Spare Change

making a difference with social marketing
by Nedra Kline Weinreich
I am a little late on getting the next Tip Jar published, but here are a couple of quick items:

The CDC's National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media will offer live webstreaming of the opening plenary, keynote, and closing plenary sessions. Though my panel will not be broadcast, here are the sessions that will be:
Wednesday, August 29
8:30 am - 10:15 am (EDT)
Opening Plenary Session

Using Metaphor to Understand and Communicate to Your Audiences
Mary Beth Jowers, Managing Director of Olson Zaltman Associates

Self-Invention and Self-Care: A Yankelovich MONITOR Perspective on Understanding Health Consumers In the Emerging Era of Consumer Empowerment
Dr. J. Walker Smith, President of Yankelovich, Inc.

Thursday, August 30
8:00 am - 8:45 am (EDT)
Special Keynote Session

Applying Social Marketing Strategically: Lessons from England
Dr. Jeff French, Director of the National Social Marketing Centre in London, England

Thursday, August 30
1:30 pm - 3:00 pm (EDT)
Closing Plenary Session
Reaching Consumers

Health Communication Challenges in the Digital World
Dr. Esther Thorson, Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, Director of Research, Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri – Columbia

Developing a Collaborative Distribution Channels Strategy
Dr. Robert Spekman
Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business Administration, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia
Also, just a quick reminder that the early registration discount for the next Social Marketing University training in Los Angeles ends on August 31st. Register by Friday, and you'll get $100 off of the registration fee. We have some special guest speakers who I will announce very soon. Hope to see you there!
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[Please forgive this entirely personal post. If you only want to read about social marketing, skip this one.]

By all rights, I should not be sitting here at my computer like this was just another day. If the universe worked in an entirely rational way, I would either be in a hospital bed, or, God forbid, even worse. I escaped death yesterday and I've only just started to process the implications.

Yesterday morning, I was driving down the freeway with my kids in the back seat, on our way back to the old neighborhood to visit family and do some errands. We've made the trip a million times, though this was the first time I've driven back since we moved. There wasn't too much traffic in our direction, so I was moving along at about 70 mph in the second lane from the left.

As I transitioned into the adjacent lane to the right, another car came at me from the other side without seeing that I was already there. I quickly swerved back to the lane I'd come from to avoid being hit and my car started fishtailing. I couldn't get it back under control. The car's rear rocked back and forth in wider and wider arcs, until it spun out in a broad semicircle, cutting across four lanes of traffic and winding up facing the opposite direction in the far right lane.

As we were spinning, I watched the other cars behind me braking and trying to avoid hitting me and each other. When I realized that I had no control over what was happening, I braced myself for the inevitable impact, hoping it would not be bad and not letting the very real possibility into my mind of just how bad it could be. When the car finally stopped, unhit but facing an oncoming minibus, I held my breath until it screeched to a halt a few yards from my car.

I checked with the kids to make sure they were okay, and my son cried, "This is the worst day of my life!" I took a few beats to breathe and pull myself together, then pulled the car over to the shoulder, around the minibus, still facing backwards. Several other cars had dented each other in my wake, but thank God, nobody was hurt and no cars were more than slightly damaged. Once I pulled over, the enormity of what had just happened hit me, and I sat stunned.

I got out of the car with my cell phone, intending to call for help. I spoke briefly with the bus driver and found out that nobody was hurt on the bus or in any of the cars that had pulled over ahead of me on the shoulder. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you have an emergency and need to dial 911 but your fingers just won't push the right numbers? I dialed the phone and realized when I heard someone say "What city and state, please?" that I had just dialed 411 and reached directory assistance. I redialed 911, and ended up getting a recording that all operators were busy and that I should stay on the line. I waited for what felt like forever, but was probably about 5 minutes, until I finally was connected to a dispatcher. It's scary to think that those minutes would have been wasting if someone had actually been injured and needed immediate assistance. I just hoped that someone who had witnessed the scene called for help as they drove by and got through quickly.

