No, this blog is not about political parties or government. This blog is about persuasion. It is about how a public policy initiative can be made effective by branding.
Brand is ALWAYS a purposeful reflection of the end user. The world’s most powerful brands help us reinforce our own perceptions of who we think we are. They act as a means of self-expression. When we create a persuasive brand, we look for an emotional intensity that is important to the target audience we need that brand to influence— something that the target covets about their own self identity or, conversely, one they associate with their greatest fear. Either way, focusing on this intensity makes the brand’s message important. It creates a bond with the audience that they cannot ignore.
Often times, we ignore this brand science with public policy. We focus on the rational reasons for acceptance and adoption. It is also commonplace to mistake rational reasons with emotional triggers.
I think we can find a great example of this in the public policy initiative aimed at influencing young people to refrain from smoking. The goal of these initiatives is to try to influence new, underage children from taking up the smoking habit, which is universally understood as an important health risk that leads to addiction and disease.
The policy goals are executed in advertisements that document the horrific and disfiguring effects of the cancers that smoking causes. We think these are emotional images. However, there is a difference between freakish and ghoulish images and the emotional reasons teens turn to smoking.
These images actually reinforce some of the beliefs held by this impressionable group of young people. When they self-define themselves, they talk about living dangerously. They see recklessness as an aspirational individual value. They like to pretend to live in the moment, embrace danger and seriously consider themselves a little bit self-destructive. Showing ghoulish images only reinforces that rebel label.
Youth has always struggled with insecurity and difficulty in finding a meaningful place in society. These are, in fact, the highest emotional intensities and are the keys to changing behavior.
Think for a moment about how smoking is a position statement to their peers. It is meant to speak boldly to their compatriots that they are grown up and rebellious.
Instead of showing cancer-ravaged smokers, the brand should take a different track. Let’s speak the truth about the reasons young folks start smoking. They are insecure about their own place and smoke to tell others who they are.
The public policy brand should grab that idea and BRAND it. Let’s tell would-be smokers that their peers see them as insecure and needing an artifice to prove how grown up they are. It would not take long to stamp out this habit if it carried the BRAND of insecurity and immaturity. These are scarier values to the immortal teen than the far off future of disfiguring and deadly cancer.