Selling Change

To be continued…

And so my exploration into the world of social marketing ends…for the blog at least. We understand what social marketing is, and we’ve seen the good and the bad. I am grateful that we’ve seen more good than bad. Social messages have to be told in a compelling way, and, thankfully, they often are. I believe the higher quality stems from the fact that their messages are strong. The desire to help others or be better people is innate within us, so these marketing messages speak straight to our hearts.

I also found, through this study, a new passion for marketing behavioral change. How noble is it to be able to shape and change society for the good of all? How exciting! I want to be a part of this. I want to contribute. I want to be able to look back years from now, after I’ve established myself in the social marketing field, and say “Ah, that’s the blog where it all began.” I want to sell change in order to change the world.

Sex Sells Social Change

This print ad, published just this month, was created by AIR in Brussels, Belgium for CAP48, a leading nonprofit working for the integration of handicapped people. It states:

"Look me in the eyes…I said the eyes.

So that the handicap is no longer a handicap.”

This ad, although produced for a country the size of Maryland, has garnered international attention. It drives the point, through a powerful visual and creative copy, that we all must grow up and get over seeing the disability. We have to quit staring. Because obviously the person is so much more than the handicap. While I am uncertain how much public attitude and behavior changed due to this ad, the U.K. Daily News reported that CAP48 raised 10% more than last year in its annual telethon that was held after the publication of the ad.

Also interesting is how the print ad parodies or mimics an earlier Wonderbra ad:

In a way, both push-up bras and equality can be sold through a beautiful woman.

- African-American :30 PSA

Targeted Messages

To delve deeper into this blog’s subject matter, I wanted to examine some radio spots. I went to UT’s radio station, KVRX, to get some examples of PSAs they might run on their programs. The one above I found particularly interesting.

This campaign by the US Department of Health and Human Services, entitled “Maybe,” promotes parents talking to their young children about sex. It encourages listeners to visit their (poorly designed) website, They distributed a CD containing six spots to various radio stations around the country. What’s interesting to note about these spots is how they are available in different versions. First of all, and understandably, the spots are available in :30 and :60 second spots. This allows the radio station to easily fit them into whatever time slot they have available at the moment.

In addition, the :30 and :60 messages are available in three different versions targeting different audiences. There is one for “General” use, one for “African-American” use and one for “Hispanic” use. In all three versions, the same script is used. But in the African-American one, the majority of the voices are those of young black children. And in the Hispanic version, the spot is in Spanish.

The same message, just changed slightly, can make a difference by targeting different groups of people. Whether this change is noticeable or effective, especially between the general and African-American version, I couldn’t say.


I also interviewed the KVRX traffic manager, Travis Bubenik, about the PSA process. He said that “basically…our advertising department gets them in, sends them our way, and we put them into our automation system.” When asked about how they select certain PSAs to air and disregard others, he claimed that most of that decision-making falls under the advertising department. However, he said, the traffic office occasionally receives PSAs that they enjoy, and thus they tend to play them more. He cited a recent Smokey the Bear PSA about not smoking cigarettes in the woods that they really liked. It got more air time than other spots just because it was a good spot and KVRX arbitrarily chose it.


4 years ago / Played 0 times

Don’t Drink and Drive - Campaign Featuring Jaqueline Saburido

For my Branding for Nonprofits class we had two account executives from Sherry Matthews visit and discuss this well-known anti-drinking and driving campaign for the Texas Department of Transportation. It was an incredibly interesting class in which we examined the history of the campaign and what the next phase is. We gained insight into the making of such an impactful integrated social marketing campaign. 

On the night of September 19, 1999, Jaqueline Saburido was struck by an 18-year-old drunk driver right outside of Austin. Two of her fellow passengers died, two suffered minor injuries, and Jaqueline’s feet were trapped under the car seat while the car burst into flames. She amazingly survived but suffered second and third degree burns to over 60 percent of her body. The drunk driver, Reggie Stephey, suffered minor injuries and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Jaqueline graciously allowed Sherry Matthews to turn this horrific accident into a cautionary tale. She saw the opportunity to spread an anti-drinking and driving message. Now she is the face of one of the most recognized campaigns. The video above is the most well-known spot. Much of the campaign hints at how there are some consequences even worse than death when it comes to drunk driving.