Eventually a freeway service tow truck came by and assessed the situation. He called a highway patrol officer to block off traffic with his car as he arrived so I could turn my car around to face the right direction. We all exited the freeway and pulled onto a side street to give our reports to the CHP officer. Apparently one or two people who had hit other cars had taken off quickly, though someone had noted a license plate number, and the officer received a call while he was with us that the person had been caught. The kids were amazing and sat in the car patiently waiting during the hour after the incident. They didn't seem to suffer any traumatic aftereffects, though they insisted I not take the freeway ever again.

I arrived at my stepsister's house pretty shaken. I just cannot get over the fact that we and our car emerged from that without a single scratch. Though it was relatively light traffic, there were cars all around me at the time. And when I think about how it could have turned out differently, especially with the kids in the car, I still tremble. I am convinced that God was watching out for us. There's simply no other satisfactory explanation for how we could have survived that unscathed. [Atheists need not respond - I don't believe in coincidences.] It was apparently not my or my kids' time to go (thank God), and I take that to mean that we still have things we have to accomplish here.

That day truly could have been the "worst day" of my son's life, but thank God it turned out to be just a little excitement to start out the day and nothing more. But I am forever changed, as I have a heightened appreciation for the fact that life as I know it could be interrupted at any moment and should not be taken for granted. The lump in my throat will eventually go away as time goes on, but I hope my feeling of thankfulness will endure.
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Loose lips bring tips...
  • I'm the proud blogmother of Sandy Beckwith's new blog, Build Buzz. After guest blogging over here last month, Sandy took the plunge and jumped into her own blog, which offers "tips, observations and advice about publicity for authors, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses." Obviously a woman of many talents.
  • People in NYC are F-I-T. New Yorkers are living longer than those in other US cities -- possibly from a combination of their walking lifestyle, city bans on smoking and trans-fats, and a decrease in deaths from homicide, AIDS and drugs. Cancer and cardiac arrest are down too. The average New Yorker is 10 lbs lighter than the average American. And you wondered why they call it the Big Apple?
  • Emily Sellars at Buy the Change You Want to See in the World (such a perfect title for what she writes about) makes a good case for cutting food aid to the world's poor. She explains that donated food from developed countries ends up lowering the food prices in a developing country and hurting local farmers. By undermining the market, the system creates continued dependence on the food aid and inefficiently spent funds, which could be used to instead support the local farmers. It's the old "give a man a fish vs. teach him to fish" debate.
  • It's all in how you frame it... Two University of Central Florida physics professors, tired of science-deficient students who think the subject is too scary and difficult, have figured out how to get them excited about learning basic physics. They created a course known as "Physics in Film," now one of the most popular classes on campus. Using movies like Speed, Superman and Spiderman 2 that illustrate or defy key physics concepts, the class dissects the scenes and learn the real laws of physics. Just like in social marketing, it's all about figuring out what your audience is interested in, and tying your issue to that.
  • Seth Godin had an excellent post on defining your competition by figuring out what the opposite of your product is. Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts. Rush Limbaugh vs. Al Franken. So let's try some social marketing products: fresh fruit vs. Cheetos, vegetables vs. french fries, colonoscopies vs. Pepto Bismol, bike helmets vs. baseball caps, immunizations vs. prayers... It's not quite so clear cut, is it?
  • What would a city without advertising look like? São Paulo is finding out. Since January 1, 2007, the city has been living under a law that bans all advertising, including billboards, fliers, neon signs, and electronic panels. The city is being newly rediscovered as the ubiquitous billboards are taken down and the cityscape emerges. The president of the City Council was quoted as saying, "what we are aiming for is a complete change of culture." I hope someone is following this case study and will eventually report how the city and its residents were transformed by the change.
  • Justice Louis Brandeis said, "There is no great writing, only great rewriting." With that in mind, I take comfort in the fact that this little video reminded me an awful lot of my own writing process.
  • I've just added a new widget on the sidebar to the right (RSS subscribers go here) that shows what books I'm reading right now. I've joined Shelfari, which is an online social network for readers. It's such an obvious niche for a social network, given that if you have read some of the same books as someone else, you would probably like the other things they've read. So mine will probably tend toward a mix of sci-fi and social marketing, and I will try to keep it updated. If you have books to recommend, please do!

