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Making positive change ‘stick’ for good – The Vital Ingredient

By February 26, 2015 Campaigns No Comments
Cartoon 'If you connect the measles, it spells my parents are idiiots'

What are the secrets to an effective social change campaign?

This question has been on our mind. It arose when we read about the latest debate over vaccination in the United States. Not every parent wants to protect their kids against measles. It beggars belief, right?

Both The New Yorker and Hilary Clinton weighed in. Yet, we know from promoting vaccination for the pharmaceutical company GSK that influential advocates alone will not change a sceptic’s mind.

And this month while walking along a beach at Selayar, Indonesia, where we’re promoting behaviour change among community leaders and coastal managers, we saw piles of plastic rubbish washed up along the coastline. The latest estimate reveals our oceans contain 16 bags of plastic for every metre of the world’s coastline. Indonesia and China are the two countries with the worst record on plastic pollution.

So the challenge of change for good is a conundrum, whether you’re trying to improve the health of people in the world’s richest nation or reduce the impact of human activity on coastlines in a developing country.

What are the secrets to making change?

Secret #1:  Be controversial.

A clue can be found in the world-renowned media road safety campaigns of our client, the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), which have lowered the death toll on Victorian roads since the 1970s. Campaign slogans, such as If you drink and drive, you’re a bloody idiot, have become part of the Australian vernacular. The use of a truly, colloquial swear word, such as bloody – accompanied by confronting depictions of road death and trauma – have made the TAC message provocative and memorable.

Secret #2:  Tap into emotion.

Yet another insight comes from our work on the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority’s Winter Fire Safety Campaign. A strong element of this campaign was the visual aspect. We used imagery to build empathy for our case. Since the time of Aristotle, pathos (emotional), together with ethos (credibility) and logos (rationale), has been a communication technique used to win hearts and minds.

Secret #3: Get the timing right.

Positive change often comes down to timing. People need to be ready. The best social awareness campaign in Australia during the past year has been about domestic violence. A series of lethal assaults on women, punctuated by the death of 11-year-old Luke Batty at the hands of his father, provided the tragic context for a groundswell of community support and engagement on the issue of domestic violence. This included the advocacy of police, the naming of Luke’s mother Rosie as Australian of the Year, a high-profile taskforce in Queensland and a Royal Commission in Victoria.

Secret #4: Address the barriers.

Another clue comes from the planning we did on behalf of VicRoads for the Intoxicated Pedestrians project. The objective was to make people aged 16 to 39 aware of the danger of walking while intoxicated. No amount of marketing will lower the death and injury rate if walking is the only option for getting home. The availability of other options, such as taxis and public transport, and the involvement of bar owners and local councils are essential for convincing people to change what they consider low-risk behaviour.

Secret #5:  Keep it personal.

A final insight comes from The University of Queensland’s Triple P –Positive Parenting Program®, with whom we’re working on theCapturing Coral Reef & Related Ecosystem Services Project in Indonesia and the Philippines. Triple P is a parenting and family support system designed to prevent – as well as treat – behavioural and emotional problems in children and teenagers.  Now operating in 25 countries, Triple P gives the example of a parenting program in Ireland where the single biggest predictor of success is “peer referral”.

…And while we’re on the subject

As a proudly-certified B Corporation we’re keen to use the power of business to change things for the better. In addition to our work supporting positive change we’ve been out doing some social good.

Last month we participated in Cooking for a Cause with OzHarvest, Australia’s leading food rescue charity. OzHarvest collects quality surplus food, distributes it to people in need and diverts food waste from landfill.

And, on a personal front, senior consultant Sarah Kulman is raising money for development agency Oxfam as an entry in the 2015 Oxfam Trailwalker – 100km (60 miles) in 48 hours. You can support her effort here.

Now that you’ve heard what we’re thinking and what we’ve been doing, we’d love to hear from you.

Yours in anticipation,

Mark Paterson

*Cartoon source: The New Yorker

About Mark Paterson

Mark’s first job was milking cows. An award-winning career in journalism followed. These days when he's not trying to save coral reefs in Indonesia, dreaming about playing tennis on the Masters circuit or raising three kids in a blended family he thrives on consulting work that connects profit with people and planet. The son of corgi breeders, Mark would like to change the world for the better. Read more posts by Mark.

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