Now, 20 years later, Sherry Matthews wants to revamp the campaign to keep it current. They are currently developing a teaching kit to distribute to middle and high schools. The AEs who visited showed us new pieces (a video series and three posters) they were developing. Now they were trying to focus on a sort of “where are they now” bit featuring Jaqueline and Reggie. An integrated website would show all different parts of the story more in-depth.

One interesting issue that came up as we were discussing the new pieces is that Reggie does not exhibit deep feelings of remorse. While the class decided that his perceived callousness may make it hard for potential drunk drivers to relate to him, we also concluded that perhaps he should be villified, a character that no one would want to be.

Jaqueline also did not talk as much in this new campaign about how hard it is for her to live like that. The new interview was not as emotional as ones in her past. The AE from Sherry Matthews touched on how this can be a difficulty in working with real-life cases. While their truth makes them compelling, you can’t just write out a script and produce the desired audience effect by design.

Still, this is a very strong campaign that has reached thousands, if not millions, of students. I remember seeing Jaqueline’s face in my high school’s halls. Here is a prime example of turning an awful situation into a lesson aimed at selling social change.

Agency Spotlight: Sherry Matthews

There are some terrific ad agencies that sell cheeseburgers, spark plugs and chewing gum. That’s not us. We exist for one reason: To give a voice to the causes that need them.

Sherry Matthews, an advocacy marketing firm located on South Congress, is a hard-hitting, effective agency that I would love to work for one day. The entire purpose of the agency is changing social behavior for the good of society—who wouldn’t want to sell that?

Their work (displayed on their website) can be broken down into four main “product” categories. These include the environment, transportation, health and education. Many of their campaigns are well-known, including Dump the Pump, a TV spot for Capital Metro featuring Willie Nelson, the claymation reindeer for holiday DWI prevention, Click It or Ticket and the famous Don’t Drink and Drive campaign featuring Jaqueline Saburido. We’ll explore this last campaign in the next post.

The Sherry Matthews “mascot” is a bulldog. I love that. In the nonprofit world, charity is often described as a puppy dog, while advocacy is described as a bulldog. One is heartwarming, the other tenacious. Both are man’s best friend, working to advance humanity.


Ok, so up till now we’ve been looking at successful social marketing campaigns and what makes them good. But let’s get a glimpse at the bad, shall we?

I present for your review this little gem from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. The anti-drinking and driving PSA is poor quality, along with a laughable script and even worse acting. The spot climaxes in the ambiguous headline “Had enough?”. Had enough what? Had enough alcohol to drink? Had enough of getting into drunk friends’ cars? Had enough of this annoying woman’s monologue? 

There is no clear message in this spot. There is no call to action. Are we supposed to make sure we don’t let our friends drive drunk, or are we supposed to make sure we ourselves never drive drunk? The lack of vision for this campaign is almost as bad as the lack of creative execution. Sure, they were probably running on a very tight budget. But a budget isn’t everything. Remember the awareness test video I posted earlier? That cost them little more than the rental of a bear suit. But, through creativity and a sticky message, it impacted the world.

Don't Watch These Alone at Night...

Today I stumbled upon AdFreak’s countdown of the “30 Freakiest Commercials of 2009,” and boy are they freaky. In fact, I was too chicken to watch many of them. Feel free to explore, you brave of heart. Beware bloody faces, ghost children and Hitler in bed.

But what I found interesting for the purposes of this blog, however, is that almost all of the ads are PSAs. Once you get past number 14 (Evian’s “Roller Babies”), all of the TV spots support a social cause aimed at changing behavior. In one ad, Keira Knightly is brutally beaten to raise awareness of domestic abuse in the UK. One commercial shows a girl (mis)treating her doll the way she herself had been treated by her parents. Not one, but two ads star a ghost child haunting the drunk driver who killed him or her. Not the most uplifting site you’ll ever visit.

