What’s wrong with Earth Day

Apr 18

—Photograph by Charles W. Harrity/AP

—Photograph by Charles W. Harrity/AP

I care deeply about our environment, but I’ve never been an enormous fan of Earth Day, which turns 45 next week. I’ve designed and supported environmental behavior change efforts from Beijing to Baltimore and beyond, and Earth Day never added significantly to the outcomes I sought. I also didn’t expect it to. The day was a reminder of the progress the environmental movement had made, but it also shined a bright light on the long road ahead with informational and attitudinal barriers still to address.

I know others will disagree about the role of Earth Day. But if you believe, like I do, that addressing the remarkable challenges of climate change and other environmental ailments requires a long-term approach to affect the existing social system that allows the problem to continue – social will, individual behaviors, and political will, for example – then you can easily argue that our contemporary Earth Day is just that, a single day. And to be clear, I’m not diminishing the accomplishments that have been made, including the viability of renewables and engaged corporate leadership.

In his book, Social Marketing in the 21st Century, Dr. Alan Andreasen reminds us that social change requires action, and that the burden of social change cannot and should not be placed solely on downstream actors. Change requires communication that influences policy or structural changes, too. The 1970 inaugural Earth Day helped do this. Leveraging the model of “teach-ins” from the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, it generated more than twelve thousand events and more than thirty-five thousand speakers and helped place environmental issues solidly on the political agenda, which helped establish the political will to pass the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as well as create the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a 2013 article in The New Yorker. I seriously wonder whether, in today’s era of protests and marches about nearly every cause under the sun, Earth Day this year will have nearly as profound an impact as it did 45 years ago.

When I talk to others about social change in the context of environmental issues, I’m always eager to share EPA’s ENERGY STAR® story. It’s a simple and compelling one:

  • raise awareness nationally about the relationship of everyday energy use and the combustion and use of fossil fuels with a simple narrative (“The average home pollutes more than the average car.” Remember that one?),
  • create a value proposition and incentives for manufacturers to make products that use less energy (upstream actors),
  • define a simple action for consumers to take (“Look for the ENERGY STAR label – the easiest way to save money and protect the environment”), and
  • reinforce and reward the behaviors of upstream and downstream participants.

I’ve oversimplified it, but I hope the simplicity and thoughtfulness of the program’s market transformation design is evident. Eventually companies affirmatively desired to attach the ENERGY STAR label to their products.

Even with ENERGY STAR’s 25-year history of good storytelling, actionable messaging, and behavior reinforcement, and the numerous other environmental programs, today’s environment and climate concerns are not perfectly established. For example, consider the very real debate over the increased use of domestically produced natural gas, which has environmental advantages over the combustion of oil and coal, versus the legitimate concerns raised related to environmental and seismic impacts from increased domestic production. (More shocking are recent dust-ups related to some states prohibiting the use of the term “climate change” by state agencies!) Rarely do these issues top the agenda of concerns that result in legislative victories. According to recent studies, those concerns are at the bottom of the agenda. A 2014 Gallup study – which included testing “climate change” for the first time in its annual March Environment survey – showed this:

“Climate change and the quality of the environment rank near the bottom of a list of concerns for Americans, who are instead far more worried about more basic economic issues such as the economy, federal spending, and the affordability of healthcare. Concerns about the environment typically rank low among all Americans, but the current level of worry is even lower than in the past.”

In a new movement aimed at changing global attitudes toward climate change, the Vatican announced plans this week to convene a major climate change-themed summit on April 28, 2015. It’s called: “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development.” According to a Vatican website, one goal of the event is to “highlight the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people – especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations.” This event precedes the Pope’s expected summer release of his encyclical on the environment. An encyclical is the “highest form of papal writing” that informs and guides the Church’s teachings. With an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, this an interesting and contemporary example of an institution hoping to change the way a body of people – over which it has authority – addresses and responds to climate change. Interesting, too, is the explicit connection they make to basic economic issues that do dominate political agendas. The uber popularity and influence of Pope Francis makes this an issue worth paying attention to.

Despite survey findings and current debates, I’m optimistic about our ability as social marketers to influence and inform political and individual decisions, transform markets (upstream and midstream) to share the burden of change, and ultimately deliver environmental outcomes that meet the economic and social needs of our citizens and our planet. So, enjoy and celebrate Earth Day next week, as you should. And take the opportunity to recall the transformative impact it had 45 years ago as you consider new ways to advance a healthier environment.

Re-fashioning how we shop

Apr 03

On March 25, 2015 The Atlantic published “The Neurological Pleasures of Fast Fashion,” which illustrated how clothes shopping has transformed into a “widespread pastime, a powerfully pleasurable and sometimes addictive activity.” Not only has shopping become a recreational activity (one that I, too, enjoy), research now shows that the brain literally lights up when it finds a desirable object—specifically, when that desirable object is also a really great deal.

