What happens when a French agency racks up over 50,000 likes on Instagram for a campaign aimed at raising awareness of alcoholism among young people? Success, right? By creating a fake account for a glamorous young French woman named Louise Delage and posting several photos on Instagram daily, each of which included her holding an alcoholic drink, the “Like My Addiction” campaign for organization Addict Aide hoped to show that it’s not always easy to tell that someone is addicted to alcohol.
At the end of the 2-month campaign, the agency, BETC, revealed that Louise was not real, and shared the purpose of the campaign with their followers. After the reveal, web traffic to Addict Aide’s website spiked to five times normal and numerous media outlets covered the campaign. Clearly the agency knows how to run Instagram campaigns to get attention and gain a following (with more than 16,000 Instagram followers in just a few months). But even they admitted that their important message mostly missed the notice of Louise’s followers.
Many have praised this stealth campaign, but from a behavior change point of view it has many flaws. I do love this kind of social media narrative edutainment, but it was clearly created with no understanding of behavioral science.
Ultimately, this very creative and promising approach was only half a strategy.
A carefully crafted character telling her story via social media can be compelling and draw people in to pay attention. Done right, her online life may feel very real. For the purposes of motivating behavior change, she should either evoke empathetic feelings of “she’s like me”or aspirational thoughts that “I want to be like her.” This they did well.
The problem was that they posted happy (or neutral) pictures of a beautiful young woman with a drink in her hand for two months without depicting any consequences of her alcoholism. There was no indication that she was addicted to alcohol beyond the glasses in her hand, which escaped many people’s notice. If, once they had a critical mass of followers, Louise started posting photos – or including text in her Instagram posts – that hinted at problems in her life resulting from her drinking, the people who were engaging with her would start connecting the dots themselves.
Having the ad agency say “na-na, gotcha!” and explaining their strategy at the end of the campaign is a case of telling, not showing. It takes people out of the narrative and has much less impact than if they saw a realistic depiction of the effects of alcoholism on someone they had started to care about (even if they found out she was not real).
The other big problem with this campaign is that it normalized the behavior they were trying to prevent for two full months. Many of the people who saw images from her account likely did not see the big reveal at the end, and only took from the postings the subconscious connection of alcohol and a glamorous life – the equivalent of free advertising for the alcohol industry. Social media plays a significant role in establishing and reinforcing social norms. We have to be careful in social marketing with the imagery we use; attractive depictions of undesirable behaviors can far outweigh any negative text that accompanies the pictures and the message will backfire.
Entertainment education can be incredibly effective, but it has to be done with an understanding of the behavior change models that work.