These days, marketing is seen as being synonymous with consumer culture. Many criticize how ubiquitous it has become in our society, pointing to the amount of time that traditional media avenues like television and radio devote to advertisements. What isn’t discussed, however, is that major ad firms aren’t the only ones aggressively marketing to the public. In recent years, the federal government has launched several high-profile marketing campaigns actually designed to modify the behavior of certain constituent blocs.
Last Monday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics indicating that the government’s recent “Stop Smoking” advertising campaign has influenced 200,000 smokers to quit, of which approximately 100,000 will permanently stop smoking. These results dramatically exceeded the initial goal of 500,000 attempts to quit with 50,000 successes.
The campaign, created by Arnold Worldwide, ran for three months last year from March 19 to June 10 and featured a wide range of frank testimonials from former smokers that were facing gruesome health challenges as a direct result of their addiction. The campaign was extremely widespread; 80% of smokers polled in a random survey and 75% of nonsmokers said they have seen the ads at least once.
Surprisingly, government advertising on this massive scale isn’t actually all that unusual. Federal governments have spent countless dollars on campaigns over the years, convincing constituents to buy war bonds, educating them regarding the dangers of forest fires, and conditioning the nation to avoid narcotic drugs.
For the most part, these campaigns have all been remarkably effective. Interestingly, those involving public health appear to be most successful. Campaigns such as the aforementioned one designed to end smoking and others that warn citizens of the dangers of drinking and driving or not wearing seatbelts have consistently achieved double-digit success rates. Numerous studies by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine have suggested that public health campaigns have a profound effect on constituent behavior.
A particular study conducted in 2004 by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that this is due to the government’s ability to expend great resources to carefully plan and execute these campaigns. In addition, they have traditionally been well-executed, attained massive exposure, and have been paired with high-profile, ongoing programs, such as increased high visibility enforcement.
While the CDC’s recent anti-smoking campaign has been remarkably successful, it’s actually just another iteration in a long line of successful government advertising campaigns. Despite what casual observers may believe, it’s clear that federal governments are some of the most effective users of broad advertising campaigns today.
[Sources: NSW Government Advertising, AdWeek, CDC, AJPM]