Photo Credit: Celluloid Refuge
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Remember the HHS Pandemic Flu blog? Today I learned two interesting pieces of news related to that daring Federal experiment in citizen engagement. First, that Admiral John Ogwunobi, the Assistant Secretary at the HHS who had incurred the wrath of flublogia for his perceived cluelessness when writing on the flu blog, has left his government post to go work at Wal-Mart. (No, he's not a greeter.) I guess fending off hordes of enraged flubies got to him after a while.

The other bit of news is that none other than Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, who got a taste of blogging as a headliner at the Pandemic Flu blog, has now started his own blog. He says up front that he'll try out blogging for a month or so to see whether he is able to continue the time commitment long-term, as he intends to write the entries himself. He also plans to read comments -- which will be moderated -- as often as possible and try to reply when he can. It's clear with his second post that he did read the first set of comments (many of which were by holdovers from the flu blog continuing the conversation), as he responded specifically to some of the questions posed by commenters. Kudos to you, Mr. Secretary, for recognizing the value of blogging for engaging the public and for not being scared off by the passionate response to the earlier flu blog.

I will be speaking on a panel at the upcoming CDC Conference on Health Communication, Marketing & Media about the role of blogging to engage your audience, using some of the lessons learned from the HHS flu blog experience. The fact that the Secretary came back to blog another day will be a nice postscript to the case study.

Thanks to Greg Dworkin for the tip and links.

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I just came across Stephen Dann's fun slideshow on the marketing lessons we can draw from Dr. Seuss. He says,
If Kotler is widely seen as the father of marketing, then Theodor Geisel (aka Dr Seuss) should be proud to be marketing's funny uncle. Between 1950 and 1965, Dr Seuss inadvertently published a sophisticated range of marketing texts. At the time, these break-through marketing texts were unrecognised by industry and academia, who discarded the theories concerning relationship marketing, promotion, service recovery and product over complication.
"Cat in the Hat" is a lesson in service recovery. "Green Eggs and Ham" teaches us that "integrating the promotional message of trial adoption with a free sample in a low pressure environment provides a greater return than the high pressure awareness campaign." And the Sneetches provide a case study of the social meaning derived from branding.

Let's not forget other Seussian social marketing lessons like the Lorax as spokesperson for the trees, the power of community organizing ("Make every Who holler! Make every Who shout!"), and how the Sleep Book establishes social norms by showing that "everybody's doing it."

