Cruel To Be Kind

Social marketing has contributed to huge shifts in American behavior. Thanks to social marketing ads, we litter less, smoke less, drink-and-drive less, smoke in others’ faces less, and wear seat belts more.

Most of these gains have been made by making us very uncomfortable. Does anyone remember the ad with the grandpa who is missing his grandson’s first steps because of a tobacco-related death? The Native American shedding a tear about the polluted lake? The cigarette smoke ingredients linked to rat poisoning? The good time Charlie’s mangled car and shattered lives?

We disliked these ads, but we remember them. While most commercial ads are designed to please, comfort and entertain, these social marketing ads made us shift in our seats and conjure up unpleasant images long after the actual viewing. These ads pushed us out of the comfort zone that was preventing us from changing. And thanks in part to these ads, and the policy changes the ads also supported, we did change. Dramatically.

That’s the historical context in which I view this British ad focused on a relatively new societal problem, texting and driving.

As the father of a beautiful eighteen year old who texts, drives and probably occasionally combines the two, I can’t watch this the whole way through.

But I’ll never forget it. This issue just became urgent to me. I won’t go another day without talking to my daughter about this, with this ad as a powerful visual aid. And having viewed this only once, partially, I bet it will pop into my head, and her head, many times when we hear the cell phone and its siren call.

As a social marketing professional, I think this goes too far. On the positive side, it is edgy enough to make it into the social media and news media, giving it considerable free exposure. But it pushes us so hard and so far that most sponsors wouldn’t have the courage to approve it, most stations wouldn’t air it for free (or maybe even at all), and many households wouldn’t let it into their homes more than than a few seconds. Those are problems that severely limit message exposure, so are not to be taken lightly.

But this ad is on the right end of the continuum.

On the other end of the continuum are ads like the seat belt ad being aired locally. It features a teenager with tragically saggy pants that expose his underclothing. Tee hee. It ends by making a parental style joke about needing a belt and drawing a parallel to seat belts. It is cute and entertaining enough from a parents’ perspective, though probably not from the perspective of the teen target market. More importantly, it leaves the viewers completely and utterly in their comfort zones, and leaves no lasting, searing and behavior-changing image in their brain.

I’m sure focus group participants, viewers and insiders tell the sponsor that they like this ad. And because it leaves us in our comfort zone, I’m sure it motivates very little change.

In social marketing, the ultimate question is not whether the ad causes entertainment and enjoyment. The ultimate question is whether the ad causes behavior change. Cheers to these Brits for having the guts to push their viewers in the right general direction.

– Loveland

As If the Debate Weren’t Enough…

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza notes today that in almost every state, Team Obama is massively outspending Team McCain PLUS the Republican National Committee and in so doing, forcing the McCainites to make tough choices about which battleground states to contest and to spend their finite money defending their own turf.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, Obama spent more than $20 million on television ads in 17 states including more than $3 million in Pennsylvania and more than $2 million each in Florida, Michigan and Ohio. McCain in that same time frame spent just $7.2 million in 15 states. Even when the Republican National Committee’s independent expenditure spending in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin is factored in (a total of $5.3 million), Obama still outspent the combined GOP forces by roughly $8 million in the last week alone

Cillizza notes that the air war is not confined to battleground states; in states like Virginia and North Carolina – which have voted Red since 1964 – Obama is pouring advertising in at a prodigious rate: In North Carolina, Obama spent about $1.5 million on television commercials last week while McCain spent only $137,000. In Virginia, Obama spent $1.6 million on ads last week while McCain and the RNC together only spent $909,000. Not surprisingly, perhaps, both states are now toss-ups in many pollsters’ calculations. accounting services fine

McCain Ad Exposes Cub Scouts’ Sex Ed Agenda

The McCain ad attacking Obama for promoting a bill that allegedly promotes sex education among Kindergarteners would be startling if it weren’t, as found, “simply false.” There were only a couple of minor problems discovered with McCain’s claims: 1) it wasn’t Obama’s bill and 2) it didn’t promote sex education.

According to, what the bill did do was allow for age appropriate materials to help kids know how to avoid being sexually abused. Parents who were uncomfortable with such discussion were allowed to opt-out.

In an age when nothing in politics outrages us anymore, maybe this ad needs to outrage us.

It particularly got under my skin, because the day I saw the ad, I was helping my son with his Bobcat badge. One of the requirements for achieving Bobcatdom was to talk through several “what ifs,” such as “What if you are in a public restroom and someone tries to touch your private parts? What do you do?” The answer, the Cub Scout handbook counsels, is:

“Yell “STOP THAT” as loudly as you can and run of out of the room as quickly as possible. Tell your parent, a police officer, a security guard or other adult (such as your teacher) what happened.”

This is the type of communication McCain labels “sex education.” But this is clearly abuse avoidance education, not sex education. And attacking people who support having these kinds of conversations with kids endangers kids.

