Nose candy and dickheads… controversial, but will they change behaviour?

Two social marketing campaigns have caused a bit of controversy in Australia in the past week or so. In Victoria, VicRoads has launched their “Don’t be a Dickhead” campaign, while in NSW, the Department of Health’s anti-drug educational campaign has sparked controversy over the use of colloquial language to describe drugs; terms such as”nose candy”.

The dickhead and nose candy campaigns are two very different campaigns, with different potential outcomes.

The use of the word “dickhead” might have some effect on general awareness of the campaign, but probably not change the behaviour of the target market. In this campaign, Hungry Beast presenter and writer, Dan Illic, has used humour similar to the iCoal 2.o to create awareness of the issue.

Media interest, as a result of the use of the word dickhead as well as the references to gingers (redheads) might generate stories, but the concern here is that the interest will be in the ads themselves, rather than the content of the advertisement.

Ultimately, what any social marketing campaign is trying to do is change behaviour, but also change the general culture and attitudes around the behaviour, so that it becomes the norm (and therefore easier for the individual to change their behaviour). A good social marketing campaign shouldn’t make us focus on the actual methods used in the campaign, rather it should be focused on achieving its social objectives. It shouldn’t be an outlet for creative endeavor or controversy, unless they are going to achieve the desired outcomes.  This is where many advertising and creative executives get a bit confused.

Don’t be a dickhead

At the moment, there is a lot of confusion about when it is or isn’t safe to talk on a mobile phone. I’ve seen people driving along, holding the phone away from the mouth, assuming that this is safe. Is it okay to talk on a phone when you have it on speakerphone? What about when you have the headphone thingy plugged in? What if you hold it 5cm away? What about 20cm? What is safe?

Another issue is that advertising, on its own, is a fairly weak motivator. It might change people who were already willing to be “nudged”, but the target market, in general, don’t want to be nudged. They’re fighting their psychological biases to take risks. They are happy to ignore authority. In general, they don’t think about consequences in the way that most 35 year olds think about consequences (although there are plenty of 35 year old dickheads).

What needs to happen is; Clarity about what is safe to do, with a strong argument presented as to why you shouldn’t talk on a mobile phone (maybe even showing the consequences in an extended format, such as at the cinema).

If we look at the drink-driving campaign, or speeding campaigns, it is only effective when people understand what they can and can’t do. We also need to make it so the whole community believes that it isn’t safe to talk on a mobile phone, so that it makes it “easy” for the target market to change their behaviour. Showing people consequences, not just through advertising, but through editorial and news stories, is going to also shift community attitudes. Having lots of police cars will change behaviour. Over time, as long as messages are consistent and people start to get caught (and talk about getting caught to their friends), people will change their behaviour.

The effectiveness of any of these campaigns is short-lived, unless it becomes the norm.

The “nosecandy” campaign is different. My initial reaction is that it is more closely aligned with the target market’s language, but the execution might be dangerous. Because it is a card based campaign, based around education, then it may not be as effective in changing behaviour (most education campaigns are not effective in the short-run, because people don’t want to be educated).

I don’t think it will lead to any “conversions”, but I am not sure it will be very effective at changing behaviour, either. Because the initial presentation is one that is positive, i.e., the front of the card looks “groovy”, there is also the chance that it might fall victim to a psychological bias called “the paradoxical effect of warnings”. What this means is that often we recall the initial brand or message (in this case nosecandy), but over time, we forget the actual negative connotations or warnings, unless those warnings are consistently linked with the brand in a simple and easily understood way.


That said, the biggest hurdle that social marketing campaigners have is that there are always going to be people who don’t want to buy your “product”; which marketers of products can ignore, whereas with social marketers you are trying to change the behaviour of everyone. So, my assessment is that there will always be people who behave badly, we need to “convert” as many of people as possible; making it as easy as possible for them to change.

I think it is important that governments use as many tools as possible to change behaviour, and both of these campaigns are laudable, but we need to do more than advertise to get people to change behaviour. Indeed, if we are to change behaviour, the people advising government need to have a more sophisticated understanding of marketing, and how people respond to it.



This is probably a more effective advertisement, but is expensive to show on TV.

This type of advertisement would need to be supported by a complete integrated communication campaign, and ongoing education and updating of the material. On its own, the influence of a single advertisement is not enduring.

This entry was posted in Advertising, Human Behavior, Marketing Strategy, Political Marketing, Social Psychology, Tribal and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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