Wednesday, January 6, 2010

MADD takes a hard left towards denormalization

Adrants yesterday posted some new ads for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, created by TBWA Toronto.

Here's one:

It's funny. It's thought-provoking. And it's a complete change of course for an organization that traditionally uses shock and guilt to hammer home the anti-drinking and driving message:

So, what happened? Obviously, someone at MADD has decided to give "Denormalization" a try.

A tactic in anti-smoking campaigns for decades, denormalization campaigns seek to make previously tolerated behaviours socically unacceptable by exposing them to ridicule or redefining them as just plain dumb.

Let's look at another of MADD's new approach:

The beauty of these ads is not just in the writing, but the casting. These guys look like lifelong drunkards, the dumbass who sits next to you at the bar, tells secondhand stories, then leaves you wondering how he's getting home.

(It's a shame they didn't use the URL,, for some additional viral outreach. It's currently parked on godaddy.)

One of the principals behind denormalization is social shaming through satire. While it is embraced by many current social marketing campaigns, the practice is as old as western civilization. From Greek and Roman playwrights and poets, to Jonathan Swift, to The Onion, hilarious and often brutal satire has been a popular tactic for pushing social self-awareness — and ultimately change.

But will it get through the the thick heads of the hardcore drunk drivers? Probably not. But that's not the point.

According to our longtime client and office neighbour, The Traffic Injury Research Foundation, the repeat offenders need to be dealt with in a more scientific way, through well-informed policies and legislation. That's the other aspect of social change. (Think of how workplace smoking bans almost eliminated indoor social smoking in a very short time, after years of social marketing had had little impact on youth.)

The purpose of satire, or denormalization, isn't to make the offenders see the error of their ways. It's intended to emphasize the unacceptability of their behaviour to people who might otherwise be complacent about it. When we all join in to laugh at the buffoon, then the real power of social shaming comes into play. You might even report them, as the call-to-action asks.

Good campaign. I hope MADD keeps up this more sophisticated approach in their social marketing.