Saskatchewan Ministry of Health Misses the boat…again?

In March of 2010 this was posted to the Nudge blog, explaining why social norms are a proven method to curb binge drinking among teens.  The post features an advertisement from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health attempting to use guilt and shame to convince teens not to drink.  The other example is from the National Institute of Social Norms campaign at Georgetown University.  From this case study you can read about it’s effectiveness.

The same day of the Nudge blog post, Advertising Age published this article on a study done at Northwestern University.  Using guilt or shame can actually influence the intended audience to take part in more of that behavior, says Kellogg marketing professor Nidhi Agrawal;  “People who are already feeling guilt or shame resort to something called “defensive processing” when confronted with more of either, and tend to disassociate themselves with whatever they are being shown in order to lessen those emotions.”

It didn’t bother me much knowing that the Ministry of Health did that one set of ads, but to my astonishment they are producing more and now short videos too?  The new campaign is titled: “What else got wasted?” Well it appears your marketing budget was.

Just because you “think” it’ll be an effective campaign doesn’t make it true, the proof is in the research and there is plenty out there.

Please, comments are welcome.

3 replies
  1. Chelsea
    Chelsea says:

    I just watched all of the videos and it appears as though the 30 second ads are actually targeted at the parents, not the kids. They are holding the parents responsible for what happens to their teens if they supply them with alcohol.
    On the other hand the 15 sec ads are directed at teens. Unfortunately, no matter who they are targeting I also think they missed the boat in both messages. I also don’t think that they need all the research to figure that out. I understand the message they are trying to deliver, and I actually like the idea of “what else got wasted” but I think a campaign that involved delivering a message without having to state the actual words could have been more effective and potentially prevent that “defensive processing”.
    On a side note… I know the kid who gets the ping pong ball into the cup.

  2. David Bellerive
    David Bellerive says:

    Jeph, having worked on the campaign, I would like to respond.

    Truthfully, the campaign is based on social norms marketing. Just not the social norm you are referring to. The Ad Age and Nudge articles refer to a binge drinking campaign. This campaign is targeting underage drinkers.

    While it would be great for us to say fewer people are drinking than you would think, the opposite is true. More children are drinking than you would think. And the issue has two clear audiences.

    Denormalizing alcohol to an underage audience must at some point involve a conversation with the parents. Unfortunately, it has become the norm in this province to supply alcohol for graduation. One part of the campaign is aimed at parents – “if you supply your kids with alcohol, you are responsible for the consequences.”

    We had great discussion about whether to say that x% of parents don’t supply alcohol to their kids, but the numbers aren’t very favourable. And parents justify the behaviour by saying “at least I know what they’re doing.” Our approach was, it’s illegal, there’s no safe amount.

    The Georgetown campaign applauds and publicly declares that the majority of University students do not drink as much as they think.

    What happens though when the norm is students are drinking? There is still a case to be made for asking the underage students to consider, “what else got wasted?”. In fact, it was a powerful approach in the research.

    In his book YES, psychologist Robert Cialdini examines how this type of marketing can work.

    “For the most part, research has demonstrated that fear arousing communications usually stimulate the audience to take action to reduce the threat. ”

    Cialdini also highlights the Georgetown campaign and applauds its success. What he doesn’t say is that one works better than the other. They can both have a place.

    In research Saskatchewan students revealed that consequences like herpes, unplanned sex and fighting were detterents.

    So, while I can accept that you don’t like the creative, I can’t accept that there is one magical answer to the problem. These are complex issues and will require a commitment of time, resources and ideas.

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