What This Alcoholism Awareness Instagram Campaign Got Very Wrong

Louise.Delage Instagram Feed

Louise.Delage Instagram Feed

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.

Lauralee’s Depression: An Immersive Storytelling Case Study

I’ve had a fun summer as one of the main writers for the Miracle Mile Paradox, an alternate reality game a group of us from Transmedia LA decided to create as a learning experience (for us as designers). I was originally thinking about how we could bring in a nonprofit angle, a la Conspiracy for Good, but a cause marketing strategy didn’t seem to fit well with the story. Luckily, I was able to figure out a way to bring in my real passion, which is transmedia entertainment education, and even draw on a project I’m managing at the Entertainment Industries Council working with (primarily) TV writers and journalists for accurate portrayal of mental health issues.

When the opportunity arose to write for some of the characters, I decided to go for it, as the realtime portrayal of a character via social media had always intrigued me. While there was an overarching storyline for the game, which took place over several months, there was a lot of leeway for character development and story arcs for individual minor characters. With almost 30 different characters in the story, with several writers covering two or more characters and quite a few more people who started creating a character and gave up fairly quickly, there was a lot of opportunity for interesting stories to play out on the sidelines of the main storyline.

The main story centered on an inventor named Rex Higgs who discovers blueprints for a machine called a “time switch,” builds it, and ends up on the wrong side of an evil multinational financial investment company called the Agent Intellect Corp (AIC). One of my characters, Lauralee Simcoe, is a corporate communications assistant working at AIC whose only functional role in the game is to have players hack into her online account at AIC for information. I created a story arc for her that involved her experiencing clinical depression, getting treatment and recovering. The strategy behind the narrative was to engage the game participants by getting them emotionally involved in Lauralee’s story, with elements of education, modeling and an accurate depiction of potential roadblocks and their resolution.

I’ve compiled excerpts from the story across various social media platforms to give you an idea of how Lauralee’s depression subplot played out over the five months or so of the game on the Storify site.

Ready for the Zombie Invasion (or any other disaster)

Flickr Photo Credit: d200 dug No censorship!

One of the big frustrations disaster preparedness professionals constantly face is the difficulty of getting people to acknowledge the likelihood of an emergency event — whether its a natural disaster, pandemic flu or manmade terrorism — and to take actions to be ready if when it happens. The fact is, people don’t like to think about worst-case scenarios, and they definitely don’t like to have to spend effort and money to address something that they think is likely never to happen to them.

Public health and safety folks tend to come at the problem from a straightforward “Here are the facts. Are you prepared?” angle. Sometimes they also try to scare people into taking action. But you don’t often see disaster preparedness as a fun and social activity. Of course, the best idea I’ve seen for getting people engaged with the issue didn’t come from the professionals at all, but from a group of friends looking for fun. And talk about worst-case scenarios — it doesn’t get much worse than a full-out zombie invasion.

Zombie SquadI first found out about Zombie Squad from @rachky and @zen_jewitch on Twitter. Looking at the website, I went from an initial “Huh?” to “Wow, what a brilliant idea!” Seeing the potential for social marketers to be inspired by this unconventional approach to a conventional topic, I requested an interview with members of the Squad. A big thanks to Kyle Ladd, a member of the ZS Board of Directors and one of its founders, and Christopher Cyr, the ZS accountant, for taking the time to answer my questions.
(Zombie Squad Photo Credit: Mike Dressler)

First of all, can you explain what Zombie Squad is?

Zombie Squad is the world’s premiere non-stationary cadaver
suppression task force. Of course, as you may know, our mission is not
only to keep your neighborhood safe from the shambling hordes but also
to help guide and educate others to better prepare themselves for any
disaster. We want the public to be ready for anything from a natural
or man made disaster, like a tornado or earthquake, to a full on
zombie apocalypse.

Our organization focuses on fulfilling its mission by sharing
information and promoting education about issues concerning survival
and preparation. We also encourage our large member base to be
involved in community organizations that promote disaster awareness or
assist in recovery efforts. Our members volunteer their time, attend
and organize fundraisers, and give to their communities in a number of
ways. By using the zombie survival theme, we are able to reach a
demographic that many organizations are unable to.

How did you get the idea to start Zombie Squad? Fighting off the
undead is not an obvious market niche.

