pleasantly surprised to see a sponsored article about health in the classifieds section. Titled "A Doctor's Word: Health and Wealth are Earned, Not Won," the article was by Tat S. Lam, MD, who is a family practitioner at Kaiser Permanente here in Southern California.

Upon reading the ad, I realized that it was the result of a poor decision by a media buyer (or an inexperienced marketing person assigned this task). The article would not have been so out of place had it not been so clearly written for a Chinese audience. Sentences like "As the Year of the Boar begins, I wish you good health and prosperity!" and "Talk with your doctor about how to make healthy choices in this New Year" are undoubtedly geared toward those celebrating the Chinese New Year. While Jews are known for liking Chinese food, we had our own New Year back in September, and we definitely do not celebrate a year dedicated to a pig.

The bottom of the article, in tiny print, states, "This advertorial is part of a monthly series for New America Media's ethnic media partners written by Kaiser Permanente physicians based on their experiences. Sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and produced by the NAM InfoWire."

I think it's wonderful that Kaiser is developing health information targeted to the many different ethnic communities that live in the Southland. But to publish these very specific ads for general consumption makes no sense. It's as if someone at Kaiser said, "We have to show our commitment to diversity. Quick, send these ads out to all the ethnic media!" Not only is it a waste of money, but by not making themselves relevant to readers the first time, they risk having their intended audience tune them out the next time, even if targeted appropriately.

Lumping all "ethnic" media categories together makes as much sense as assuming that all Asian ethnicities can be reached with a one-size-fits-all approach (do Japanese Americans care that it is the Chinese New Year?).

I do applaud Kaiser's efforts to customize their content for various ethnic communities (even if the 5-point or so font size was so small that half the population cannot read it), but the next part of the equation is to make sure that the ads are placed in appropriate media.

To my Chinese friends, shana tova! Oops, I mean gung hay fat choy!
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Lots of interesting bits and pieces in the Tip Jar this week:
  • Dove has just unveiled the newest piece of its Campaign for Real Beauty. Its "Beauty Has No Age Limit" ads for Dove's pro-age skin and hair care products are doing for older women what its "Real Women Have Real Curves" campaign and Evolution video did for normal looking younger women. The ads feature real women in their 50s and 60s who bare all for the camera to make the point that aging is not a bad thing. It's not exactly a social marketing campaign, since at the end of the day they are still trying to sell a product, but the messages these ads promote are definitely working towards creating healthy social norms.
  • In a sad social marketing-related link to the shootings in Philadelphia earlier this week, one of the victims, Mark Norris, was the head of the ad agency that created the controversial "Have You Been Hit?" HIV prevention campaign that portrayed young black men in the cross-hairs of a gun. How horribly ironic. My heart goes out to his and the other victims' family and friends.
  • Weight loss advocate Julia Havey is calling Coca Cola's bluff on their My Code Rewards program, saying that in order to win any of the top prizes participants have to drink a lethal amount of soda to amass the correct number of points before the end of the promotion. She has filed a legal petition against Coca Cola to stop the program.
    In order to be rewarded with the “Record like an idol at a recording studio in Los Angeles, California” reward, one needs to procure and redeem 41,600 points which would necessitate the consumption of 49,920 bottles of Coca Cola Product which, in the case of a non-diet product containing sugar, would give rise to the necessity to consume approximately 7,238,400 calories, which, in turn, would cause a human being to gain during the life span of the program approximately 2,068 pounds. On a daily basis, a participant would be required to consume one hundred fifty-one (151) 12-ounce bottles of Coca Cola, being a lethal consumption of the product.
  • Tateru Nino of Second Life provided some examples of both individual and organizational aid efforts going on in the virtual world. Besides groups of friends banding together to help the people behind the avatars who have real-world medical problems, Oxfam, the Red Cross, and Alcoholics Anonymous are operating within Second Life.
  • Have you seen the Indexed blog? Jessica Hagy uses Venn diagrams, graphs, geometry and other visual relationships jotted on index cards to make sense of the world in a clever and humorous way. Here are some of my recent favorites.
  • The National Media Education Conference will be happening in St. Louis, Missouri on June 22-26. Sponsored by the Alliance for a Media Literate America, the theme will be "iPods, Blogs and Beyond: Evolving Media Literacy for the 21st Century."
  • MarketingSherpa has a great article on how to start a cause marketing program based on the Komen Foundation's experience. Some of the most helpful tips include:
    • Tally your nonprofit's marketing assets -- what you can offer a potential partner in terms of exposure or other benefits.
    • Find a niche you can own, then find corporations who want to be there too.
    • Land one good partnership, make it work and use those results to demonstrate the value of a relationship to other corporations.
    • Seek new partnerships that expand your reach and give the partner a unique marketing position, not ones that duplicate existing campaigns.
    The article is only accessible until February 23, so make sure you go read it now.

