“In his day he had jet black curly hair and he had beautiful eyes, real chocolate-brown eyes”.
Real stories by real people make for engaging campaigns.
You can have all the statistics, experts and cartoon characters you want, but for an awareness campaign nothing comes close to the power of personal testimony.
I don’t mean the infomercial and Internet creations that we are all now programmed to tune out, along with most of the other rubbish that’s pushed relentlessly at us through various communications channels all day long.
I mean genuine and sincere testimony, one that people can connect with or – better again – can’t help connecting with, on an emotional level.
This rule applies to all organisations, from companies to NGOs, but is routinely ignored in favour of gimmicks.
People will always listen to other people first, as long as they are real people with real stories. It’s that simple. Some key communications rules are no different for social media or newspapers than they are for television or radio.
Pauline Bell, who lives in Piercestown, Wexford, tells her story, and that of her husband George, in a moving new ad for a HSE campaign to encourage people to quit smoking.
The QUIT campaign focuses on one key fact: 1 in every 2 smokers will die of a tobacco related disease. but crucially it uses real people, the words of those left behind, to bring that fact to life.
“Evidence from all over the world has shown the impact that real-life, personal stories, like Pauline and George’s, can have on smokers’ drive to quit,” said Dr Fenton Howell from the HSE, correctly diagnosing the problem with many other campaigns.
There are, of course, lots of other ways to engage people, like giving them something to enjoy, as I have discussed here, but for awareness campaigns specifically none of them pack the same punch as personal testimony.
Pauline’s honesty, love for her husband and heartbreak are palpable in the three-minute video above.
In the well shot video, the loneliness of life without George is clearly reflected, not just by her words, but by the emptiness and quietness of her home, where her husband once used to sit watching Bond films or listening to Christy Moore songs while doing the ironing.
George, a heavy smoker, was just 48 years old when he died from a heart attack while they were enjoying a holiday in Alicante just over three years ago, leaving behind not just Pauline, but their children Darragh and Rachel.
I don’t smoke, but if I did this video would give me serious pause for thought.
I spoke to Pauline earlier today and she told me she was approached the HSE to participate in the campaign after she joined their Facebook page aimed at people trying to quit smoking, currently approaching 14,000 “likes”.
Pauline said she only smoked about 20 cigarettes a week before George died. He was the much heavier smoker out of the two of them.
However, following his death she began smoking more heavily, despite the fact that this was precisely what led to him being taken from her far too early.
Grief and logic are strange bedfellows.
“I started smoking more after he died than I did before. it’s not good enough for me to say that, but for the first year I was in no man’s land, I was just about functioning,” said Pauline.
However, she said it eventually dawned on her that she had started smoking heavily and for the sake of her own health and her children she sought help to quit the habit, joining the HSE’s Facebook page for support.
“I found it was a great help, talking to other people in a similar position. I was talking to people about George too. Quitting smoking is a hard thing to do, even after a death in the family. It’s been a struggle but I’m getting there,” she said.
Click here for further info on the campaign.