And with this advice, will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
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Let's reach into the jar and see what we pull out this week...
  • Michael Organ has put together The Internet Advocacy Book -- a guide to help nonprofits use online marketing to promote their causes. It includes chapters on topics like keyphrase research, internet copywriting, search engine optimization and inbound link campaigns. It's about much more than social media, and gets into the nitty-gritty of how to get noticed on the internet. The case studies bring the technical advice to life. Just don't spend several minutes looking around for a link to download the book like I did, until I realized that the chapters are linked on the left as web pages rather than as a pdf.
  • Why would the South African government be upset that students are snapping up the free condoms they are handing out? Mack Collier relates the story of how the intended audience discovered another use for them -- fixing the scratches on their CDs by rubbing them with the silicone oil and dusting powder that coat the condoms. Suddenly it's perfectly okay to be found with a supply of condoms on hand. Does this new use make it more likely that they will also be used for sex, or are they all being wasted? It's not clear, but if I were the government I would be glad for the fact that people are no longer embarrassed to take the condoms.
  • Pictures of your grandchildren may be useful for more than bragging rights. Life-sized cardboard cutouts of children placed near oncoming traffic have been found to be effective in getting drivers to slow down. A family who initially created the realistic cardboard children to sell to grandparents is now getting calls from police departments and neighborhood associations that want to curb speeders by tapping into people's natural inclination to drive cautiously when they see children near the road. It's a low-tech and inexpensive, but clever, way to change driving behavior.
  • How would you feel if you got home and discovered that you had been walking around all day with this sticker on your back without knowing it? Volunteers on the streets of Lima (clues point to Peru, not Ohio) discreetly put stickers on passing pedestrians that said "You may carry HIV without even knowing it. Get tested." This sneaky campaign resulted in an 80% increase in phone calls to the printed number and a 70% increase in HIV testing. And perhaps a 20% increase in volunteers getting beaten up for turning people into involuntary walking advertisements?
  • If you are the person in your organization who ends up creating basic flyers and brochures despite no graphic design training, this guide to how to mix fonts together compatibly will be helpful. And if you are the de facto in-house photographer, Kivi explains when you need a model release.
  • Katya points us to a great data resource called PollingReport, which provides the latest public opinion poll results on many timely topics -- perhaps even including your issue. Another useful, but not entirely free, source of public opinion data on social, cultural and political trends in the US over the past 30 years is the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. If you are looking for past polls on an issue or validated survey questions that you can use for your own research, this is the place.
  • What do you think of when you hear the word "Africa"? If you are like most people who don't live on the continent, you probably think of poverty, hunger, AIDS, war... While these may be accurate associations for some regions, they do not hold true for all of the 54 countries on the continent. BrandChannel has an article up about the branding of Africa and how the charity branding that formed the aforementioned associations is spurring individual countries to "re-brand" themselves with more positive images. This, of course is not a new concept, with Western countries like the US, Australia and Israel periodically rebranding themselves as well.
  • And this cartoon is not really on-topic, but it gave me a giggle. It's fun to see the "other side" of iconic images.
I hope you were able to see the annual Perseids meteor shower tonight. I caught a few, but the combination of city lights and clouds made it difficult. Though tonight was the peak, you may still be able to see them for the next few days. There's nothing like watching a shooting star fly across the sky.

Photo Credit: la_sabrita
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Liz Losh has tagged me to share eight random facts about myself (I guess turnabout is fair play). I love her idea of using songs from her iPod shuffle to guide the information choices, so I'll be a copycat and do the same.

1. "Don't Panic" - Coldplay

Douglas Adams is one of my very favorite authors. I first read Hitchhiker's Guide in high school and then consumed each subsequent book, plus radio scripts and his Infocom computer games. I've seen him read at bookstores on a couple of occasions and have a collection of all his signed books. All except The Salmon of Doubt. Sniff.

2. "Where are You Going?" - Dave Matthews Band

I have a horrible sense of direction. Count on me to go the wrong way every time. My husband, who always knows exactly where he is, still hasn't learned not to follow me as I confidently stride in the wrong direction down the street.

3. "My Sister" - Juliana Hatfield

I have one sister, who is exactly 2-1/2 years younger than me. She's lived in Israel since she graduated from college and now speaks English with an Israeli accent. She also makes a mean shakshuka.

4. "Earthquake Weather" - Beck

Though I wasn't in LA in '94 for the Northridge earthquake, I was in the Bay Area in 1989 for the Loma Prieta earthquake. I was in a meeting at work in Berkeley that included a couple of visiting East Coasters. When the shaking started, we all jumped under the table. After it was over, the native Californians sat back in our seats to finish the meeting, but the others were too shaken up to continue. It's about time for another big one - yikes.

[Update: Five minutes after I wrote this, we just had a 4.5 quake hit. Pretty small shake, but an interesting coincidence nonetheless.]

5. "The Needle and the Damage Done" - Neil Young

A few years ago, my friend Leora turned me on to African Folklore Embroidery, which uses brightly colored thread to sew designs against a black background. Leora, who is from South Africa, quit her market research job to bring this beautiful art form to the US. I bought a kit and got about halfway through, but just never got motivated to finish it. Maybe I'll give it another go.

6. "Hazy Shade of Winter" - Simon and Garfunkel

I lived in Washington DC for a few years and loved it there. I would have stayed, but I am a huge weather wimp and could not handle the snow and cold. It just seemed silly to me to have to deal with the attendant difficulties when there was a perfectly wonderful other place to live where the temperature never dropped much below 60 degrees. So here I am.

