written by: Tsang Kin Fu, Kin

The history of social advertising or social marketing can be traced back to World War II, for example, “Loose lips sink ships” poster advised people to beware of unguarded talk [1]. The main purpose of social advertising is to promote socially accepted values with objective of bringing forth a positive change [2].

The types of social advertising include health, drug abuse, environmental, etc. All of them are efforts to solve societal problems which distinguish them from commercial advertisements: it is the idea to be advertised instead of just a product or paid services.

An abundance of social advertising usually evokes negative emotions in order to educate and generate attitude change among audience [3] as studies showed that fear appeals are effective [4].
However, social advertising faces its own problems. On the one hand, its aim to change people’s habits and values are difficult to achieve. On the other hand, it is usually produced by social institutions or non-profit organizations which cannot afford a great deal of money on advertising [5].
In order to find ways to achieve efficiency in social advertising, observations on several famous social advertising cases are summarized below for insights.
The first case is related to children obesity [6]. The study compared two advertisements in Italy and draw a conclusion that effective social campaigns should have four criteria. 1) Conciseness: messages have to be simple and short. 2) The simplicity of the situation: the settings of advertisement are familiar to the target audience. 3) The simplicity of the advertising text: texts should be linked with the images and repeated throughout the advertisement. 4) Model’s appeal: The advertisement should provide role model for children to learn from.
Moreover, both rational and emotional components are needed to attract attention from children for effective education. Advertisements only with emotional appeal do not work for change in behavior.
The second case is about young drinkers [7]. It shows a bad social advertising example which labeled young drinkers as isolated, problematic and dangerous.
The application of fear appeal obviously backfired. The message is neither convincing nor well-received by young drinkers. The study suggests the use of matter-of-fact harm reduction approach which focuses on the consequences of drinking rather than drinking itself .
Finally, the last case is about safe driving [8]. The study put forward a theory called Anchoring Point, which suggests that audience tend to adjust their response through if the context is framed with supporting information or statistics. For example, if an advertisement shows information about high mortality risk due to high-speed driving, then audience are more willing to change their behavior.
Against the backdrop of stringent resources for social organizations, I hope the above discussions could provide some useful insights on how to develop effective social advertisements for long term behavior change.
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loose_lips_sink_ships
[2] https://www.ukessays.com/essays/media/characteristics-of-social-advertising-media-essay.php
[3] https://julac.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=CUHK_IZ21799828360003407&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&context=L&vid=CUHK&search_scope=All&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,social%20advertisement&sortby=rank&lang=en_US
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22420109
[5] https://julac.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=CUHK_IZ21799828360003407&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&amp=&context=L&vid=CUHK&search_scope=All&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=default_tab&query=any,contains,social%20advertisement&sortby=rank&lang=en_US
[6] http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/YC-02-2017-00665
[7] http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/03090561111120028
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22420109
Photos: https://brightside.me/article/37-powerful-examples-of-social-advertising-355/