Photo Credit: Jay Dubya

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My latest post is up at Marketing Profs Daily Fix. What do funny face pancakes and IHOP waitresses have to do with your marketing? It's all about the face your organization shows in its interactions with the people you are trying to reach.

And for the romantics among you, who like to find inspiration in the little things, here is a Valentines Day treat:

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With the gathering storm on the East Coast, I was reminded of an exchange that I've often had with non-Californians over the years. It goes something like this:
Friend: California is beautiful, but I could never live there. I'm terrified of earthquakes.

Me: Yes, but you have winter. Many more people die every year from snow and ice-related car crashes than from an earthquake. And you know for sure that snow is going to happen at least several times a year. It could be a decade before another big earthquake hits.

Friend: I'll take my chances.

Me [basking in warm sunny February weather]: Me too.
I'm not trying to rub it in for those of you on the East Coast, but trying to make a point about our perceptions of risk.

Having been through several big earthquakes, I know that there is a very small chance of one being personally catastrophic (though every time I'm up on a ladder I wonder whether that will be the moment the big one hits), and there is a much bigger chance of it being simply inconvenient. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be when (not if) it happens. But while I went on a huge emergency supply buying binge after 9/11 after I went through training to be on my neighborhood's Community Emergency Response Team, I have to admit I've become complacent and not kept the supplies up to date. As the memories of that day, as well as of the last big earthquake 'round these parts, grow more distant, my feelings of urgency have faded as well.

Many factors impact how people think about a particular risk, such as:
  • Whether the problem has ever happened to them or someone they know
  • How severe the consequences are
  • Who is most affected
  • How common it is perceived to be
  • Whether it can be prevented
  • Uncertainty about how or when it happens
  • How often it is mentioned in the news or portrayed in entertainment media
  • Whether it affects a lot of people severely at the same time.
So, how can we communicate effectively about risk in a way that will make people want to take action, but without causing panic? The University of Toronto's Health Communication Unit has a couple of publications about risk communication that are oldies but goodies:
While these publications are worth reading in their entirety if you find yourself having to communicate about risk as part of your job (or even as a well-meaning friend), here are some quick tips from "Developing Your Messages" to guide your efforts:
  • Respond as completely as possible to audience biases, misconceptions, feelings, concerns and needs surrounding the risk. That means you have to find out what people already know and believe about the issue and create your response based on that foundation.
  • Use language and concepts that the intended audience already understands, whenever possible. Don't use jargon, acronyms or complex scientific descriptions that the audience may not understand.
  • Use magnitudes common in ordinary experience. Very small or very big magnitudes may be difficult for a nonscientist to conceptualize. Instead of stating a risk as 0.05, say that about 5 out of 100 people will be affected.
  • Emphasize cumulative probability over extended periods of time, instead of one-shot probabilities, when applicable. People are more likely to overestimate the likelihood of a risk like HIV infection for a single encounter, and underestimate the risk of repeated exposures over time.
  • Instead of expressing probabilities in quantitative (numeric) terms, try to use a qualitative term that is close in meaning. Rather than saying there is a 88% probability of something, use a term like "very likely" or "a good chance" to describe the risk.
Read the rest of the tips here (pdf). And I'd better go check the extra water in the garage and make sure we have working batteries for the flashlights. For my readers in the snow, be careful and stay safe. Hopefully your city's snow removal plan is better than DC Mayor Marion Barry's was when I lived there during the huge Blizzard of 1996: Spring.


Photo Credit: Night Owl City

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I read a couple of recent posts that I wanted to share that both touch on the idea of influence, but in different ways.

