Designing campaigns made to disturb

An effective message grabs the attention of the public, is easy to understand and remember, and does not require any further explanation.

In some campaigns, a different message is crafted for each target audience, while in others, there may be an overarching message that also has accompanying ‘sub-messages’ that are intended for different segments of the target audience. Still others may use only one message repeated over and over throughout the campaign.

When devising campaign messages, it is important to take a participatory approach and solicit the views and perspectives of members of the target audience. Gather ideas and draft messages that can be pre-tested with those who have not been involved in the campaign so far to gain the benefit of ‘fresh eyes and ears’ and unbiased opinions.

Key elements of the building snappy campaigns

Effective campaigning is built around clear messages, which state the problem, the solution proposed (through the campaign goal), and the action the audience can take to reach the campaign goal.The campaign message should include the following elements.

1. The “ask

A brief statement of what the campaign wants to change or is protesting about. It should be positive and inspiring.

2. The reason

Why are you asking for their help, i.e. why the campaign or appeal is intended to achieve this, why something has to change, or the reason behind the campaign.

3. What is at stake

What will happen if the protest isn’t heard or if the proposed change does not happen.

4. Action to be taken

What the campaign calls for target audiences to do in order to effect or support the proposed change.

Questions to consider when crafting the message

How does the target audience see the campaign issue and goal?

In what aspects does their understanding differ from that promoted by the campaign? How does the issue need to be presented so that the audience considers the campaign goal legitimate and desirable?

How can the audience be motivated to respond to the call for action?

Using personal narratives drawn from real cases, i.e. adding an element that appeals to people’s emotions, has proven an effective way to engage people, both in behavior-change and advocacy campaigns.

On what theory of change is the campaign based?

If yourt campaign is a sovcia lchange campaign rather than a fundraising appeal then they should be  based on theories of change to effective change behaviour. For example, if the campaign is based on the stages of change theory, messages should encourage people to reflect on their thinking and behaviour, and to devise their own ways of getting involved in campaigning for change in their lives.

If the audience is highly diverse, what message is likely to speak to everyone?

As a rule, the bigger the audience, the simpler the overarching message should be. Refine and vary sub-messages that are drawn from and connect back to the overarching message so as to speak effectively to different segments of your audience. For instance, if the overarching message is “Break the Silence on Domestic Violence”, a sub-message targeted specifically at victims of abuse could urge them to call a helpline, while another targeted at neighbours in a community could urge them to report incidents they hear or witness.

Is the message being presented in the right way?

Since words can be perceived differently by different people depending on the context, it is important to consider how a worded message is actually being presented. A message might for example, use language that resonates with a young audience, yet offends an older one. Or a message might suggest one thing to one group and something else to another. Like in the point above, an overarching message can have sub-messages that are presented in different ways.

Can the message be conveyed to its target audience within 20 seconds?

Evidence suggests that longer messages are less effective.

Do all key message points fit well into the overall communications strategy?

Whether or not there is just one overarching message, or several sub-messages, all of this messaging must serve the campaign’s purpose and its goals. To avoid confusion or conflicting messages, and ensure coherence, decide on the core set of message points that must be part of all communications, and consistently apply these in all campaign planning, materials and activities.