By the way, in discussing these “what ifs” I learned that my son was alarmingly trusting and deferential about adults, even adults he doesn’t know. The ensuing conversation potentially could save him from great harm. Lots of things in politics are trivial, but the stakes on this issue are high.

As a PR dude, I fully understand this is a diversionary tactic to shift the debate from McCain’s pro-Bush record and agenda to “values” issues that, even when based on a shameless lie, traditionally favor Republicans. But as a parent, I can’t help but be disgusted by this one.

– Loveland

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On Pilin’ On Palin

There are so many message directions Obama could take on the whole Palin front. Troopergate. Experience. Earmark hypocrisy. Family demands. But sacrifice is the essence of strategy, so he should take a pass on all of those tempting messaging paths, so those issues don’t drown out his most compelling message — “change v. Bush 3.0.”

The Republicans need this to be a Small Election to win. Who is the biggest hero? Who has the thickest resume? Who is riskier? Who is most like you, Mr. and Ms. Swing Voter? If those are the questions on most voters’ minds on Election Day, Obama is toast. And if Obama comments on all of the issues swirling around Palin, he will be inadvertently framing up the election the way his opponents need it framed up.

The Democrats need this to be a Big Election to win. “Keep going in the same direction, or shake things up?” That’s the uber-theme that works best for them. If that is the question on voters’ minds on Election Day, Obama will win. To ensure that happens, he needs to stay away from all of the Sideshow Sarah issues, and hammer his central message repeatedly.

Though the concepting and production of this ad is as milquetoast as all of Obama’s ads have been, it is right on target strategically.

It takes a disciplined and mature leader to avoid taking the easy cheap shot in the heat of the battle. Believe me, going tit-for-tat feels mighty good. But so far Obama is remaining mostly on-message, and he needs to make sure his staff does so as well. The babies? Don’t go there. The trooper? Let the investigation do the work. Earmark hypocrisy? Not the issue that works for you. Experience? It’s a trap that will make you look patronizing, and it supports McCain’s central contention about the paramount importance of experience.

The point: It may feel good piling on Palin, but it’s self-defeating. Instead of taking the bait on those issues du jour, Obama need to keep his focus on the top of the ticket, and hammer home the “change versus more of the same” uber-theme.

— Loveland

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Blonde Bombshell

Do you really want to elect the black Britney Spears President? That line never appears in the copy for this ad, but the McCain campaign’s bizarre use of Spears and Paris Hilton images effectively make that the central question the ad poses.

This is an extraordinary ad. I can’t ever remember seeing a political ad that so directly accuses an opponent of being too shallow and stupid to merit election.

My reaction?

WhatEVER! I’m like, as if!! I’m so sure, they think that black Baldwin politics dude is like a total Betty? Barf me out, you gnarly betches!! Like, grody to the max. I’m like, yes we so can!!!

– Loveland

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Battle of the Bowlers

Senator Norm Coleman’s bubba bowlers are back, with a bite. This time, Norm has his acting troupe of faux Minnesontans scripted to slash his opponent, Al Franken.

With fresh news today that Franken still is tankin’, rapid response is required. Conventional political wisdom says Al Franken should change the subject back to the issues that poll best for him. I agree with that, but he should also a) candidly admit his own mistakes and b) expose the ridiculous way Norm is portraying Minnesotans. That core condescension ultimately may be the biggest vulnerability of Norm’s increasingly campy bowling series.

Maybe something along these lines would help people understand what is going on here:

Male Bowler #1: Hi, we’re not bowlers

Male Bowler #3: …but we play them on TV!

Female Bowler #2: You know, like the phoney bowler-actors scripted by Senator Norm Coleman in his cheesey little TV ads.

Male Bowler 3#. Norm and George Bush have been giving mongo tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens, so now Norm is trying to make it look like he’s in touch with Minnesotans like you.

Male Bowler #1: So I guess Norm thinks you Minnesotans talk like this (in the accent used on TV)

Female Bowler #2: …and look like this (using moronic facial expressions used in Coleman campaign).

Male Bowler #3: And only care about what is happening in the bowling alley, not what is happening in Basra. (as the other “bowlers” make more moronic faces in the background)

Female Bowler #2: Norm thinks Minnesotans only care about hockey, not the urgent issues impacting our kids and grandkids.

Bowler #1: Honestly, I gotta say, this Coleman guy of yours…must not think much of you guys.

Franken: I’m Al Franken. Look, I know my comedy isn’t for everyone. And I’ve made mistakes that I’m fixing. I’m far from perfect. But I approve this message, because I will never talk down to Minnesotans, and I will always, always shoot it to you straight.

The Frankenistas need to pull back the curtain on Coleman’s campaign. Franken is an unconventional candidate, and his only hope is to run an unconventional campaign.

– Loveland

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