In the first by John Bell, who is currently traveling through Asia for his work with Ogilvy, he shares their very useful model for rating "influence" among bloggers.
The elements include:
  • Affiliation of blog writer(s)
  • Number of links to the blog
  • Number of feed subscriptions
  • Search engine results position for relevant keyword searches
  • Last update
  • Industry mentions/lists of top blogs
  • Inclusion in Technorati Blog Directory and other online directories
  • Discussion Analysis – true discussion or bantering

In English-language, US-centric content, we can generally start the process of identifying potential candidates via search; usually either Technorati, Google or Google Blogs. Then we can refine down into highly linked sites ("most authority" in Technorati lingo).

This list would be quite helpful in identifying appropriate bloggers to include in a PR campaign with a social media component. Any one of the indicators of blogger influence by itself would not necessarily provide a full enough picture of whom to target when you need to narrow down what can be resource-intensive outreach. But combine two or more (or all) of these and you will see the degree of influence become clearer.

I would also add to the list the appearance of the blog on other influential bloggers' blogrolls beyond links within posts, and the numbers of comments left on other people's blogs.

They do not include any indicators that measure the amount of traffic to the blog, perhaps for a few reasons: First, the current publicly available ways of measuring traffic (i.e., Alexa) are not entirely reliable, though they can at least give an idea of the scale of traffic (e.g., rank of 1,000,000 vs. 100,000 vs. 1,000). Another reason is that the blogger may be may be influential for a very specific niche of people that is too small to be measured accurately by traffic but still desirable from a particular organization's point of view. Finally, the number of feed subscribers is a better indicator of loyal and interested readers than the traffic numbers, which can vary wildly based upon the spread of just one post.

The other interesting post on influence was by Chris Sandberg, and touches on the idea of social proof. This is the notion that people judge the value of something based on how they see other people respond (and is the reason behind the use of laugh tracks in sitcoms; when others are laughing, it makes the show seem funnier). Chris shares his experience at a basketball game, where Albertsons grocery store ran a contest only available to people who waved their Albertsons club card around at one point in the game. When people who did not have one saw how many others did have a card, they may have started wondering whether they were missing out on something.

Chris explains the concept's usefulness in marketing:
Social proof can be a powerful marketing tool. If you can get your customers to vouch for your product (or at least make it look like they are) and find a way to advertise it to your potential customers your job as a marketer becomes a lot easier. People don’t want to feel left out and often look to others when making decisions they are unsure of. By being aware of social proof and taking actions to leverage it you can be there when people are looking around to others when trying make a purchase decision.
To bring this back to the discussion on influential bloggers, social proof plays a big role in how topics are covered in the blogosphere. When one or more influential bloggers writes about a particular news story or issue, that often sets off a flurry of other posts because the topic has been validated as being important. One influential blogger can provide the social proof that an idea or product has merit, paving the way for many others to adopt it as well.


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I'm probably the only marketing person who did not watch the Superbowl - for the ads or otherwise. But I find it interesting to see the aftermath of what by many accounts was a less than stellar line-up of ads. As advertisers tried to go over the top and make an impact, they ended up alienating various contingents of of their viewers.

The GM suicidal robot spot, which was one of the few ads I was intrigued enough about to watch online, ended up being pulled after the company met with representatives of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The group felt the spot was offensive and potentially dangerous:
"The GM ad is insensitive to the tens of millions of people who have lost loved ones to suicide," said Robert Gebbia, the group's executive director, in a statement issued on Wednesday. "The ad also suggests a troubling and potentially dangerous message: that suicide is a logical and rational decision should one experience failure or lose their job."
The Snickers commercial featuring two guys accidentally kissing also got pulled after many complaints, including from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, that it was homophobic.

Even people in the restaurant industry found something to get upset over, with the "demeaning and offensive" Nationwide Insurance spot that showed Kevin Federline as a fry cook dreaming about being a rap star.

The Mad Scientist over at media brain discussed an article on what brain scans of individuals watching the superbowl ads can tell us about their effectiveness. He says:
The brain scan data indicates that advertisers went over the top on trying to develop edgy, attention grabbing content at the expense of achieving a positive communication effect for the advertised brand. As I tell my students, attention is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an ad to have a positive effect on the target. The FMRI data reported on this year's superbowl ads indicated that several of the ads evoked very strong response in the Amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for processing threat and anxiety, but very little activity in other areas. Apparently, stimuli that evoke a strong response in the Amygdala are likely to be memorable but the memory is NEGATIVE! Not exactly the best effect for a client who just spent 2.6 million dollars placing a superbowl ad!!! The brand that "wins" the award for demonstrating this negative effect....drum roll please.....Snickers (2 men kissing ad). This ad evoked the strongest Amygdala response in viewers with little other activity in other brain areas.
This sounds about right to me, and I would suspect that the suicidal robot ad also evoked similar brain responses -- lots of feelings of threat and anxiety.