This delicious response is what has driven fast fashion stores, like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M, to record profits. With multiple shipments per week and wallet-friendly price points, shoppers can consistently get their fix with little damage to their budget. This effect is compounded by the fact that clothing represents an area of goods referred to as “high involvement,” meaning that these items give shoppers access to the lifestyle that they wish to live.

Translation: If I buy a cheap sweater that still looks like something modern-day princess Kate Middleton might wear, it means I feel more like modern-day princess Kate Middleton. And that’s addictive.

Unfortunately, this vision of luxury comes at the cost of a devastating environmental footprint and harsh labor conditions abroad. The EPA reported that in 2010, Americans tossed 13.1 million tons of textiles into landfills. This works out to approximately 68 pounds of fabric and clothes per person into the trash. According to figures from the U.S. National Labor Committee, some workers in China make as little as 12 to 18 cents per hour in poor conditions. These conditions are exemplified in the April 24, 2013 building collapse of the garment factory, Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh—the deadliest such disaster of its kind, killing more than 1,100 people, mostly women, because of unsafe working conditions.

Even consumers, who echo their commitment to the environment and shop sustainable items in other non-fashion industries, still routinely shop fast fashion. According to a 2012 article in the journal Fashion Theory called “Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands,” otherwise environmentally-minded consumers, who regularly purchased cheap, trend-driven clothing, saw little discrepancy between their positive attitudes towards sustainability and their choices to consume and dispose of cheaply-made clothes en masse.

How do we then, as communicators, demonstrate the negative environmental and social impact of our clothing consumption habits, and actually wean a nation of eager shoppers off their addiction to fast fashion?

Let’s look to slow food (an international movement started in the 1980s as an alternative to fast food) for inspiration. Due to a surge in awareness of inhumane practices in meat production and health concern about pesticides in our food over the past ten years, there was a renaissance in slow food. It is now not only accepted, but also popular to shop organic and to ask about the origins of your food. Your free-range egg, grass-fed cheese, and farm-raised bacon sandwich on locally-baked bread is the new normal. And perceived as tastier.

This is the lens with which we can affect the fashion industry. If clothing transfers aspects of the garment to its owner, then communicators can demonstrate that shopping sustainably makes you look even better. These customers will look cooler, savvier, and discerning by shopping “slow fashion” rather than cruising $5 t-shirts, and they will start a ripple effect among their peers. For example, if you wear a thrifted leather jacket, tell your friends. If you buy a locally-made dress, make sure you call it out as part of your #OOTD (outfit of the day, natch). Similarly, with education, fast fashion can become stigmatized and less desirable. Through gentle peer pressure and the desire to look cool among your friends, we can eventually transform the fashion industry and feel confident in the supply chains we support.

This change is already beginning. H&M offers in-store textile recycling (even netting you a discount to use in-store), and now sells the Conscious Collection, represented by actress/slow fashion advocate Olivia Wilde. Other stores like Everlane, Zady, The Reformation, Verdalina, and Eileen Fisher (personal favorites) specialize in sustainable, fair trade ways to give you your fashion fix. This way you can look good – and feel good doing it.

It won’t be easy to pry customers from the sale racks of fast fashion retailers, but there is a stylish way forward to finding a cleaner conscience, a cleaner closet, and a cleaner planet.

What’s In A Name?

Apr 02

My last post about Ogilvy’s rebranding of our “social marketing practice” to Social Change generated quite a bit of buzz in the social marketing community over the past few days – particularly on the social marketing listserv (SOC-MKTG@georgetown.edu).

Knowing that this topic has been a source of much debate within the community for many years, I fully expected this. I’ve been following the discussion with much interest (and a little disappointment), and I wanted to share a few additional thoughts here.

First and foremost, our decision was not one that we took lightly. In fact, we discussed and debated it for many years because we believe so strongly in the discipline of social marketing. Ogilvy has been working in the field since the mid-1980s, when we were fortunate to help CDC be among the first government agencies to market public health with the landmark America Responds to AIDS program.

We still use and embrace the term social marketing whenever we are talking to and working with clients like CDC and many other government agencies who understand it, appreciate it and continue to ask for it by name. However, we work with a wide range of clients in the social marketing/social purpose/social change/purpose marketing/cause marketing/[your term here] arena.

Although it pained us to admit it, fewer and fewer of them use and understand the term social marketing. This is true not only among our corporate clients but among non-profits and foundations as well. “Social marketing” is simply not part of their language… it’s not even on their radar.

