Selling public service messages

Like any type of marketing, social marketing (including work safety appeals and cause-related marketing) takes savvy and an intimate knowledge of one's audience.

Drs. Debra and Mike Basil, a husband-and-wife duo in the Faculty of Management at the U of L, are trying to understand what makes workplace safety appeals (like posters and TV ads) effective. They're currently analysing Canadian, American and Australian ads through a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

"If we can understand a broader crosssection of people around the world, we are more likely to have identified some underlying human motivations and factors," says Mike, the study's principal investigator.

The project will also examine the usefulness of fear tactics (which are very common in Australian campaigns) and the impact of environmental factors on safety compliance.

"We believe that no matter how effective a workplace safety campaign poster may be, workers won't heed the warning if their direct supervisor doesn't emphasize the importance of safety," says Debra.

The SSHRC award is allowing the couple to continue their work at two Australian universities – the University of Wollongong and Edith Cowan University. It's a great place to be, as Australia is at the forefront of the field, says Mike.

"I think Australians are very pragmatic and also willing to embrace new ideas and approaches," he explains. "I think Australians are giving social marketing a 'fair go' and have been pleased with what they have seen."

Working with Australian researchers will undoubtedly offer new perspectives on social marketing research, says Debra.

"Social norms campaigns are becoming popular here, and we will have the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of this approach compared with a more typical fear-type approach."

A former account representative of a Fortune 500 company, Debra is also working on a three-year, SSHRC-funded project assessing the usefulness of cause-related marketing for non-profit organizations.

While the two research projects are quite different, both are examining how programs can be structured more effectively to positively impact society, she says.