7. "Rock Lobster" - B-52s

I keep kosher, which means I don't eat things like lobster (rock or otherwise), crab, shrimp, other shellfish, pork, nonkosher meat, dairy and meat mixed together, or any form of bugs (you'd be surprised how they make the food coloring in some juices!). It can get complicated, but it makes you think about everything you put in your mouth -- not a bad thing.

8. "Beds are Burning" - Midnight Oil

My favorite time to get work done is after midnight, when the house is quiet and everyone else is asleep. Unfortunately, that's when my brain really kicks into gear. But my very favorite time of day is dusk, when the sky turns purple and the clouds reflect electric pink, the moment after the sun has ducked behind the hills. I wish I could capture the feeling of that color.

If this just wasn't enough random information about me for you, you can go back and read the five things you didn't know about me post from a previous meme. And then you'll really be ready for me to get back to writing about social marketing.

I tag the following eight bloggers to share their own eight random facts: Lisa Mighton, CK, Ashley Cecil, Richard Kearns, Chris Forbes, Sandra Beckwith, Guanaco and Kelli Matthews.

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds
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While looking at headlines on Reddit, I came upon a link to a post from a blogger and talented writer named Jeff Harrell of The Shape of Days blog. In this post, Jeff reveals that he has borderline personality disorder. While he has apparently alluded to having some type of mental problem in previous posts, it has not been a focus of the blog, and this announcement is the first time he has publicly talked about the issue besides to a couple of his friends.

The post is dead honest, heart-breakingly open and was probably incredibly scary to write. In it, he shares what borderline personality disorder is and how it affects him. It's also a plea for help:
So why am I doing this? Why am I “coming out” like this? The honest answer is that I don’t know what else to do any more. I’ve tried everything I’ve ever known how to try. I’ve gone to the emergency room seeking admission as a psychiatric inpatient. (I do not recommend this, by the way, unless you think spending twelve hours handcuffed to a chair next to a drooling meth addict is lots-o-laffs.) I’ve attempted to confide in friends. I’ve been on drugs — the prescription kind, I mean. I’ve seen therapists. I’ve even prayed, back before the Almighty — if He even exists — stopped taking my calls.

So now I’m screaming in the dark.

Maybe there’s somebody out there. Maybe there’s somebody out there who’s like me. Somebody who’s learned to live and function with this … ugh. This handicap, for lack of a better word. Maybe that person will send me an e-mail with a magic incantation for surviving with this.

Or maybe I’ll be that person for somebody else. Maybe some twenty-year-old girl is sitting out there right now, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, crying in her dorm room and wondering why she can’t be like everyone else. To that person, whomever and wherever you are, I don’t have any answers. I’m sorry. I don’t really believe, deep down, that anyone does. I probably can’t be your friend, just like you can’t be mine. People like us can’t really have friends, not in the long run. But understand that you are not alone. I’m in this too. Right there with you.

The comments that he received from the post were a mix of support and "me toos." This one was particularly touching:

So, I’m that 20 year old girl you were talking about…though not in her dorm room, but her apt. Something about your article just hit home. I feel the same way you do a lot. I go through numerous mood swings for no apparent reason and I know they’re going on, but I cannot control them. So many people say “just be happy” but that’s impossible when you can’t control yourself. Oh what I would give to be able to just snap out of this. To feel the love that everyone DOES have for me. To feel like I’m actually worth something would be amazing! But there’s something that does not allow it. I know it’s there, but there’s no way to get rid of it. I try to overcome it, but it can’t be overcome.

So thank you for letting me know I am not alone in this world, and I hope you know you are not either...

Blogging is an incredibly powerful way to connect with other people -- whether you are the blogger or the reader. When a blogger has built a following of people who read his or her words regularly, a bond can form that goes beyond the content of the blog posts, providing an instant support group. Others who have never heard of the problem get to learn about it vicariously and perhaps realize that someone they know might be affected, and those who suffer from it themselves can see that they are not alone. One blog post could change someone's life. I hope that it's changed Jeff's for the better.

