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How to make doers of the Word

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The first, and arguably the most important point I make in the 10 Marks of INCREDIBLE Teachers is this: Incredible teachers don't just fill heads; they move hearts. Incredible teachers move people emotionally. They make people feel something.

Think of a time when your life was profoundly changed. Were you merely filled with information, or did some teacher or preacher move you emotionally?

This fact was underlined for me today while finishing up re-listening to Made to Stick by Heath and Heath

As an example, most teenagers believe that cigarette smoking is dangerous. There’s no credibility problem with that message. Yet teenagers still take up smoking. So how do you transform their belief into action? You have to make them care. And, in 1998, someone finally figured out how to do that.

The Truth

The commercial starts with a shot of a city street in New York City. The footage is video, not film—it’s a bit dark, a bit unprofessional. It feels like a documentary, not a commercial. A caption flashes at the bottom of the screen: “Outside the headquarters of a major tobacco company.”

An eighteen-wheeler pulls up in front of the building, and a group of teenagers jump out. The teens begin to unload long white sacks marked “Body Bag.” They stack the bags on top of one another near the edge of the building. As the commercial progresses, the pile of body bags gets bigger and bigger. By the end of the ad, there are hundreds of bags in the pile. One of the teens shouts at the building through a megaphone, “Do you know how many people tobacco kills every day?” The daily death toll is revealed to be 1,800—the number of body bags the teens have piled up in front of the tobacco headquarters.

This ad is part of a series of ads called the Truth campaign. The campaign was launched by the American Legacy Foundation, which was formed in November 1998 after forty-six state attorneys-general settled a lawsuit against major U.S. tobacco companies.

You can’t watch the Truth ads without getting angry at tobacco companies. After the ads began airing, Philip Morris invoked a special Big Tobacco “anti-vilification” clause to have the spots yanked from the air. The tobacco companies inserted this clause in the settlements of a number of antitobacco lawsuits; it gives them some veto power over how the settlement money can be spent on antismoking advertising. “We felt that [the Truth ads] are not consistent with the focus and mission of the American Legacy Foundation,” said Carolyn Levy, Philip Morris’s senior vice president for youth-smoking prevention, in reference to the censorship effort.

One translation of this complaint: The ads were working.

Meanwhile, another series of antismoking ads started to run. As part of the tobacco settlement, Philip Morris agreed to air its own series of antismoking ads. The Philip Morris tagline was “Think. Don’t Smoke.”

Two campaigns were launched, almost simultaneously, with two different approaches. This juxtaposition set up an exciting, head-to-head horse race in the marketplace of ideas. In fact, in June 2002, an article in the American Journal of Public Health surveyed 10,692 teenagers to compare the Truth campaign with “Think. Don’t Smoke.”

It turns out that some horses run better than others. When kids were asked to recall any antitobacco advertising they had seen, the Truth campaign was remembered spontaneously by 22 percent of them; the Think campaign by 3 percent. What’s particularly striking about this statistic is that when the kids were prompted with information from the campaigns, more than 70 percent of them remembered seeing both. In other words, teens had seen both ads on TV, but one stuck better than the other. Something about the Truth campaign was spontaneously memorable.

Memory is important, but it’s only the first step. What about action? When the survey asked kids whether they were likely to smoke a cigarette during the next year, those who were exposed to the Truth campaign were 66 percent less likely to smoke. Those who were exposed to “Think. Don’t Smoke” were 36 percent more likely to smoke! Tobacco execs must have taken the news quite hard.

It wasn’t just surveys that registered the difference. A study measured teen smoking in Florida, where the Truth campaign had its debut, versus the rest of the country. After two years of the campaign, smoking among high school students dropped by 18 percent and among middle school students by 40 percent. -- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Chip Heath and Dan Heath)

If you would change lives, move people emotionally. If you you would make disciples, move people emotionally.

 

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