Is Social Change a perfect term? Of course not, it has baggage too. But in our research (yes, we tested a number of options with our government, non-profit and corporate clients before deciding on Social Change), it was the clear winner. For us, it was simply a matter of meeting our audience where they are, which is what we advise our clients to do every day.

I greatly respect the opinions of those who disagree with our decision, and who prefer to continue to champion the term social marketing. I also greatly appreciate the words of encouragement (or at least understanding) from others who see why we came to find the term to be challenging for our business audience.

For those who are not on the social marketing listserv, here are some excerpts from the discussion that is taking place there (names omitted). I’d welcome any additional comments here as well. Thanks for reading and engaging!

  • I think we’re going on almost 10 years now as a field in which the term “social marketing” has only become more diluted. A Google search for resources in our field is almost useless. While I still use the term “social marketing” on a regular basis (it’s my URL for gosh sakes), I nearly always on first reference will describe what I do as “marketing for social impact” when I don’t know if the other person is familiar with the term. I think this is hurting us as a field. I think about what I would tell a client who has invested a lot of time and resources into a program name that just isn’t resonating with their audience. Maybe it’s time to transition to a more meaningful and descriptive name. We don’t have to give up “social marketing” but if we want people to find us and understand what we’re about, we may need to augment the term. The question is, is our audience those who don’t already know about our powerful social marketing approach, or is our audience us? We need to eat our own dog food and brand ourselves in a way that connects with the people we want to reach as a field.
  • I think Ogilvy is spot-on. It is so draining to have to start every conversation about Social Marketing with the phrase “it’s not Social Media.” Such talk is disempowering, deflects the importance of our field, and causes our audience to glaze-over. It is absolutely, IMHO, hurting our brand.
  • I agree completely with the need for re-branding. As a young professional and student, I find that over time I have sought more and more distance from the term ‘social marketing’ for all of the reasons mentioned above. Even when speaking with fellow public health researchers and professionals, I discover halfway through the conversation that their understanding of social marketing is not the same as mine. The trend to shy away from labeling ourselves ‘social marketers’ is a sign. We need to find a way to market social marketing better and I would not rule out changing the name of the discipline.
  • Sorry to disagree with you. Wonderful things happen when people ask me to explain social marketing. I get into a much larger discussion than if I say that I am a practitioner of social change. They never quite thought of marketing in that way and they see it as a whole new tool box. Then if I give them a copy of [the] Social Marketing book, and they are stunned by how many great examples of successful social marketing already exist. And the listserv social marketing network itself allows a quick search for help on any social marketing problem.
  • I can tell you from extensive personal experience that people of good intellect and good will are put off by our having to run through the “it’s not social media” litany prior to discussing what our discipline really is. Their first and overwhelming impression, from our name, is that we are social media. Why dissipate our energy and theirs on a naming mishap?
  • I do understand all that would have to evolve were we to take the brave step of rebranding ourselves (urls, books, journals, business cards, certificates and degree programs…) – but it could happen over time. The important thing, IMHO, is that we project a positive, contemporary image going forward, without having to explain that “we named ourselves before social media came to be.” How old-fashioned a description that makes us sound!!
  • I agree there is a lot of confusion from those outside the field on “what is social marketing.” Very often when I see the term it does not refer to the process we intend. Just some food for thought: In trying to explain this again the other day I came upon a critique new to me. The people didn’t object to the “social” part, they immediately turned-off at the word “marketing,” as they associated it with underhanded manipulation. If we’re re-thinking the brand, perhaps it’s not just confusion with social media that holds the name back from broader acceptance. I’m sure some focus groups could give other insights on if and how a change could be good.
  • I have several reasons for wanting to leave it as Social Marketing: (1) Social Change is “nebulous/broad.” We are only one of many strategies for social change. We’d have to always explain what our particular strategy is. (2) Social Change Marketing has the same problem. You could be marketing social change strategies without a focus on our unique sales proposition (USP) which is behavior change. (3) Social Marketing equity, as others have mentioned: Journals, Conferences, Associations, Degrees, Courses, Certificates, Government RFPs. (4) Social media did shorten from social media marketing . . . that helped. (5) I find it is a good and quick attention getter and conversation starter.
  • Marketing in Brazil, for instance, has the worst connotations among the general public and even among educated people. Using the word marketing here to explain what social marketing is about is a sure way to turn the audience off. Unless I am talking to people from the commercial world or from some leading non-profits. Depending on the recipient, I have been using several terms such as behavioral design, behavior change management, behavioral engineering and so on. This is not good, it hurts brand equity and it does not help in the positioning of social marketing. Only when I feel that I am on firm ground I move to use social marketing. In other words, I strive to tailor the talking to the audience. My feeling is that we are lost in the long tail of conceptual approaches, mixed with social media marketing, cause marketing, public advocacy etc.
  • From a UK and European perspective Social Marketing is I find a very helpful term to describe the development of social programs that seek to create social value from a citizen’s perspective. I have also worked in over 20 countries and have found that people have no problem with the term. Social marketing is also a term that many governments now use and it is endorsed by ECDC and WHO Europe, etc. I think it is always helpful to seek to develop better ways to describe what we do but its also important to recognise that there is a growing theoretical academic base and evidence base for social marketing. This is only going to grow. So it’s important to be protective of our ‘brand’ and as well as worrying about some confusion celebrate the growing influence and acceptance of social marketing around the world.
  • Some of you want to be social change agents, the most over-used and inarticulate statement for being since “innovation?” and what is this “social change” you aspire to doing? Kumbaya and empowerment? Community development and grassroots organizing? Political and legal advocacy? Teaching people in developing countries to be “entrepreneurs”? Holding up every project for good as the creat of the wave of social entrepreneurship that will save the world? What if we helped them build individual and community assets (using marketing), helped them focus on their priority problems and groups, made markets work for the poor rather than leaving them to fend for themselves cloaked in the respectability of being “entrepreneurs?” Said to social entrepreneurs, “I respect what you’re trying to do and I have some tricks to help you do it better.” My, that was a bit tough -wasn’t it? But more true than some of you may think. What is “social change” – and why would a PR agency presume to be in that line of work, really? Are most clients, or would be clients, really out to change the world (yes there are a few, but many fewer than you know)? And are they actually trying to change the world, or solve a specific problem they have – or sense some group of people has?
  • From the perspective of an established practitioner, it may make sense to associate yourself with social marketing because you don’t necessarily need people to understand your ‘elevator speech’. But from the perspective of someone just entering the field of public health, it is frustrating and ineffective to associate myself with a field that no one understands. The fact of the matter is, either something needs to change or people like me will just stop using the term because it is not helping us move forward in our careers.
  • I use many different terms to identify, define, explain, and persuade decision makers to use social marketing strategies. So tailoring to my audience is key for me. Many of you who know me know that I think about audience first. So I try to read up on an audience, ask them a few questions and listen so I can then decide how to approach them about social marketing. Then I might start using the SM language interspersed to introduce them to the concepts. But we don’t have to fully educate every potential user on all of OUR jargon and details in order to get them to “buy or use” our services. If we do we’re lost as a field. And by the way, that’s contrary to our field’s whole notion of practice…So what? So what if we use social marketing for our journals and conferences, so what if we use a different term when we write a proposal, so what if we use a different term when we talk to a decision-maker, or a program manager? We can always bring the uneducated along and explain the history of our field, the evolution, and where we are now, if they’re interested. If they’re not interested then we need to be on their wavelength to start with…We’re not a brand in the classical sense of having a single organizational home that builds, adapts, distributes, and promotes a unique and beneficial offering to its audiences. We have multiple homes in many countries with varying cultures and different histories of the meaning of the word social and marketing. We can’t ask professionals in those places to ignore their own landscape, lest they become the Ford Pinto, Pepsi Brings You Back to Life, or Got Milk examples when introduced in other cultures (http://glantz.net/blog/campaigns-that-failed-to-translate).