Seems like the winners in terms of getting good free publicity from this year's Superbowl ads were the advocacy groups who put their names in the news by protesting various multi-million dollar ad buys. Watch for this tactic to spread as nonprofits and trade associations scrutinize every commercial for possible offensive content related to their causes. Not a bad strategy, as long as a compelling case can be made; otherwise organizations risk a backlash as "the cause who cried wolf."


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It's time for another edition of The Tip Jar, where instead of you having to leave a little something behind for me, I give tips to you:
  • The next Healthcare Blogging Summit will be held on April 30 in Las Vegas, coming on the successful heels of the first one in December. I will be moderating a session on using new media to motivate behavior change, with a panel of speakers that includes Fabio Gratton of Ignite Health, Debbie Donovan of Conceptus, Adam Pellegrini of the American Cancer Society, Graham McReynolds of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Ralph De Simone of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The other sessions look fantastic as well, and the keynote speaker will be Jay Bernhardt, the director of the CDC's National Center for Health Marketing. Check out the program, and I hope I'll see you in Vegas!
  • NomadsLand is an online distributor of high-quality documentary films with a social mission, sort of a higher-end social marketing YouTube. They pay filmmakers 50% in royalties for each download. The range of films highlighted looked very interesting, including what is happening after the tsunami in Sri Lanka, a look at global human rights, and an American filmmaker's journey through Sudan. In a separate but related story, a new genre is emerging in short films specifically designed for viewing on mobile phones.
  • And for those who create health-related video content, the Health Communication Working Group (HCWG) Steering Committee has announced its 4rd annual Film/Media Festival to be held during the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Annual Meeting this November in Washington, DC. This call for submissions is limited to productions created for audiences in the United States, but is not limited to English language productions. Submission deadline is July 31, 2007. For more information and guidelines, contact Linda Bergonzi King, MPH, at bellapro AT aol.com. (sorry, can't find any web link for it)
  • Francois Lagarde and Sameer Deshpande are conducting a worldwide survey on advanced-level social marketing training events. Give them your two cents by filling out the survey, and you could win a social marketing book. Please respond by February 21st.
  • Congratulations to Albuquerque, the fittest city in the United States, according to Men's Fitness magazine. The criteria included lifestyle factors in each city: fast-food restaurants per capita, availability of gyms or bike paths, commute times, how much television watching Nielsen records, and federal health statistics on obesity-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Great news! Gambian president Yahya Jammeh has discovered a cure for AIDS that works in three days, and his health minister backs him up on it so it must be true. Well, that takes care of that problem.
  • I have been watching Season 1 of the show 24 on DVD and am really enjoying it. The New Yorker just ran an article on Joel Surnow, the man behind the series, and raises the question of whether the show has made the idea of using torture to extract information more acceptable to Americans in general and American soldiers in particular. Whichever side of the issue you come down on, it's interesting to see how a TV show can affect a national ethical debate.
  • Tammy at Influential Foofaraw shares a piece explaining the differences between various types of marketing that will elicit a giggle. And by the way, if she says that she's fantastic in bed because she makes sure her partner wears a condom, that's social marketing.
On that note, I think I'd better end here!

Photo Credit: chezamy


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This great sketch of my last Social Marketing University training was done by Ashley Cecil (she of the beautiful blog). Ashley's policy is that she will not post anything on her blog without an accompanying painting or sketch, so she created this from a picture I sent her. Fortunately for me, the drawing looks much better than the original photo (and you can even see my Mac). Thanks so much, Ashley!

