Jul 14 2010
Nancy Reagan told me to “Just Say No” when I was 11 years old, and I wanted nothing more than to jump into step in my crisp white button down, red bow tie, plaid skirt, knee highs and brown loafers. I was sold on her message and didn’t even laugh at the public service announcements with the kids saying “NO” to the drug dealers. I was mesmerized by “This is Your Brain on Drugs” and the weekly after-school specials that addressed the many topics facing my generation: drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy, runaways, eating disorders, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases. If there wasn’t an afterschool special, you can bet that Little House on the Prairie, The Facts of Life, One Day at a Time, or some other popular television series was talking to my teen need to avoid the perils of life. Needless to say, I just said no to it all. Until college. And then I only said yes to what was legal. Moving on.
All these memories flooded recently after watching one of the most interesting YouTube videos shared with me in a long time by a Facebook friend. The video illustrates – literally – Professor Philip Zimbardo’s take on the concept of Time orientation and the implications how we perceive time on societies, families, successes, failures… and, yes, even the afterschool special consumer education campaign.
In this 10-minute video (worth every second), Zimbardo walks us through three ways people perceive time: 1. Past (both people who live based on the past, both those who bring a positive spin on the past and those who bring a negative implication of the past into life); 2. Present (both people who believe in living in the present because they can’t control the future and those who are driven by more hedonistic present life desires); and Future – those who live to make life better in the future. He cites Robert Levine’s Geography of Time, in which Levine outlines his experiments on the pace of life in cities and countries around the world and the implications on health, education and even family values.
The afterschool special “a-ha!” moment for me comes at the end of the video. Zimbardo states that in America a child drops out of school every nine seconds. He says this is particularly a “disaster for boys in America” because by the time they are 21, individually boys have spent 10,000 hours playing video games. They live in a world that they create, and their brains are being digitally rewired, he says. Because of this, traditional schooling in which a teacher lectures and students take notes does not work for these kids. They can only truly learn by being in a situation in which they are controlling something and they have instant gratification.
Most consumer education campaigns targeting teens (people in general really) are designed for the future-oriented – such as the Nancy Reagan kids of the 80s. I was afraid of future consequences and so took action. However, for those who are more present-oriented, there is this challenge: they know the consequences, but the knowledge doesn’t change the behavior. Our consumer education campaigns designed to speak to them must move beyond the public service announcement and into something they can control. And today’s social communities, with crowdsourcing, user-generated content, sharing and personalization, provide the perfect way to engage them.
And while the tools to manipulate and participate in their own educations are there – the video leaves me wondering what the role is of time orientation in changing consumer behavior. The knowledge is there… a mere Google trip away. But what is the secret sauce that can move present-oriented people to change their behavior? From obesity to debilitating debt, how can the consumer education campaigns today inspire individuals to take action so these societal issues don’t perpetuate?
I personally miss the afterschool special. What are the most successful consumer education campaigns in the past few years?
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