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Social marketing-related tips from across the planet converge in this very spot...
  • Use to rate the "walkability" of your home or work. The site looks at how many places like restaurants, grocery stores and shopping centers are within walking distance, based on information found in Google Maps. Hungry Girl (a fun newsletter geared toward people watching their weight) points out that the average resident of a walkable neighborhood is seven pounds lighter than someone who lives in an inconvenient neighborhood. I checked my old and new addresses, and found that my new neighborhood in the city scored a 60, while the old house in the suburbs only scored a 37. Living in walking distance to places I would have driven to previously is definitely making a difference in my activity level.
  • Lest I feel too good about my newly walkable state, a report has come out from environmentalist Chris Goodall, author of "How to Live a Low-Carbon Life," that walking does more damage to the environment than if I were to drive the same distance. He says that the increased physical activity would require more calories from food that creates more carbon emissions to produce than driving a car emits. If you are not a vegan, apparently the ideal is to just sit at home without moving, though preferably not in front of the TV. Hmmm...I wonder how much carbon is emitted during coronary bypass surgery.
  • And in other related news, television's Jack Bauer will be fighting global warming on the next season of 24. And while he's fighting terrorists threatening to walk to the store rather than drive a Prius, the Fox network will also be taking steps to reduce and offset the carbon emissions of the show's production. They will be switching to a biodiesel blend in the show's vehicles and generators, purchasing renewable-energy credits as part of its electricity bills and sending scripts and other documents via e-mail rather than hand-delivering them by car. The show's website features a PSA by star Kiefer Sutherland and tips for how viewers can take action.
  • Bibliomulas are a very old instrument of very new change in Venezuela. The "book mules" are essentially four-legged libraries that take books into remote communities, coordinated by the University of Momboy. Schoolchildren and farmers are learning to read as a result, and the mules are also bringing technology to the villages they visit. Though the villages are isolated, they are becoming connected to the world around them through the efforts of the university and its book-mule-biles.
  • Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab put together a list of seven categories of how mobile texting can be used to promote health that I think are useful to get your mind thinking about how you could use it for your issue. They are:
    1. Remind you to do health behavior
    2. Collect data from you
    3. Offer you words of inspiration
    4. Keep you on schedule/routine
    5. Alert you to health issue or crisis
    6. Send you lab results
    7. Give you health info on demand
  • Pachelbel as police aid? The city of Tacoma, Washington has started to pipe classical music into its transit center to keep away criminals who make drug deals at the bus stop or use public transportation to go cause trouble. They are trying to change the environment to make it inhospitable to the people who are engaging in undesirable behaviors. Whether hearing the soaring strains of orchestral music will be so grating to criminal ears that they decide to stay home is yet to be seen. I have a feeling it will not be as effective as playing rap music would be in keeping classical music lovers away from a particular place. Though perhaps an increased level of music appreciation will emerge and serve to soothe the savage breast.
  • The nonprofit presence in Second Life continues to flourish even as the hype and hoopla about the virtual world continues to fade. I think this means that those who came into SL for the right reasons (i.e., collaboration, learning, connection) are still there, while those who jumped into the world expecting that this latest shiny object would automatically sell more of their widgets (the old-fashioned kind) were disappointed. Nonprofits now have a brand-new dedicated space in the Nonprofit Commons, where 32 organizations have virtual offices. They will be having a grand opening celebration on Tuesday, August 14 at 5:30 pm PT/SLT at the new virtual location as well as live in San Francisco and at participating nonprofits. Attire is "avatar fabulous."
Until next time...

Photo Credit: nicolemperle

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Often, people want to take healthy actions, but don't have the ability or opportunity to do so. Public health professionals trying to prevent obesity in the inner city have long lamented poor neighborhoods' lack of availability of fresh produce and healthy food choices at reasonable prices. When there is nowhere nearby to buy healthy food, it often doesn't get bought.

Public radio show Marketplace had a story today about how British supermarket chain Tesco plans to open a hundred stores in the Western U.S, many of them in low income neighborhoods that the local supermarkets have stayed away from. The piece highlighted the dire state of food shopping in a Downtown Los Angeles market:
The market's single aisle is too narrow for us to walk side by side. We squeezed past a display of lettuce greens turning sickly shades of brown.

