Advertising has always fascinated me.
From the early days of Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” to Under Armour’s inspiring “Will Finds a Way,” commercial advertising regularly influences my understanding of the world around me.
This influence is exactly what intrigues me the most about advertising. It has the amazing ability to catch our attention, to make us feel an array of emotions, spark widespread buzz, and even shape our perceptions.
It really is a powerful tool. Which, of course, explains why advertising has been widely and successfully used by thousands of companies! And why it should be used as a powerful tool to create positive social change.
Here’s how to apply what makes commercial advertising work towards social change.
It gives us courage to try new things
Doing something new or different is daunting and scary. So when we ask audiences to adopt a new behavior or change existing ones, it can spark insecurities and make people feel alone in their change efforts.
Advertising can support our audiences by showcasing other people who are trying to adopt a new behavior, and by providing a clear pathway for how to make a change. Group cycling programs have been very effective at promoting how and when most people cycle, where the safest routes are, and creating comfortable ways for beginners to join.
In addition to supporting change, advertising can help make it seem exciting, interesting, fun, and cool! All of which gives people courage to take a risk and try something new.
It reminds us to take care of ourselves
When used in the right place and at the right time, ads can serve as helpful prompts and reminders to take care of ourselves. For example, placing ads that promote the ease, availability and benefits of flu shots in the pharmacy at the start of flu season prompts customers to do it on the spot.
With a growing ability to reach audiences in specific places and times, we can use advertising as helpful nudges and guide the audience to where and how they can take action. Whether it’s reminding people to bring their reusable bags to the grocery store or serving up meditation prompts, advertising can be good for us!
It creates a sense of aspiration to become better
The approach of creating aspiration is often used to sell luxury items, but it can also be used to encourage healthier and more sustainable lifestyle decisions.
Many of us are guilty of time discounting, which means we place less value on rewards we’ll receive “down the road” compared to those we can have now. This happens because we have a really difficult time envisioning a different version of ourselves in the future, so we don’t take the necessary steps now. Like saving money, exercising or eating more vegetables.
Advertising can serve as a crystal ball, showing us what the future can look like and motivate us to obtain it. A powerful emotional driver can be imagining ourselves solving a global problem or treating ourselves better.
It can shape social norms
Whether you’ve been aware of this or not, advertising often serves as an indicator for what society considers to be socially acceptable and desirable. This is a huge opportunity to shape societal norms around sustainable, equitable, and healthy behaviors.
By demonstrating and showing what appropriate behaviors look like, advertising can send signals and cues that motivate people to join the norm. This, in turn, can challenge existing negative perceptions and encourage more positive, beneficial behaviors.
These underlying behavioral reasons are what make advertising such a powerful tool. And I strongly believe in its ability to positively shape our behaviors in a way that benefits our health, our communities, and our planet.
I also believe that no matter how big or small your advertising budget is, you can use these insights to make a difference. Rock on!