Thanks also to my other blogger friends who have helped to get the word out about the Social Marketing University training:

Allison Fine - A. Fine Blog
Noah Scalin - A Limited Rebellion
Beth Kanter - Beth's Blog
Carol Kirshner - Driving in Traffic
Nancy Schwartz - Getting Attention
Britt Bravo - Have Fun * Do Good
Fard Johnmar - HealthCareVox
Fabio Gratton - IgniteBlog
Marc Sirkin - npMarketing Blog
Marianne Richmond - Resonance Partnership Blog
Joe Waters - Selfish Giving
Alison Byrne Fields - We'll Know When We Get There
Anastasia Goodstein - Ypulse

UPDATE (2/14/07):
Marc van Gurp - Houtlust
Katya Andresen - Nonprofit Marketing Blog
Kivi Leroux Miller - Nonprofit Communications
John Bell - Digital Influence Mapping Project
Dmitriy Kruglyak - Trusted.MD
UPDATE (3/4/07):
Toby Bloomberg - Diva Marketing
Mike Swenson - Citizen Brand
Roger von Oech - Creative Think
Rohit Bhargava - Influential Interactive Marketing
Guy Brighton - PSFK

If you posted something about SMU that I missed, please let me know and I'll add you to the list.

And if you are thinking about registering for the training but haven't gotten around to it yet, don't delay too long. Seats are filling up and may be sold out soon if this pace of registrations continues. I hope you'll join us!



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links for 2007-02-09
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Last night I attended a panel discussion in Hollywood on the State of Teen TV coordinated and hosted by Anastasia Goodstein of Ypulse. It's always fun to meet a blogger whom I read regularly, and Anastasia was even more fun in person than on her blog. You can read her summary of the event, but I'll also give you some thoughts on what struck me most.

The panelists included:
  • Rob Thomas - creator and exec. producer of the CW show "Veronica Mars"
  • Rajiv Mody - director of franchise development for MTV's Virtual Laguna Beach/The Hills
  • Dixie Feldman - editorial director of The N (the network with the #1 concentration of the teen/young adult demo)
  • Amanda Zweerink - director of community at Current TV
  • Kelli Feigley - partner at Dreaming Tree Films
The overall theme that emerged is that television as we know it is changing, and that some of the players involved are more willing or able to adapt to this new world, which is not all that different from the online world that teens already live in.

The ethos that is evolving is that teen audiences want "to be able to live the show and share it with their friends," as Rajiv described how his virtual worlds tie into the TV-based programming. Fans can go online and mingle with the cast members, participate in events tied to the latest episode, and feel like they are part of the show. Dixie (whose bio contained one of the best lines of the night: "She puts the broad back in broadcasting.") described how when one of the characters in the N show Degrassi died, fans lit candles at a virtual vigil and put armbands and veils on their avatars. The network facilitated the expressions of grief by providing clips of sad scenes and sad music for use in creating video tributes.

The other part of it is that teens want to have a voice in the content that they watch. Current TV contains about one-third viewer created content, and they also give a lot of latitude to the producers they call on to create content. They are looking for ways to make it easier for people to contribute content, such as submitting short pieces of footage for editing rather than a long finished piece. As mobile technology improves toward broadcast quality, impromptu videos of newsworthy events will become a major source of content. For a younger audience, Samsung Fresh Films (part of Dreaming Tree) runs a program to help teens create their own professional-quality films.

One of the most interesting parts of the evening was when Rob and Dixie spoke about how they approach dealing with hot-button topics on their shows. Rob lamented that the show that just aired with some references to the abortion pill got hate mail from both the left and the right. He emphasized that as a writer, he's not trying to be topical and teach life lessons, but he is interested in "putting a moral and ethical dilemma in front of Veronica and seeing how she responds." Another episode coming up will have one of the characters active in the Invisible Children campaign.

Dixie talked about some of the many issues that had come up on The N's shows. There was an abortion episode on "Degrassi," which ended up being pulled by Viacom (MTV's parent company). Another character got gonorrhea of the throat. In the show "South of Nowhere," an episode centered around a girl who was attracted to another girl. They took a lot of heat for that, but they also got a positive response from a lot of teen girls. She and Rob both said that they had not had the network execs object to or censor an episode, but their battles have been more with the standards and practices people who get into niggling details like how many times they can use the word "boner" in one episode or whether it's less objectionable to show a girl eating a popsicle, lollipop, banana or corn dog in a particular scene. On the positive side (from my perspective, at least), Dixie said that because their audience is primarily teens and preteens, the S&P folks are more emphatic about the need to portray consequences and provide context for decisions made by the characters.