(Re) Introducing Social Change

Mar 27

For many years, Ogilvy Public Relations has used the term “social marketing practice” to refer to our team of experts in human behavior who are dedicated to helping people live healthier, safer, more secure, and happier lives.

Now, we are Ogilvy Social Change. Why?

In all honestly, it’s partly because I became exhausted by the need to constantly explain that, while social media is a key channel that we use in social marketing, I don’t simply “do Facebook and Twitter” all day long.

But much more importantly, Social Change is a term that looks outward towards the world, rather than internally at what we do. It describes the ultimate objective of our work and is better understood by clients and partners of all types. And, it encompasses the full range of client engagements that we support, including:

  • Working both upstream (policy, environmental and systems change) and downstream (individual change);
  • Employing multiple approaches: communications, marketing, earned, owned and paid media, stakeholder and partner engagement, and more;
  • Influencing the entire spectrum of social change: awareness to knowledge to interest/engagement to behavior; and
  • Developing initiatives across a wide range of disciplines: public education, social and behavioral change, health education, risk communications, cause related marketing, cause branding, corporate social responsibility, and more.

Hey, Vince Vaughn thinks it’s a good move, and we’re excited about it too!


About Social Change
Ogilvy Public Relations has worked with clients at the forefront of social change for nearly three decades. Our Social Change team members are experts in human behavior who are dedicated to helping people live healthier, safer, more secure, and happier lives.