The refrigerators are stocked with sugary yogurt, lard, packets of American cheese slices, and gallons of milk — just about to expire — for $4.
Tesco will be opening a dozen "Fresh and Easy" markets in the LA area, which will offer fresh produce, meats and prepared meals. Fresh and Easy's marketing director, Simon Uwans, found that
almost irrespective of the type of household we went into, people were telling us what they wanted was fresh wholesome food and they wanted it to be affordable and they wanted it to be in their neighborhood.
Local health educator Rosa Giron is quoted as saying, "This community is an emergency for obesity and diabetes for childrens, because they don't eat right." And based on the infrastructure, a communication program telling people the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables would not get very far.

Had Tesco not decided that this was a commercial marketing opportunity, perhaps social marketers could have figured out a way to change the shopping environment to facilitate the purchase and consumption of healthy food. Farmers markets are one approach that have been used successfully. Perhaps community produce co-ops would work. Elementary school-based community vegetable gardens, partnerships with local stores that start to offer healthier choices, portable "root cellars" that keep veggies fresher longer... all of these are ways of changing the environment, which would in turn make healthy behavior changes more likely.

Communications are not always the answer. See how you can change the environment itself to make it more conducive to the behavior you want to promote.

Photo Credit: mleak

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I drink a lot of water, partly because I like it and partly on doctor's orders. I'm not a water snob, and am perfectly happy to drink tap water when at home, but I always try to grab a bottle or two of water before leaving the house. To me, the advantage of bottled water is the convenience factor, and not the quality of the water itself (especially with the recent revelations that brands like Aquafina and Dasani are simply filtered tap water).

I bought a case of Arrowhead water bottles (a brand sold in the Western US) when they were on sale last week. The profile of the bottle looked more ergonomic, and copy on the packaging said that the new "Eco-shape" bottle uses 15% less plastic. Great idea! The narrow "waist" felt really good in my hand, but the plastic walls of the bottle were noticeably thinner and more flimsy. I wouldn't have minded that, except that whenever I set the bottle down it tipped over or came close to doing so. This happened nearly every time I drank from one of the bottles.(See the picture I took above of the full bottle precariously tilting and the other that wouldn't even stand up.) Sometimes when twisting off the cap, the bottle itself got twisted and would not open correctly.

So, as much as it's commendable for the company to reduce its packaging and try to appeal to the eco-consumer, this change has ended up looking more like a cost-cutting measure than a customer-friendly feature. If the product doesn't do what it's supposed to do (i.e., provide a convenient way to drink water), this consumer at least will not buy it again.

When commercial products don't work, they lose customers. Many people, including close friends of mine, have gone through Dell Hell and will never buy their products again. My husband recently had flight cancellation nightmares with United Airlines and has resolved not to fly with them when he has a choice.

It took a long time for electric cars to become widely adopted because, until hybrids came along, they were seen as less powerful than gas-fueled cars. Many have grumbled about the difference in quality of compact fluorescent lightbulbs while still replacing them throughout their homes. People may be tolerant of a slight degradation in quality in exchange for other perceived benefits, like eco-friendliness, but when the product itself just doesn't work, the trade-off isn't worth it.

Many of our social marketing products also either do not work the way they are supposed to, or are perceived by the consumer as being ineffective. When that's the case, people may try it once and decide it's not worth the effort. The person who gets a flu shot and has a mild flu-like reaction to the vaccine may decide that it didn't work and therefore they will not bother getting the shot in the future. Exercise does not always live up to its billing as making you feel great and helping you lose weight, though over time it likely will.

If the product either does not work some of the time or for everyone, or if it is perceived as being ineffective, there are two choices: either change the product or change the expectations. Because we often do not have any control over the actual product we are "selling," we need to be careful of the benefits we promise or we risk losing credibility with the audience. Condoms were initially touted as the answer to HIV prevention, but the fact that they are not 100% effective against HIV and STDs led to somewhat of a backlash. A more realistic understanding of the place of condoms in HIV prevention has emerged over time.

Change the product or change the perception, but remember that if the product doesn't work you may as well pour your marketing money down the drain.

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