Rob had some interesting predictions about where TV is heading. He thinks there will be more specificity of viewing, with fewer "big tent" shows that appeal to everyone and more shows for niche audiences. In the future, we may buy particular shows a la carte rather than subscribing to cable or satellite channels. He also speculated about the interesting things they could do with a virtual universe based on Veronica Mars.

The worst term of the night that I'd never heard before was "vomenting," which means adding text or audio commentary to shows a la MST 3000. The N provides a "video mix masher" for teens to use with scenes from the shows to create their voments. (I hope this term doesn't catch on!)

So it sounds like television and online content will continue to mash themselves together until eventually there will be no distinction between the two. Teens want to interact with the programs, create their own content, and do this all on their own terms. Our challenge as social marketers now is how to facilitate teens doing this with content related to our health and social issues, whether on TV, online or both.

Anastasia will be uploading the recording of the event on her blog soon.



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The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA took a while to grow on me. Frank Gehry's landmark building at first looks like a jumble of metal cans and boxes haphazardly piled on top of each other. But look at it more closely -- both inside and out -- and you start to see how the swooping curves mix with the sharp angles to create amazing synergy and negative space. It's whimsical and functional at the same time. I once sat at a conference in one of the rooms there and tried to sketch the contrasts between the concave and convex curves on the interior but gave up because it was so hard to capture the unique play of light on the surfaces. That was when Disney Hall started to win my heart. [Fun Fact: Last year, they had to sandblast some of the stainless steel surfaces of the exterior because they were so shiny at certain times of day, drivers were being blinded.]

All this is to preface the fact that last night I went to an amazing performance of the Israel Philharmonic at Disney Hall. Each piece was perfect, and I even got weepy at Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture. To add to the experience, a high school friend is the house manager there and he upgraded our expensive but lousy balcony tickets to seats right in the middle of the Orchestra section. It's nice to have friends in high places.

And, sad but true, as I sat there with the gorgeous music washing over me, I started thinking about how I could relate the experience to marketing for this blog. Perhaps this is one of the 10 signs of blog addiction. In any case, while watching the musicians it all came together for me as an excellent metaphor for how to run an effective social marketing program.
  • Nothing happens without a plan. The music score lays out exactly what will happen when the piece is played. Every musician knows what his or her role is, when their part comes on, and how to carry it out. So too, we need a marketing strategy and a workplan for how to implement it.
  • Someone needs to take the lead. The conductor sees the big picture, how everything fits together. He keeps things moving and prompts the appropriate parts of the orchestra when it's their turn to shine. He also gives immediate feedback, adjusting volume and tempo as needed. Similarly, an effective marketing program needs a manager overseeing it and making adjustments as needed along the way.
  • Everyone has an important role to play. From the first violin to the guy playing the triangle, each musician adds his unique voice to the performance. Everyone is not playing the same notes at the same time, but the melody, harmony, counterpoints and percussion come together to create an amazing sound. In a social marketing program, we might have many different stakeholders participating in different ways, including our staff, funders, partner organizations, the target audience, secondary audiences that influence them, the media, advocates, etc. Each of them makes a contribution that adds to the effectiveness of the campaign.
  • You need to know your audience. The music director of an orchestra must have a good idea of the types of composers and pieces that their audience most enjoys, and makes sure that the programs for each concert includes them. If they veer too far from the type of music the audience wants to listen to, that orchestra will start losing customers. We also need to understand our audience so that the products we offer are what they actually want.
  • The audience will tell you how you are doing. For an orchestra, applause is immediate feedback that they are doing their job right and delivering what the audience wants. At the concert last night, the Israel Phil received a standing ovation after each piece and went beyond what they said they would do by performing an encore (which in turn received another 5-minute standing ovation, but sadly, no more encores). Feedback from our audiences (you are soliciting feedback, right?) either reinforces what we are doing so we can go above and beyond to deliver more or tells us that we are hitting some sour notes and need to figure out how to get back on track.
An interesting cap to the evening came on the drive back from Disney Hall, when the downtown weather suddenly changed within one block from a clear starry night to a thick bank of fog that appeared as though on cue from a Hollywood fog machine. This lasted until we passed Westwood, when the wall of fog disappeared and left us with the stars and the hills as if it had never happened.

