May 11, 2020

LIVE or die: The next level of COVID-19 social marketing communications

LIVE or die: The next level of COVID-19 social marketing communications

By Joe Anatune

The flair for developing creative messages that translate marketing communications briefs into creative communication solutions that influence human behaviour remains a big challenge to advertising professionals. I have experienced many professionals struggle, muddle through and in the process cause much industry advertising spends go down the drain.

More often than not, the brief gives you the logic(strategy) of the desired communication; the why, how and what of the task. The real work is what I prefer to refer to as the ‘’magic”(the creative message) and I can bet, it is one of the primary reasons why organisations seek the services of advertising agencies. The magic is a fine blend of science, arts and sheer inspiration. It is the emotional connection to the hopes and fears of the audience you are targeting. It can be a fascinating or exacting work (depending on your talent and passion) that tasks one’s ability to pass information through visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory and gustatory systems.

Research has proven that human behaviour is driven more by emotions than reason. Let us illustrate.

Following a research finding that fingered men as equally responsible for the birth boom in Britain in the 1970s, a young Iraqi-British Jew copywriter, Charles Saatchi, was given the brief to develop a creative solution by the population control department. Charles, who was at the time, running a creative hot shop with his designer partner came up with the concept of ‘the pregnant man’ which creative execution admonished a mocked-up pregnant man to be more careful in his nuptial demands, especially after bouts of drinks in the pubs, by imagining the pains he would experience if he were to carry the pregnancy for nine months. The campaign drastically reduced unplanned births just as his campaign for the Conservative Party tagged “Labour is not working” changed electoral fortunes of the party during the Margaret Thatcher years.

Nearer home, the ‘’Andrew” campaign for brain drain generated a lot of buzz but failed to reverse the issue because the nation offered nothing to those who stayed behind. Within the cause marketing field, we can still recall the ‘’Zip up” campaign for the demarketing of behaviours that lead to contracting the once feared and deadly HIV/AIDS. I am sure many adults will still recall with glee, the ‘’MKO is Our Man”, SON’s ‘’No Paddi for Jungle” or NAFDAC’s “Shine your Eyes.” At the product category, I cannot forget how a campaign execution done for the now rested ambitious AVOP vegetable oil brand with the tagline – “Avop na beta cooking oiloo, Avop e de make chop sweetoo” became a hit at nightclubs and parties, especially when the DJs wanted to herald the commencement of refreshments.   The common feature in the above examples is their inbuilt capacities to exploit the emotions of their audiences, supported by solid substantiations to elicit or ignite changes in human behaviour.

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As we move into the next stage of the war against COVID-19, there is need to change gear to a new set of communications cocktails. There is also need to search for one Big Idea that drives and unites all the talking points of the communications using our local experiences, folklores, nuances and associations that can connect with our people at the subconscious level. The ultimate goal will be for such executions to contribute to the mitigation of the pandemic and set Nigerians free to go back to their various endeavours.

If I were to lead the creative team, I will charge them to tell the people to strictly follow the NCDC protocols as they make their living. Then, I will challenge them to find the magic which will be simple, make you to express surprise that you haven’t thought up such everyday idea and imbue an uncontrollable smile on your face.

Our well-considered professional opinion is that the communications dished out at the lockdown stage dwelt predominantly on public education and were in the main, rational propositions. At the rational level, we only but open up to equally compelling rational arguments. Yes, staying safe and at home is good but the counter-argument is – is it on empty stomach? You see, this Nigerian you are talking to, is not a moron. This is human nature; always searching for excuses or always guarding never to be caught pants down. But simply say ‘’I am sorry’’ in an argument and you take the wind off your traducer. Our commercial drivers in Lagos understand this human psychology. If you doubt, give them the opportunity to bash your vehicle.

No doubt, the communications thus far have not appealed to any human motives and therefore, come short of memorability and lacks the bite or impact. So the repetitions of the desirable behaviours sought have been largely left to enforcement by the security agencies. We have seen how the overwhelmed security personnel were literally up creek with a paddle.

Our pitch therefore, is that as we enter the next stage where lockdown incrementally eases, there will be more or less individual responsibility for prevention of the virus. It is imperative that Boss Mustapha and his team who have been doing magnificent works should effect a major change in the COVID-19 communications by developing a homegrown Big Idea that can hit Nigerians simultaneously at the subconscious state and emotional levels, and make them to take charge to LIVE OR DIE. And believe me, many of us will choose to live when we get the drift.

*Anatune, a communication consultant, wrote from Lagos.