A recent story in Ad Age discussed the US military’s involvement with a local ad agency in Afghanistan to develop culturally relevant advertisements in hopes of promoting and inspiring broad-based social change. The radio, TV, print and Outdoor campaign tackles three themes that emerged through focus group testing among Afghans during strategic and creative development. “Guardians” attempts to reframe the image of the Afghan army and romanticizes them as coming from a long line of protectors of the nation. “Governance” demonstrates that the future is in the hands of the Afghan people themselves. “Children” shows images of new babies and dramatizes the stark choices that can be made, for example, one headline says “Suicide Bomber. Or Doctor?”.
The hope is that this war-ravaged society, now rebuilding from years of devastation, will benefit tremendously in matters of life and death from positive social messaging that is steeped in their cultural norms and values. The goal is to change attitudes so that hopefully one day, wholesale behavioral change can be achieved.
Such momentous messaging offers a sobering reminder of the great responsibility we bear as social marketers. The Afghan example dramatizes the opportunity we have to develop communications that inspire change as we strive to reinforce society’s core values. The issues our nation faces, while not always as dramatic, are just as important in shaping our society. Whether it be encouraging healthy lifestyles, demonstrating fatherhood involvement, or teaching financial literacy, we are charting a path for social progress by raising awareness and educating the public.
It’s easy to lose sight of the transformative power our efforts possess; thus, it is all the more critical that we are constantly at the forefront of issues that arise in our society. It is through the campaigns that we create and the messages that we espouse that we are not simply mirroring, but are significantly influencing the core values at the base of our communities.
As we consider the gravity of telling Afghans the choices their children can make, we must ask how to most responsibly wield that power? What is the gauge we use to ensure the messages we communicate are the ones that will lead to change that is not only positive today, but that the implications of those behavior changes will be positive for the generations that will come after us?
These questions are not easy, but continuing to explore them is a necessary element toward responsibly impacting the world around us.