The official story involves a group of friends returning home from a
movie one night and discussing how they would survive better than any
of the characters in the film. From there the idea grew into a group
of people who thought it would be fun to gain the skills necessary to
actually survive a scenario where society has fallen. As they told
their idea to other friends, word spread and the organization began to
take shape. Early members realized the practicality and usefulness of
many of the skills they were acquiring. The zombie survival theme
provides a fun context to learn basic survival skills, with none of
the usual stigma attached to being called a “survivalist.”

What kinds of people tend to join Zombie Squad?

We have active members from all walks of life ranging from graphic
designers and tattoo artists to military officers and lawyers. Cult
fans of the zombie/horror/post-apocalyptic genre seem to be
everywhere. It always amazes me how our members consistently donate
their time, effort, and money to support their communities.

What types of organizations hire your services or trainings?

Some of the organizations ZS has worked with include larger charities
like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and Cancer Society but we try
to focus our efforts more towards the local communities where our
respective chapters reside. We do a lot of work putting on fund
raisers for local charities and collecting for local food and blood

How do you do your public outreach and education? What types of
activities do you use to raise awareness of disaster preparedness and
zombie survival?

Zombie Squad reaches the public via several paths. First and foremost
is our website which hosts general disaster preparation information
via our blog, well managed discussion forums and videos.

Over the last several years we’ve branched out with our traveling
“Zombie Survival” seminars that focus on general disaster preparation
with a zombie twist. These seminars draw quite a crowd who in many
cases come to see us for the zombie aspect but leave with knowledge
and interest in steps they can take to be more prepared for more
relevant disasters. We originally focused on sci-fi and horror
conventions around the country, but we’re also regularly invited to
bring our show to Boy Scout Troops, universities, disaster fairs and
even REI stores.

Last year our St. Louis Chapter put on its own disaster fair and it
was a huge success. The fair took place during the one year
anniversary of a series of storms that tore through St. Louis leaving
over 500,000 people without power, many for a week or more, on the
hottest days of the year. Another storm hit St. Louis again that
winter with similar devastation of local utilities. The goal of the
fair was to promote the importance of being prepared for similar
disasters and to bring local disaster agencies together to talk about
what they do for the community. We brought in guest speakers and
representatives who set up informational booths from a number of local
disaster response agencies such as the Red Cross, CERT, ARES, Human
Society, SCC Health Dept and others.

In addition to these educational programs our chapters host fund
raisers for various organizations, food drives, movie nights and other
events, as mentioned in the previous question.

Would you say the emphasis of your organization is more on having
fun with the zombie theme or on the disaster preparedness message?
Which part of it do you think gets people motivated to take action?

Both. Zombie Squad is occasionally described as an organization that
tricks people into learning. While many participants are drawn to our
events by their interest in the zombie and post apocalyptic
entertainment elements, they come to realize that everything we
present has real world applications.

At what point does the zombie fun end, and the serious
life-and-death discussions begin? Are there some issues at which you
draw the line at being humorous?

That’s a good question. We do have plenty of lines drawn to make sure
people don’t get the wrong impression. For instance, we clearly state
that the “zombies” we discuss are metaphors for natural and man made
disasters. They are not codewords for people of other races,
nationalities, religions, sexual orientation, or anything similar.

What are some of the advantages of addressing such a usually serious
and fear-driven topic from a new angle?

Taking the topic seriously but keeping it fun is a great way to keep
people interested. There are a number of informational campaigns that
have tried to scare the public into preparing for some big disaster,
but those fear tactics in marketing always appear unauthentic. The
average person sees through that facade. Our goal is to make sure
people respect the danger that disasters pose, but not live in fear of
them. Preparation is the key to beginning to control that fear.

What have been some of the barriers you’ve come up against in using
this unique approach to disaster preparedness, among your members, the people you are trying to reach, potential funders or others?

The obvious major barrier is the zombie survival theme itself. While
it is a great tool for reaching specific people, others tend to
automatically tune out the message. Usually this barrier is overcome
by calmly explaining that we do not actually think the dead will crawl
out of their graves any time soon (though we’re ready if they do). At
that point, people either get it, or they move on. The truth is,
there are a number of organizations out there that already cater to
those people.

Do you have any advice for other people working on health and social
causes who are trying to figure out how to make their messages
appealing and fun?

Bring in as many young people as you can. They have the best ideas
and the most motivation. The hard part is keeping their interest.
Stay on top of pop-culture trends and figure out a way to use it to
your advantage.