Photo Credit: DonnaGrayson


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My friend Brian Humphrey of the LA Fire Department (watch for an interview with him here as soon as he has a chance in his 96-hour workday in between appearances on CNN and the Today Show) told me about an amazing civilian-led search and rescue operation that's going on right now using technology and online social networks.

Last Sunday (Jan 28), a renowned Microsoft researcher named James Gray (pictured above) failed to return from a sailing trip in the San Francisco Bay Area. The US Coast Guard searched the ocean along nearly the length of California from Sunday night through Thursday without finding a thing -- Dr. Gray's sailboat Tenacious was gone without a trace.

On that Monday, dozens of Dr. Gray's colleagues, friends and former students came together to figure out ways to use their technical know-how to find him. Computer scientists from Google, Amazon, Microsoft, NASA and various universities put together software, created a blog to track their efforts, and leveraged technical resources like Google Earth's satellite imaging expertise and Amazon's image processing capabilities.

Google worked with DigitalGlobe to capture satellite images of the hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean coastline that were the most likely areas Dr. Gray's boat would be found. The circle of computer scientists then created a program to break up the images in a way that they could be posted to Amazon's Mechanical Turk site, where people can sift through the images one by one to see if there were any sign of the boat or debris. Images that are marked by the volunteers as having objects of potential interest are then reviewed by the team. Any promising leads will be followed up on by the Coast Guard. (If you would like to volunteer to help sift through the images, go to http://www.mturk.com/mturk/preview?groupId=J0XZ58STDWJZ5QY4F9M0.)

In addition to scanning the satellite images, the group is using the blog as a clearinghouse to collect ideas, share theories and for people with related expertise to put together clues as to what might have happened to Dr. Gray's boat. There are oceanography experts looking at ocean models, scientists looking at radar data, communications experts trying to figure out his trajectory based on the last signals from his cell phone, people in their own planes and boats physically searching the waters, volunteers putting up posters and talking to boaters and Harbormasters around Bay Area marinas, and many other angles being pursued. The technology is making it possible for people from across the country and around the world to put their heads together to come up with solutions quickly.

Dr. Gray must have touched a lot of lives to engender the kind of dedicated effort being expended to find him. With this amount of brain power focused on looking for him, I would like to think he has a good chance of being found soon. I wish them tremendous luck in their search and hope this story will have a happy ending. I'm going to get back to scanning the images. There are still more than 3000 left in this group to get though.



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I've written in the past about marketing health and social issues via video games, but it's usually been in the context of content within the games. But on the heels of the success of Dance Dance Revolution in getting kids moving is the even hotter Nintendo Wii, according to this report from MarketingVOX:

With gaming console Nintendo Wii's initial release came reports of people hurting muscles and experiencing soreness due to the physical exertion caused by playing virtual games such as bowling, tennis and baseball. Apparently, that was just one side of the coin.

At first, Nintendo dodged the reports of injuries, saying the Wii was not meant to be an exercise tool. However, that hasn't stopped people like Michael DeLorenzo from losing nine pounds in six weeks thanks to the Wii, according to Time magazine. DeLorenzo has a book deal in the works about his Wii Workout and he's teamed up with Traineo.com, a social fitness networking site to feature his new regime.

Even more amazing is that the Wii is now being used by medical researchers to treat children who suffer from hemiplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that can paralyze one side of the body. The Wii is also helping others bounce back from illness.

Breast cancer sufferer Mary Jane Zamora was too tired to get off the couch, but her daughters brought over a Wii and together they played Wii Sports daily. Zamora has since become the most-improved player in her bowling league.

With studies showing that active videogames, such as the Wii and Sony's EyeToy, can burn three times more calories than traditional games, Nintendo has since embraced the phenomenon. "This huge fitness craze was more than we anticipated," said Wii spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan.

Perhaps now is the time for health and fitness experts to partner with Nintendo to develop more games geared toward getting players moving aerobically without realizing they are exercising.

Photo Credit: wii-family by dcodez


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Once again, it's time to roll out the big top for the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants. As always, it features the seven best posts for nonprofits from across the blogosphere, this week focusing on social marketing.

Starting it off is Paul Jones of Cause Related Marketing, who gives us the good, the bad and the ugly of using celebrities in your social marketing.

Craig Lefebvre of On Social Marketing and Social Change reports back from the Mobile Persuasion conference about how mobile technologies are being used for behavior and social change. Don't miss the free Captology Forums being offered to continue the discussions.