Why is social marketing so freaky? AdFreak says that “their freaky means [are] apparently justified by humanitarian ends.” I believe that this also stems from a common practice in social marketing—the scare tactic. Most of these ads are not trying to sell a product, but trying to make you change a harmful behavior. One way to discourage harmful behavior is to show the negative consequences. And in these ads the consequences take freaky forms, such as a hideous creature called “doubt” that follows you after unprotected sex.

Social marketing plays by slightly different rules. Advertising for products or services is almost always happy. It most often shows the positive results of if you buy or use such-and-such. Social marketing, however, many times uses the reverse benefit approach. It shows the negative consequences of not doing such-and-such.  And sometimes the negative consequences are a little hard to watch.

My dad actually saw a news story about this TV spot a year or so ago, saved it on Tivo and had me watch it. It spoke that much to him. I think it’s a very powerful ad that conveys the dangers of not buckling up without being graphic. It’s very poignant.

What is truth?

Another incredibly successful social marketing campaign, truth®, is an example of speaking to the target market and meeting their needs, while still changing their behavior.

truth®, an initiative of the American Legacy Foundation, aims to discourage or end smoking by hitting adolescents ages 12 - 17. They found that 80% of smokers began smoking during these ages, so they work to prevent people in that age group from ever picking up the dangerous habit. But we’ve seen this before in our middle and high school halls—Here’s a grotesque picture of black lungs. Tagline: Don’t smoke. How is truth® able to resonate with this age group and achieve results?

First of all, they don’t provide them with a mandate of “Just say no.” They understand that their target market is rather rebellious. Just telling them not to do something will encourage them. Instead, truth® gives them something else to rebel against. The campaign tells them to fight the Tobacco Companies through an integrated campaign that exhibits the ways the companies market a deadly product.

It’s genius. Harness the independent and rebellious nature of teens and turn it against the cigarette producers. Provide them an outlet where they can belong and join the grassroots movement against Big Tobacco. It changes their behavior, while still meeting the consumers’ needs.

Article Review

"Scaling Social Impact Through Branding Social Causes" by Dr. Minette E. Drumwright and Mercedes Duchicela

My Branding and Integrated Communications for Nonprofits professor, Dr. Drumwright, is an expert on social marketing. She so graciously has allowed me to share her paper over the topic of social cause marketing on this blog, before the paper is even published. Thank you!

Drumwright and Duchicela examine what makes a social cause actually take hold and change behavior. To do so, they performed 24 “elite interviews,” or long interviews of key players in the area of social marketing.

The authors found that successful social causes share several characteristics, which I will share below:


  • The organization views itself as a convener of organizations and part of a team.
  • Credit is shared.
  • Collaboration occurs with strange bedfellows as well as the expected partners.


  • The cause must fit with the mission of the sponsoring organization.


  • The cause benefits from a separate, stand-alone brand name and identity without an organizational tie
  • The brand is an open source in which others are permitted to interpret and customize the brand for themselves


  • Messages are based on consumer insight derived from research and are relatively free of client restraints.
  • The message engages the heart.
  • The message is framed around commonly shared principles rather than around policy positions.
  • Messages that provide hope that a solution is possible play well.
  • Simple messages play well.
  • A compelling and portable visual is crucial.

Commercial Marketing Communication Approaches

  • A wide variety of communication approaches are integrated.
  • Generating viral/buzz/word of mouth marketing is important.
  • Effective spokespeople are used, many of whom are celebrities.

Grassroots Movement

  • A grassroots movement was seeded but not ceded. It is best to mobilize an existing field force.
  • Corporate partners with retail chains or operations in many geographical areas are helpful.
  • Headquarters guides the grassroots efforts, but the local organizations are given the latitude to customize and implement it.
  • Successful grassroots efforts create brand communities.

While we continue to explore social marketing, I believe this framework can be an effective rubric with which to judge social cause efforts.

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