Communicating change: advertisements

Reacting to climate change, giving up smoking, diabetes prevention – it is all the same really. We want people to change their behaviour to protect themselves. But habits are hard to change. Government messaging needs to be effective. Advertising dollars can be easily wasted. The discussion around COVID-19 advertising reminds us again, what does and does not work.

Anyone working in the traffic psychology area knows how hard it is to change driver behaviour. A major factor in the safety of vulnerable road users is the need to change our deeply ingrained car culture, so that drivers are protective of vulnerable road users.

What is a good advertisement?

A recent article in The Conversation discusses the effectiveness of advertising for encouraging Australians to get vaccinated, and the lessons learned apply to changing Canberra’s car culture, too. Government all to often falls back on informative campaigns. Decades of health research shows that these do not change people’s behaviour. Scare campaigns such as the “Grim Reaper” advertisement for aids (1987) is famous but not particularly effective. The Conversation promotes a different approach.

Australia’s new vaccination campaign is another wasted opportunity. The Conversation, 12 July 2021.

“For decades researchers have studied how advertising can influence people’s decision-making. A cornerstone contribution to this is the “hierarchy of effects model”, which suggests audiences go through both cognitive (rational) and affective (emotional) stages before they act (respond to the advertisement).

The most effective way to motivate behaviour is to blend the rational with an emotional message.

A good example of this is Singapore’s Get Your Shot, Steady Pom Pi Pi campaign.”

Australia’s new vaccination campaign is another wasted opportunity. The Conversation, 12 July 2021.

“Australia has a long tradition of fear appeals in public health campaigns. The most famous is the “Grim Reaper” advert in the 1980s. This campaign was certainly memorable, but the evidence from research in more recent decades about the effectiveness of fear-based messages is mixed. Studies show they don’t necessarily stimulate action.”

Australia’s new vaccination campaign is another wasted opportunity. The Conversation, 12 July 2021.

“Another good example of integrating rational and emotional appeals is New Zealand’s Ka Kite, COVID (“see you, COVID”) campaign. Though without the “star power” of the Singapore campaign, it features instantly likeable and relatable characters — including cheeky teens and jazzercise dancers — to emphasise the idea of ordinary Kiwis coming together to protect themselves and the community.”

Australia’s new vaccination campaign is another wasted opportunity. The Conversation, 12 July 2021.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Good

Singapore COVID-19 iGotMyShot advertisement, 2021

Singapore COVID-19 iGotMyShot advertisement, 2021

Bad

AIDS ‘Grim Reaper‘ Ad Campaign, 1987

AIDS ‘Grim Reaper‘ Ad Campaign, 1987

Ugly

Arm yourself campaign, Australian Government, 2021

Arm yourself campaign, Australian Government, 2021

If you don’t want to watch the Australian Government video, then read the following text.

A COVID-19 vaccine is your best defence, and our only way forward. Now’s the time to arm yourself, your family, your friends, your workmates, your community, someone you love. Find out when you can arm yourself and book your vaccination. Go to Australia.gov.au. Authorised by the Australian Government, Canberra.

Arm yourself campaign, Australian Government, 2021

Conservative Government

Governments tend to be conservative and play it safe. The paradigm is to be neutral and to provide a choice. Neither works effectively. Information does not change people’s behaviour. It was known in the 1950s that smoking was fatal, and decades of relying just on providing information had not stopped young people taking up smoking. The paradigm of choice fails, too. Psychology demonstrates it achieves the opposite: we are less likely to act.

Governments should not pretend to be neutral, rather policy should be driven by the preferred outcome. It is called the Nudge Effect. Nudge is a famous book by Sunstein and Thaler, based on the work of behavioural economics, which is better known in the UK and here in Canberra as behavioural insights, but is effectively the application of cognitive psychology for Government policy implementation.

The book Nudge presents findings that 85% of the population will choose the default given two choices. Organ donation is a good example. With an opt-out system around 85% of the population donate organs. With the opt-in system 85% do not. There are countries that have both systems so the outcome is easy to compare. The application of the nudge principle is that governments have the moral obligation to set the default in such a way as to achieve the best outcome for the population. There is usually plenty of evidence what the best outcome is. Achieving the changed behaviour for the bulk of the population is the actual problem. Governments should make policy decision for the greatest good.

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