Behaviour change and how ‘awareness’ isn’t good enough

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/07/awareness-is-overrated.html

An incredibly interesting article shared by my subject teacher, is all about the abundance and ease of awareness raising campaigns in modern day today and their general ineffectiveness at creating a behavioural change in their target audience. In short summary, the primary use of statistics to argue a point of change for a particular issue, although does create awareness and sympathy rarely creates incidences where a user will actively go out of there way to support, or actively contribute towards the cause; in some cases it’s had the opposite effect of presenting the issue as a ‘social norm’ creating the attitude, “If other people are doing it, why can’t I?”.

One of the biggest learning points I’ve taken from this is most awareness raising campaigns fail to fully engage with their audiences and fail to recognize the general reality of their situations, creating unrealistic expectations that simply knowing this something that needs to change, they will do something about it. One of the best examples the article discusses is anti-smoking campaigns; if you live in the UK you should be most prevalently aware of the “Surgeon’s Warning” labels found on cigarettes packets. It very effectively raises awareness of the dangers of smoking, hell it’s found on every packet of cigarettes so it’s hard to ignore but it fails to address why someone would want to smoke in the first place; the dangers are just one factor of many to be weighed and considered.

In the case of this ad is specifically targets father’s and imagines the pressures smoking places on his children. Every individual has their own set of core values/beliefs, a code they live by or want to pursue. In this case the value “I want to be a good father” has been targeted; using a real relatable issue, in the most ideal situation this already reinforces an idea/guilt the audience may already have to encourage a behavioural change in the user. For example, a father may conform to social pressures to smoke with co-workers to satisfy his social needs in the workplace; in conflict he feels guilt for smoking around his child and the potential influence/pressure it is having on him/her. In an ideal situation this advertisement reinforces current thoughts the user is experiencing and encourages him, as a first step not to smoke around his child and only in the work place; the first step towards making an individual stop smoking, the overall underlying goal of the awareness campaign.

In the case of my project, I started out with the simple goal of wanting to raise awareness for mental health issues. Working with student services and Cardiff Met, I want to target specifically depression and anxiety issues in students between the age of 18-25. My over arching goal is to encourage suffers to seek help; to break this down I want my audience to ideally take the first steps in discussing their problems with others even on the most basic level so appropriate support can eventually be provided. This could be anonymous e-counselling, forum posting, etc. to encourage full counselling and if relevant, doctor’s diagnose and perception drugs to assist in this process of recovery. I think my next step is to identify generally common reason why students suffer (e.g. work stress, social stress, loneliness especially relevant to freshers,  etc.) and identify cores values these students have (e.g. maybe.. “I want to have regular friends I can hang out with” or “I want to do well in my studies”) so I’m aware of how I can have a more meaningful engagement with my audience. I’ll also note social, financial and work issues which could affect my audience, as well as examples of other effective awareness campaigns addressing my issue; maybe creating scenarios and reflecting on my own experiences could be useful for this.