We understand behavioral economics, behavioral science, and social science, and put that knowledge to work on behalf of brands, associations, non-profits, and government agencies that are seeking to make a positive impact on society’s most pressing challenges. We have deep and wide-ranging experience across public health, wellness, safety, preparedness and mitigation, financial security, and energy and the environment.

White and Gold or Black and Blue…Should That Really Be The Question?

Mar 18

"The Dress"

For the better part of the last weekend in February, my parents (in their seventies) visiting from Brooklyn, my eleven year old daughter, my seven year old son, my nineteen year old au pair from Denmark, and various friends and family as far flung as France and as close in as a few blocks from my Capitol Hill home, debated whether or not “The Dress” was white and gold or  black and blue. (#thedress, #whiteandgold, #blackandblue.)

White and gold or blue and black...the dress that got the world talking.

“The Dress”

It went on and on, literally, day and night. And we weren’t alone…“The Dress” went viral in the truest sense of the word. A modern day word of mouth explosion witnessed online as people shared “The Dress’’ and declared that they saw white and gold or black and blue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, BuzzFeed, and so on. According to the New York Times, by Friday afternoon, a day after “The Dress” first got posted, it was viewed 28 million times…within a week more than 10 million tweets talked about it, and celebrities, who have millions and millions of followers, began commenting and sharing as well, which only fueled the fire and spread it more.

My circle didn’t begin the debate until after midnight on Friday. The nation’s, well let me revise that and say the world’s, attention towards “The Dress” carried on throughout the weekend. And people weren’t just viewing it, they were debating it. Full-fledged, passion-driven, answer-seeking, opinion-sharing debates.

In a field where I spend a lot of time thinking through how best to reach the public, develop key messages that resonate, and identify strategies and tactics that will engage people in a permanent way, I found myself wondering what it was about “The Dress” that captured the attention of millions around the world in a matter of days…and got them talking. Was it the opportunity to engage in a heated, yet benign debate? Was it the inability to fully understand or explain a very strange experience? Was it just so fascinating (and funny) that people couldn’t let go of their color side?

I just don’t know. But public engagement and enthusiasm for moments like “The Dress”  do make me ask myself how we, as public health professionals committed to social change, can harness the power of this kind of phenomenon to advance our missions and inspire people.

The Salvation Army seems to have asked themselves the same thing. The South African branch of the Salvation Army, seizing on the frenzy of “The Dress” conversation, created an ad that repurposed “The Dress” debate by using it to bring attention to domestic violence. How powerful, if in only a weekend, we could get the world talking about a problem that, according to the Salvation Army’s campaign, one in six women are victims of.

The South African Salvation Army repurposed "The Dress" to bring attention to domestic violence.

The South African Salvation Army’s Domestic Violence Ad

That would be a conversation I’d like to follow. But sadly, at least in my online circle, the campaign hasn’t surfaced once. How about in yours?

2015: Our Year of Responsibility

Feb 24

As we move into 2015, I can’t help but reflect on the complexity and enormity of the issues we bring with us from 2014. More than 210,000 have now died in the ongoing conflict in Syria, more than 9,000 have died from Ebola in West Africa, and climate change continues to bring unpredictable damaging weather across the globe, displacing millions and damaging food sources.

These challenges, among many others, are not easily solved even by the most powerful governments or individual organizations.  Addressing these wide ranging issues will require all of us to dig deep and take action across all social levels – individual, communal, non-profit, governments, and private sector. From my perspective, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the ideal mechanism to bring all these parties to the table – leveraging the strengths of each sector to accomplish real change. At Ogilvy, we can play our part by encouraging our clients, and prospective clients, to adopt strategic CSR initiatives and help them tell their story. This means forming smart partnerships between private and public entities that result in thoughtful, sustainable programs that generate real value for the company and organizations involved as well as society at large.

As I indulged in my guilty pleasure of watching The Voice Season Seven grand finale last year, I came across a CSR initiative that showcases a number of best practices for strategic CSR, Nissan’s Red Thumb campaign. Mid-way through the show, Adam Levine, one of the show’s celebrity judges and lead singer of Maroon 5, took the time to promote the Red Thumb movement and proudly waived his thumb on screen (along with the show’s entire audience) marked  by a red rubber band.

Two thumbs crossed over each other, one thumbnail is painted red

The campaign, inspired by EVB advertising’s Steve Babcock’s program “Red Thumb Reminder,” aims to combat the dangerous practice of texting while driving. According to the US Department of Transportation, cell phones are responsible for as many as 1.6 million car crashes annually. “Red Thumb” draws inspiration from the old-time trick of tying a string around one’s finger as a reminder for something. The campaign appeals to drivers to mark their thumbs red (using whichever creative strategy inspires you) as a visible reminder not to text while driving.