Carol Kirshner of Driving in Traffic describes how using the unexpected and piquing people's curiosity can make your messages stick.

Matthew Monberg of Beyond Giving urges us to make our messages relevant by building them around the needs for connection and reward.

Kivi Leroux Miller of Nonprofit Communication provides a clever example of an advocacy campaign that uses a calendar of not-so-pretty pin-ups to make its point.

Nancy Schwartz of Getting Attention notes some other creative examples promoting condoms and other social issues that she found at Houtlust, also one of my favorite sources for news on innovative social marketing campaigns from around the world. [By the way, an interesting bit of trivia I learned from Marc (Mr. Houtlust himself) is that in Dutch, the word "Houtlust" is nothing kinky, but an old-fashioned word that people name their homes or boats; the word hout means wood, and the blog is so named because from the window of Marc's studio in the Dutch Riverlands he can see his stove wood. Sorry to disappoint those of you with more active imaginations.]

Speaking of condoms, CK stirred things up this week at the Marketing Profs Daily Fix with a post on New York City's efforts to market safe sex with its own branded condom. She solicited ideas from other marketers on how to create the brand/slogan, which she is going to be presenting to the people at NYC City Hall for their consideration.

And for the bonus host post from yours truly, I discuss how we as marketers need to make sure we think about what is rude, crude and socially unacceptable in light of the kerfuffle that Cartoon Network marketing caused in Boston last week and a billboard that was pulled because it had the word "sucks" on it.

Kivi, the founder of the Carnival, is hosting next week. If you would like to submit a post for consideration, send it to npc.carnival AT yahoo DOT com with your name, your blog’s name and the URL of the post (not your blog homepage). The deadline is Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET.

Thanks for coming by! Feel free to stay and poke around for a while if you're new here.

[UPDATED 2/8/07: Fixed links to Beyond Giving, which just moved to a new URL.]


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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.



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From time to time, I come across odds and ends that I want to let you know about but may not warrant a full post. I prefer to combine them together rather than having lots of short one or two liner posts a la Instapundit (Indeed.). These posts shall henceforth be named... [insert drumroll/trumpets] ...the Tip Jar. Here's what we have this week:
  • 64.9% of online community members who participate in social causes online say they are involved in causes that were new to them when they started participating in social networks, while 43.7 % of online community members say they engage more in social activism since they started participating in online communities. - from the USC-Annenberg Digital Future Project (via WOM Research)
  • Back in September I wrote about the youth screenwriting contest sponsored by Scenarios USA. Scenarios partnered with Rap-It-Up, the award-winning public education initiative of BET and the Kaiser Family Foundation, to launch the “What’s the REAL DEAL on Growing up in the Age of HIV/AIDS?” story and scriptwriting contest. They have a winner, and the new film "Reflections," written by high school senior Kayana Ray, is premiering on BET on February 4th at 12:00pm.
  • Food marketers should not pretend that fruit-flavored kids' foods contain actual fruit, but parents and kids need to learn to be more skeptical of the pictures on the packaging as well. A new report (pdf) came out from the Prevention Institute that contained some "no duh" moments (e.g., Fruity Pebbles and Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries do not contain any fruit), but is also a good reminder that many people need help learning how to read and understand food labels better. (thanks to Tamar for the tip)
  • There has been a lively discussion over on the Social Marketing Listserv this week about definitions of social marketing in theory and practice. If you would like to become a part of this international e-mail network of social marketers, here are instructions for how to subscribe. Send an e-mail message to listproc@listproc.georgetown.edu with "subscribe soc-mktg yourname" in the body of the message (your name goes in place of "yourname"). But be sure to keep the instructions you'll receive so you don't have to harass the other listserv members with numerous incorrectly sent "unsubscribe" messages if you change your mind.
  • I am hosting the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants on Monday. If you have a blog post you would like to submit for potential inclusion -- particularly on the theme of social marketing for nonprofits -- send it to me by Sunday at npc.carnival@yahoo.com.
  • Finally, tonight begins the Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shvat, the New Year of the Trees. So eat some fresh or dried fruits and nuts, plant a tree (or let someone else do it for you) and think about all the wonderful things that trees do for us. Give your favorite tree a big hug.


Photo Credit: Paul Schreiber
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