To compete against the soda companies on a relatively meager budget, a Boston diabetes campaign attempted to leverage the power of social psychology.
Late last year, the sudden laughter of two wiry teens interrupted my thoughts as I waited for an orange line train. Around me, people leaned into the autumn breeze reflected off the Bromley Park HUD housing block and followed their stare to a blue poster on the wall.
I would wager most of us recognized the "Fatsmack" poster, which featured a startled black teenager from the chest up, getting the equivalent of an open hand slap in the face by a viscous, orange glob of fat. The model in the ad was carelessly dapper and drank a generic beverage labeled "sports drink." The poster, part of a citywide Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) social marketing campaign, is meant to decrease sugary beverage consumption. But ever since the Fatsmack campaign began in September 2011, all I could do was question whether the ads would work -- can chortles create change?
The idea of social marketing first emerged in the 1950s after sociologist G. D. Weibe famously asked, "Why can't you sell brotherhood like you sell soap?" Today, social marketing has its detractors, but most assume it works because, well, marketing works. Surprisingly, many health-related social marketing successes have been in the international arena: Tanzania increased mosquito net usage from 60 percent to 90 percent in just three years and Sri Lanka even used social marketing to help eliminate leprosy.