When Marketing Backfires

A recent study published by Dr Sara Evans-Lacko of LSE Research found a public service campaign against smoking has had the opposite effect than what was intended. The study revealed that by stigmatizing smoking, the campaign made "it harder for people to quit because they become angry, defensive and the negative messages lead to a drop in self-esteem." All of these emotions discourage the effort to change the habit.

One item the study seemed to miss is the self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to quitting. Most everyone with half a brain knows smoking isn't good for you and has long-term, negative health implications. The campaign for informing the population of the negative consequences of smoking has been effective. And yes, society shames individuals in various ways when it comes to being a smoker. However, a lot of campaigns have a large focus on how tough it is to stop smoking once the individual is hooked. Making the process seem extremely difficult to attain a goal is a huge discouragement for people when it comes to a lot of things; losing weight, getting a higher degree, paying off debt. 

While marketing a solution, one of the best strategies is to show people how easy it can be. When people are convinced that they can achieve a goal, the likelihood of them actually getting there is almost guaranteed. A study by Robert Rosenthal in the 1960's showed how labeling some students of similar IQ levels as "ready to bloom" had a marked effect on IQ gains. 

In campaigns designed to influence people to become better human beings, either for themselves or to their communities, the rule should be to shy away from emphasizing the negatives. Certainly, trying to scare or shame people doesn't work. That's not to say people shouldn't be informed of how they are harming themselves, it just shouldn't be the focus. Making people think a goal is harder to achieve is counter productive at best. Inspiring people to believe in themselves and think they actually can achieve their goals needs to be the strategy. 

-Ray Currid