You can always try bribing them. One thing we find is that people
like to know that their time is appreciated when they volunteer.
There are great, inexpensive, and fun ways to reward volunteers for
their involvement that keep them happy and eager to support your

One project we’re working on now is our “Volunteer Awards Program.”
Not all of our members are able to get involved with local chapters,
so this program will allow them to still volunteer in their community
as part of Zombie Squad. Under the program, members will volunteer
for an organization with a cause they feel worthy of supporting and
keep track of their hours on a form we provide. We’re really flexible
about where they can volunteer. They just need to contact us for
approval if it’s not a charity on our list. Then at the end of the
year they tell us how many hours they volunteered and we send them a
number of incentive awards ranging from a new enamel ZS pin, patches,
stickers, shirts, and so forth, based on their level of participation.
It’s a way for us to thank our members for doing their part and it
helps us to get an idea what sort of charities our members are
interested in. We’re looking forward to how this program turns out and
our members seem really excited about participating.

Do you have any funny or unusual stories you can share that have
come out of the work you do? (Notwithstanding, of course, the fact
that the work itself is funny and unusual!)

The thing that always brings smiles to the faces of our members is the
realization of how far the organization’s message has spread. It’s a
common occurrence for Zombie Squad members nationwide to be out in
their communities wearing a ZS t-shirt and hear someone yell “Zombie
Squad” to them, or walk up and ask how they know about the
organization. When you think about the fact that this organization
started over a discussion held by a few people in a van in South St.
Louis, Missouri…it’s pretty amazing.

Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven’t asked about?

Don’t you want to know about the robot threat?

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Leave Britney (and Lindsay and Amy and…) Alone!

While we’re talking about celebrities, we can’t ignore the ones who
are the examples of what NOT to do. Nearly every day, it seems, there’s a new story about a celeb gone wrong: drug and alcohol abuse, drunk driving, “crazy” behaviors, teen pregnancy… It’s so easy for them to spiral out of control, and all too often, their addiction or untreated mental illness leads to tragic consequences.

But what about the celebrities who pull themselves out of that downward divebomb, who get into treatment and turn themselves around? They are the ultimate role models — people who finally admitted they had a problem and put in the hard, painful work to try to get their lives back. What a learning opportunity for regular people who may be going down that same path, though outside of the glare of the cameras. And how important it is to remember that once you take away the paparazzi, the money and the fans, celebrities are just people, and have the same emotional issues as the rest of us (maybe more).

Brian Dyak, President and CEO of the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC), wrote a passionate defense of celebrities who go through rehab on EIC’s relatively new blog, Getting Reel About Art and Life (thanks to Melissa Havard for the pointer). He writes:

…But I do have one ax to grind. I’m bugged by a lot of comments I’ve heard—and articles I’ve read—about celebrities going into rehab.

With 25 years of experience bridging the entertainment and health industries, I am uniquely qualified to respond to the finger-pointing, poking, prodding, lens clicking and tittering that surround celebrity rehab.

And I’ve got something to say.

First and foremost, the celebrity rehab we read about is not a joke for people’s amusement. Thanks to our newly tabloid-driven pop culture, we—and our children—have unprecedented access to what addiction and mental illness look like. Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan and over two dozen other people gained headlines in 2007 for entering addiction recovery centers.

These are lives at risk, out of control, not jokes, and not reality television shows taking place on the streets of Hollywood for public amusement. If we pay attention, we can see complex stories unfolding before our eyes. One of EIC’s primary principles is to be non-judgmental and respect creative freedom afforded in our great nation. For those who judge mental health, making judgment on these people’s lives, I ask:

Who the hell are you?

Do you think you are better than these people? Stronger? Smarter?

Give me a break.

Addiction and mental health issues affect every cross-section of our population. If you’re laughing now at Britney Spears, will you be laughing in five or ten years when, heaven forbid, your niece, uncle, sister, brother, even your mother or your own son or daughter loses control of his or her life? Will it be funny then?

This new access to the private lives of celebrities who face constant scrutiny and challenges unimaginable by most people—and is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it exposes us to the waking nightmare that losing control of one’s life can be, but on the other hand, it has opened dialogue about addiction and mental illness that has, until now, been hush-hush. While I, like most of America, am truly worried about Britney Spears’s health and safety, I am glad to say I have witnessed a national shift from bemused fascination with her spontaneous antics to recognition of her condition as critically ill, and a new awareness of the real point of rehabilitation: to get better.

VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, A&E’s Intervention, HBO’s Rehab—these are important, revolutionary shows that serve the public in a unique and valuable way. The insights just might help someone, and that is good.

Taking steps to fight and beat the struggles that come along with addiction, being self honest with oneself and ideally healthier is a process not unlike walking through a maze blindfolded. And the good news is, a whole lot of folks find a valuable piece of themselves that they never knew existed in the process. Some make it to the betterment of their own lives, the lives of families, friends, and society.

So the next time you get a peek into the lives of Britney, Lindsay, Mel Gibson, Kirsten Dunst, Pat O’Brien, Eva Mendes, Marc Jacobs, Jesse Mefcalfe, Eddie Van Halen, Amy Winehouse and others, be thankful for what you’ve got and respect them for seeking help rather than looking down on them for having real problems. If their stories make you query your own actions, consider following their good example and ask for help. Thanks to new public attention to the recovery process, which can include relapses, we must stop mocking and start understanding…

Well said.

Graphic Credit: Nazaret

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Celebrit-ing: Bringing a Celebrity On Board Your Campaign

It’s a sad fact of life that celebrities generally command more attention and adulation than we mere mortals. For better or worse, things that come out of their mouths have more clout (at least among certain audiences) than if we were to say them ourselves, despite our obvious intelligence, talent and impressive job titles. So, the question is how to help celebrities use that clout for good and not just to sell movies.

Andre Blackman pointed me to a video (above) just posted of an interview with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, who is visiting Ghana right now to help the organization Malaria No More. From what I could tell, she is a perfect spokesperson. She’s articulate, knows her stuff about the topic, is enthusiastic for the cause, is timely (she is the most recent AI winner), and creates an emotional connection with the importance of the work MNM does.

Last week, I attended a panel discussion sponsored by PIRATES (The Print, Interactive, Radio & Television Educational Society) on how Hollywood and celebrities can be a force for good. Panelists included David Michaels, who produces, among other things, the Ribbon of Hope Awards honoring television programming on AIDS; Marcy De Veaux, who consults with media companies on diversity-related issues; and Alison Arngrim, who was the epitome of nastiness for my generation as Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie, but who has redeemed herself as a committed advocate on behalf of people with AIDS, abused children and others.

Some of the key points that were made by the panelists include:

  • It’s simply a fact that celebrities wield the power. Alison recounted how she was asked to appear on Larry King to talk about legislation she was advocating. When she offered to bring along experts working on the campaign with her, the show’s producer immediately quashed the idea, saying, “And what show were they on?”
  • Sometimes you bring the cameras to the cause with the celebrities, or you bring the cameras to the celebrities with the cause — both are okay and can help you achieve your goals.
  • There are “good celebrities” — who understand why it’s important to help your cause and want to get involved — and “bad celebrities” — who are there because their publicist told them to go. But again, both can bring you publicity.
  • If you can convince a publicist of the merit of your cause, he or she may be able to deliver their whole stable of celebrity clients, in addition to the one you were originally trying to get.
  • Look for people who have been personally affected by your issue to serve as your spokespeople. For example, the actor Peter Gallagher got involved with an Alzheimers organization because his mother had the disease.
  • If you bring on a celebrity, make sure he or she is prepared to talk intelligently about your issue. At the very least, provide an index card with key bullet points about your organization and issue.
  • If your issue is controversial in any way, your celebrity needs to be prepared to answer questions about whether they are affected by the issue personally. As Alison spoke out about AIDS after the actor who played her TV husband died from the disease, she was continually asked whether she also had AIDS. When she was advocating for legislation to help abused children, she was asked directly whether she had been abused herself (turns out she had, and decided to talk about it publicly at that point).
  • Looking for someone to be your organization’s main celebrity spokesperson — as opposed to showing up at a one-time event — is a “headhunting operation.” You need to make sure there is a good fit between the person and the organization.
  • Don’t use a guilt trip to convince a celebrity to get involved. Frame it in terms of hope, focusing on the good that person can do and what a great experience it will be. And of course, what’s in it for them?

And how do you get in touch with the celebrity you have decided would be perfect for your organization? You can find information on who represents that person on IMDb Pro (has a monthly fee) or by calling the Screen Actors Guild, which has a service that will provide you with the name of the PR rep for the person you’re looking for. You will receive the most help from the celebrity’s manager or publicist, not the agent.

