Two of the books that appear among my “Recommended Reads” are there because they discuss a subject and process that is rarely reflected in the work of social marketers and health communicators. While we all profess to the canon of identifying and understanding our target audiences, the audience research that is conducted to build a foundation for the program often misses the mark. The reason why is described from the perspective of the Account Planner in Truth, Lies and Advertising and the Creative Director in Then We Set His Hair on Fire. BTW – two positions you rarely see on social marketing and health communication “teams” unless advertising agencies are involved in the project.
Jon Steele sets out to demonstrate that The best and most effective advertising [read ‘social marketing/health communications’] is that which sets out to involve consumers, both in its communication and in the process of developing its message. He views the account planner’s role as not just the person responsible for “embracing” consumers in the process (rather than shepherding them into focus group rooms), but using their input to inform and inspire the entire creative process and then guide and validate the resulting campaign. You might think of the planner as the formative and process research guru who knows how to think and talk in creativese. Jon’s key point, and one that we practiced at Prospect Associates religiously (as many of our clients can attest to), was the use of research to reach a creative brief. And that research had to be focused on one objective: uncovering a consumer insight that informs all aspects of the communications and marketing program. For example, in the truth® campaign, the essential audience insight is described in their identity brochure as:
truth® taps into the natural rebel in most teens and alerts them to the misleading marketing tactics of the tobacco industry, encouraging teens to be wary consumers that resist this deadly product.
Note that the insight does not explicitly describe marketing
strategies or communication tactics. What it does provide is a transformative platform for creative people
to tackle preventing tobacco use among youth. It immediately shifted not just this campaign, but many similar efforts,
once and for all from preaching the dangers of tobacco smoking to pointing out the evils of
the tobacco companies in a way that enhanced personal relevance and
inclinations and behaviors to not smoke among the priority audience.
What sets this approach to audience insight apart from more traditional approaches to audience 'understanding' is (a) the “rules” for conducting audience research aren’t followed [and you know what they are!], (b) the questions are posed to get audience input and not confirmation of planners’ opinions, and (c) the results are analyzed by people looking for insights - not means, modes and medians [and you know who they are too!].
However, striving for insight that informs creative program development and actually achieving it are two different things. Compare this statement with the one from truth® and then think about which creative director you’d rather be.
Messages for tweens should focus on helping tweens discover their passion. Tweens are engaged by messages of self-discovery and seeking out their identity. Both involved and uninvolved youth are attracted to self-discovery messages and, more importantly, want to feel good about themselves. Involvement in activities must be positioned as a vehicle for self-discovery and self-esteem enhancement. Additionally, the idea that everyone is good as something will be an important motivational message for uninvolved youth with lower self-esteem.
Next: a view from the director’s chair.