Sunday, July 13, 2008

Advertising That Saves Lives

The knee-jerk reaction from many people is that advertising's true "product" is manipulative persuasion that "sells me things I don't need or want or can't really afford." One of my colleagues at USF once made a remark about "how dirty advertising really is." No, I didn't cold cock him, I pretended I didn't hear. But I'll remember it for a long time. The academy does have it's petty side.

This morning's Sunday New York Times features an article, Warning, Habits May Be Good For You by Charles Duhigg. It includes a case study on how marketers study human behavior seeking two linking insights - a product insight to a consumer insight* - in this case, finding "habit" or behavior that would persuade African parents to encourage washing with soap to prevent common, but sometimes deadly, childhood diseases. Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever all cooperated in a public-private program that seems to be working in Ghana. Note that the core of the Ghana campaign is based on emotion - disgust - rather than logical appeals.

There's also a nice parallel discussion of the P&G product Febreze and its relaunch in America.

Says anthropologist Dr. Val Curtis, “For a long time, the public health community was distrustful of industry, because many felt these companies were trying to sell products that made people’s lives less healthy, by encouraging them to smoke, or to eat unhealthy foods, or by selling expensive products people didn’t really need. But those tactics also allow us to save lives. If we want to really help the world, we need every tool we can get.

* Ad researcher Lisa Fortini Campbell calls this link "The Sweet Spot."