Nissan’s Red Thumb campaign meets a number of key criteria that are important to consider when designing a strategic CSR initiative, including:

  • Select a topic that aligns with the brand: CSR is truly strategic when the selected issue is clearly relevant and aligns with the brand’s purpose and values. When the connection between the brand and the issue is weak, the CSR initiative is less effective and appears less genuine. In this case, there is a strong connection between Nissan’s purpose, producing quality cars to enrich people’s lives, and the targeted issue, texting while driving.
  • Establish relevancy to your target stakeholder: Texting while driving is a problem that impacts one of Nissan’s core consumers, young adults. Thirteen percent of drivers ages 18-20 involved in car wrecks admit to using their mobile devise at the time of the crash. By addressing an issue of real concern and relevancy to its consumers, Nissan can establish an emotional connection with its consumers and increase brand loyalty.
  • Actively engage your target audience: There are a number of ways for consumers to engage with the campaign and join the Red Thumb “movement.” Consumers are encouraged to post pictures of their “red thumbs” using the handle #redthumb on social media to demonstrate their support for the campaign. Consumers can also stop by participating Nissan dealerships to pledge not to text and drive as well as win a chance to tailgate and attend the Season 8 finale of The Voice. To date, more than 4,800 have made the pledge in addition to 26,345 mentions of #redthumb on social media. The unique trademark of the campaign, the red thumb, creates a fun, easy, popular way for people to engage with the campaign, making it more likely for them to change their behavior.
  • Tap Influencers: Half the battle in achieving behavior change is increasing awareness around benefits of the new desired behavior. Nissan achieves this by collaborating with popular celebrity musician, Adam Levine. By lending his voice to the cause, Levine is able to reach his wide fan base and legitimize the problem. Using a celebrity spokesperson also provides the campaign with unique opportunities to cut through the clutter of other messaging (e.g. promoting the campaign on The Voice finale viewed by over 12 million viewers).

Two key areas where I think the campaign could be strengthened:

  • Collaborate with subject matter experts: Nissan has partnered with NBC and The Voice on this initiative to help spread the word about this important cause. However, the campaign would be further strengthened by also partnering with an organization that can contribute expertize in the areas of auto-safety or behavior change, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who leads the “Parents are the Key” teen driving safety campaign. Such a partner would also lend further credibility to Nissan as a leader in the prevention of texting and driving.
  • Further differentiate from competitors: Other car brands, such as Toyota’s TeenDrive 365, are also tackling driving safety with a focus on younger drivers. While Nissan is specifically focusing on driver safety related to phone use, the message does not particularly differentiate Nissan from its competitors. While it’s important for Nissan to take a strong stance against unsafe driving practices as a leading car brand, it does not particularly differentiate the brand from its competitors. Identifying a completely unique initiative which other car brands have not addressed would provide Nissan with a more distinctive message through which to connect with its stakeholders.

As we take on 2015, ask yourself, how can you inspire your clients to build strategic cross-sector CSR partnerships that blossom into innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems?

Fresh off ABC, from an ABC

Feb 09

Last Wednesday ABC premiered its new comedy Fresh Off the Boat, the first American TV show to feature an all-Asian cast in 20 years. As an ABC, (American-Born Chinese) I waited for this show with great anticipation and understood the high stakes associated with its success, given how quickly All-American Girl was canceled in 1995. Essentially, this is a one-shot kind of deal before the lid on Asians in mainstream American media may be closed for another 20 years.

In fact, a lot of the coverage surrounding Fresh Off the Boat’s development, including commentary from Eddie Huang whose life the show is based on, focuses on the balance between providing an authentic portrayal, while still appealing to a non-Asian audience.

I felt the show’s pilot accomplished sharing a universal story of a family that moves to a new, foreign place and struggles to make the best of difficult situations. The difference is the added layers of discrimination specific to Asian immigrants and Asian Americans that are very in your face, and written for ABCs like me.

Asian actors posing as a TV family

[Image courtesy of ABC]

Is this focus too specific? Possibly, but this shouldn’t be a bad thing. Although Asian Americans are arguably a niche audience, it’s one to pay attention to because our market is almost completely untapped. Fresh Off the Boat is the first platform that offers Asians a voice in American pop-culture to tell our story. This is (hopefully) just the first story. My hopes for the show’s success are as follows:

  1. It stays on the air.
  2. It will open the door for Asians to enter mainstream American media outside of our minimal stereotypical roles as the mysterious martial arts guru, submissive geisha-like love interest, or overachiever nerdy sidekick.
  3. Through a strong Asian presence in mainstream American media, there will be a greater reason and opportunity for marketers to delve deeper into understanding these cultures, my culture, to create targeted campaigns.