Working with celebrities is not always easy, but the payoff can be big. Think carefully about whether it fits with your strategy and audience. And if it does, give it a try.

For another perspective on this issue, check out this older post from Citizen Brand that was so good I’ve been saving it until I could use it. And I just learned from Stephen Dann that dead celebrities can also be spokespeople so don’t discount someone just because they can’t actually talk anymore.

Related Posts from Spare Change:
Celebrity Love/Hate
Who Asked Them? Unwanted Celebrity Spokespeople

UPDATE (2/22/08): I just came across this blog from Do Something called CelebsGoneGood. It highlights the good things that celebrities are doing or talking about, and could be a great source for finding out which celebs are interested in which types of causes. And it’s just good to see good news about celebrities for a change.

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Charity Television

Imagine my surprise as I followed a link from my ego feed and found that my blog is featured on a “TV show.” The International Charity Association Network (iCAN), an organization that serves as an umbrella for Canadian nonprofits providing food and education, creates video programming on its Charity Television website.

The current program highlights five blogs that discuss nonprofit and philanthropy-related issues. Besides mine, the program talks about Have Fun * Do Good, the DC Goodwill Fashionista Blog, Cause-Related Marketing, and Katya’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog. Though the quick-change editing and camera angles are somewhat disconcerting, and the sexy hostess lady seems more suited to Firebrand TV, it was interesting to see one nonprofit’s take on online video programming. (Though two strikes against her, pronouncing both my first and last names wrong!)

Speaking of Firebrand, if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an interesting bit of niche programming. It’s all commercials, all the time, with MTV-like “commercial jockeys” or CJs (including, yes, a sexy hostess lady) that pop up from time to time in between the ads. The site is strangely compelling, and they have definitely compiled some of the most clever and artistic spots here. It’s a great place to learn what makes a TV commercial watchable. The site is a brandseeker’s paradise, but there are examples of social advertising mixed in, such as spots from PSI, the American Lung Association, the Ad Council, Know AIDS/HIV, and others. It would be great if they added more social marketing ads and grouped them together in one category. The question is whether anyone but ad industry people are watching.

On the far other end of the programming spectrum is the Starfish Television Network, currently found on the Dish Network and streaming online. This time it’s all nonprofits, all the time. Organizations can submit their video material to appear in the programming, which runs anywhere from about two minutes to an hour long. If you’re a nonprofit with video you want to broadcast, take a look at the guidelines to submit your spots and get some free exposure.

Looking at today’s programs, for example, the broad mix includes things like the High Five Challenge (a TV game show that “recognizes and rewards today’s good kids, making smart choices”), a 5-minute spot about the 2007 Hollywood Arts Gift of Light fundraising event, short pieces on various scout values (e.g., bravery, kindness, etc.), a music video inspired by children with autism, a video called The Go-Getter that is “the story of one man’s refusal to give up even when faced with overwhelming obstacles,” 7 minutes about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, and a 20-minute show about the medical team from Operation Smile traveling to India to provide free cleft palate surgeries for children. I’m sure sure some of this programming is wonderful and watchable, but I’m just as sure that there are some incredibly boring videos that nobody but the organizations’ staff want to see. So, the question again is whether anyone is watching this channel but nonprofit industry people. I would love to know. I have heard that professional producers will be creating programming specifically for the Starfish Network, so hopefully that will help.

When it comes down to it, as much as people might care about a particular cause, they are not going to sit through a boring video when they could be doing something more entertaining. For social marketers who are considering creating a video for distribution online, Ad Age just ran a great article about ten lessons for creating a viral video (which the author, top YouTube producer Kevin Nalts, aptly points out is not a viral video if nobody wants to share it).

Nonprofits should be exploiting this medium for all it’s worth, given that it costs relatively little to hire some of the most-watched Youtubers to produce a piece for you, and expectations for production values (read: budgets) are much lower than for broadcast television. In the end, though, it all boils down to whether you have something that people enjoy watching — though it may have a message embedded, the top three criteria for viral success are: entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.

UPDATE: I just came across this story from the Agitator highlighting an excellent report on nonprofits’ use of online video from the Chronicle of Philanthropy with several great examples of nonprofits that are doing just what I was talking about!

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