As more and more Chinese immigrants enter the United States, this audience will only grow and become even more essential to target for business growth. Or, as Eddie Huang puts it, “Asians have money. You want their money, make things for them.”


Does Prevention Have an Expiration Date?

Jan 28

Jason Karlawish

Photo credit: New York Times

I just read Jason Karlawish’s article Too Young to Die, Too Old to Worry.   Karlawish uses singer Leonard Cohen as a way to tee up a very compelling question: “When should we set aside a life lived for the future and, instead, embrace the pleasures of the present?”  Cohen celebrated his 80th birthday this past weekend, apparently by recommencing his smoking habit with a celebratory cigarette.  His argument –at 80, he is too old to worry about the health risks.

All of the health risks of secondary smoke and the impact on others around him aside, this act and attitude gave me pause.  My inner public health zealot immediately came up with multiple reasons why this was a ridiculous excuse to light back up – there are NO good reasons to ever light up in my heart of hearts.   However, the rest of the article went on to explore the deeper question of when or at what age risk reduction becomes unnecessary or ineffective.  Given all of the prevention messages we are exposed to throughout life (or that we, as public health professionals, are disseminating), is there a time where we should pursue not just living, but also happiness?

With the vast population of boomers aging into their senior years, we will likely see this question being asked more frequently.  We have more active and vibrant senior populations than ever – largely due to the advances in medicine; knowledge regarding the importance of prevention; and behaviors that result from that knowledge.  Still, at what point will these audiences grow fatigued with all the preventive efforts, and adopt Cohen’s philosophy of living in the present?   Will the tide shift overwhelmingly toward that philosophy, reaching a tipping point? And will it then start to ebb younger and younger, in a backlash to our current preventive efforts?   What may happen is still yet to be determined… until then, we each may want to give more thought to the question of at what point happiness becomes more important than prevention.   The answers may be telling.


Some Mo-tivation and Mo Wisdom – A Style Guide on Movember and More

Jan 15

When I moved in 2010 to Washington, DC, I noticed a “growing” trend that was sweeping the nation – Movember. Since then, the Movember movement keeps strong and as I commuted to work this past November, I saw the ‘staches sprouting prominently across men’s (and some women’s) faces. On December 1, participants begrudgingly woke up and the razor won the war.  Except for those who discovered they like their new look and are putting on an encore for all of us lucky onlookers. I do my part by giving them the disapproving, “no, you are not Burt Reynolds or Tom Selleck or The Swedish Chef” glance (the latter being my favorite by far).


Now that faces are clean again, the question remains: did the power of the ‘stache really impact the testicular cancer world?  Today, about 8,820 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed in 2014 in the United States[1]. Now wrapping up its’ tenth year, the Movember 2014 Annual Report estimated $24.8 million raised in the U.S. and $136.6 million globally during the 2013 campaign[2]. Since 2003, Movember has raised $559 million dollars. This would be considered by most a hugely successful campaign. I don’t think anyone can argue this is a BAD idea for drawing the public’s attention and raising critically important research funds– it is a catchy way to battle a worthy cause. Like the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS, it branded a disease in a fun, interesting, light-hearted way without delving into the heaviness of the reality.  Eventually we need to see reductions in death from testicular cancer as a result of early detection.  Raising money can’t be the ultimate goal.  Movember needs to be saving lives, and now that it is a phenomenon, it can start to have that kind of impact.

So how do we shed a light on other not-so-sexy (that is, if you want to call testicular cancer sexy) causes?  Everyone would love to come up with that million-dollar baby that catapults an issue into the spotlight. But allow me to let you in a little secret – Movember was no accident, it took careful planning and some brilliant moustache-loving freaks to give birth to this phenomena.

Here are some personal insights on other case studies and my general musings that could perhaps serve as basic building blocks to your next earth-shattering idea:

  1. Mo’ Money, (potentially) Mo’ Problems: We saw a couple years ago with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure/Planned Parenthood controversy, your brand is only as good as your people. There was a huge backlash from the decision to defund Planned Parenthood, which was spearheaded by the then-VP of public affairs Karen Handel and chief executive and founder, Nancy Brinker (both of which resigned and stepped down into a more behind the scenes role, respectively). Despite being a reputable, well-funded organization, this decision was a PR nightmare by any standards. Susan G. Komen wasn’t careful when considering their audience and had some major brand rebuilding to do.
  2. Wait, what? Don’t make it more confusing than it has to be. Not a single person in the room should walk away not understanding what you’re aiming for. You have to keep the campaign simple for people to catch on. In the words of every Marketing 101 professor out there, remember KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid! Literally, these campaigns started on the premise of asking men to grow a moustache or dump a bucket of ice-cold water over their heads. This is NOT complicated.
  3. Heeeey, you guuuuys! The simplicity of the calls to action also lends itself to different interpretations, thus segmenting the brand without your having to do anything at all. Think about how many moustaches you saw in November – the handlebar, the regent, the box car, the connoisseur, and many more (click here). Also – the iconic black moustache is popping up on companies’ branding like Wheaties and Aer Lingus Airline. The versatility of the brand should be able to easily cross over into different mediums and audiences.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr.com.

    Photo courtesy of Flickr.com.

  4. Bueller? Bueller? One strategy we are seeing time and again is the power of CROWD SOURCING. Who doesn’t want to see their man comb his upper lip proudly for 30-days straight followed by the only time of the year he will willingly post a #selfie? Driving engagement through audience participation is a solid way to create the sociability aspect and produce a viral campaign.
  5. Tap, tap, – Is this thing on? Don’t ever underestimate the power of humor…or getting weird. The bandwagon effect or fear of missing out are powerful triggers for helping people get on board with an idea. If other people are getting weird with the idea, you can too! And do it better! People respond to humor, particularly when we’re talking about a very uncomfortable issue.  Of course, this has to be done with good taste, as well.
  6. One is the loneliest number. The ONE campaign came under fire in the press in 2010 when the organization revealed that they were only donating about one percent of their funding to actual charities and mostly lining their own pockets (oops!). While this didn’t bode well for Bono, transparency is beneficial to any organization. Don’t overstate, just give the facts. Gaining trust and legitimacy upfront are essential for you and your brand.


There you have it – I hope we continue to find ways to reach broad audiences on everything from testicular cancer to marriage equality. Raising awareness is the first step to helping a lot of people – even if it does mean picking crumbs out of your man’s ‘stache for a month.


Photo courtesy of socialfactor.com.



[1] American Cancer Society, What are key statistics about testicular cancer? February 11, 2014. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicularcancer/detailedguide/testicular-cancer-key-statistics.

[2] Movember Foundation, 2014 Global Annual Report. 2014. Financial Overview


Forging Connections through Storytelling

Jan 14

Over our holiday break, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel for ten days as a gift from Taglit-Birthright Israel. History, culture, religion, and nature intertwined to mold the perfect taglit (discovery, in Hebrew) of a newfound home away from home. We began our journey as a group of 40 Americans, and were joined by eight Israelis for the mifgash (encounter) portion of our trip. The word “encounter” does not do this experience justice, as our time together manifested in some of the most impactful memories from those ten days.

Graves in Mount Herzl CemeteryOne of the most moving experiences of our time with the Israelis was when we visited Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery. Our first two stops in the cemetery were the grave of Theodore Herzl and the Resting Place of Great Leaders of the Nation, the area reserved for Israel’s presidents, prime ministers, and other dignitaries. Though I knew of the great importance of the individuals buried there in those places, I admittedly felt a strange disconnect between the significance I could intellectualize and the level of emotion I was feeling. I reconciled that this was likely because I am not a huge history buff, and because the extent of my Jewish education stopped shortly after my bat mitzvah.

From there, we moved on to the portion of Mount Herzl dedicated to the Israel Defense Forces, where all soldiers are buried side by side regardless of rank. I thought about the dichotomy of beauty and sadness-one that was evident as we moved from one section to the next. My eye was constantly drawn to the ages marked on the graves…most in their early twenties.

We file into a row of graves and paused.  Amir, one of the Israeli soldiers on our trip, unfolded a piece of paper and waited for us to quiet down. He tells us the story of his friend, Oz Tzemach, whose grave we stood in front of. We learn about Oz’s selfless personality, passion for learning, and love of sports. We learn about his determination to serve in the combat field, recruitment to the tank unit, and how he was killed at the age of 20 while helping others.

Stone on a Grave in Mount Herzl CemeteryJean Luc Godard, a famous film director once said, “Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form.” This quote epitomized the punch in the gut that I felt and unabashed stream of tears that rolled down my face while hearing about the Oz’s life and the lives of others, taken too soon. From this story came a newfound level of emotional connection between myself, Mount Herzl, and my Israeli peers.

Achieving behavior change or attitude shifts often requires cozying up dry hard facts with stories that touch the inner core of those we are trying to reach. The ability to intertwine this yin and yang of information into a compelling and effective story is an art form. An art form that is essential to our industry.

How do we make the leap from a face and name to a moving and memorable individual whose story strikes a nerve and evokes action with our audience? How do we transform background noise to information you cannot turn away from? Regardless of the method and end goal, it is essential to ask these questions at the forefront of strategy development. Without story supplementing our work, we miss out on key social and neurological connections that help our message hit home. Harrison Monarth writes, “Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”