Advertising agencies have long tackled ‘hot button issues’ in the public service sector – especially in the area of Substance Use Disorder – with communications that shame and guilt, and generate awareness and fear. But do these communications deliver the change they seek for the addict, the ones whose lives have gone sideways? Or does this audience reject these award show messages when they should be seducing them to a solution?
The best agencies and brand experts are always more psychologists than hucksters. The most successful messages are seductive and create desire. Why can’t the approach to addiction, illness and social ills do the same? The communications in this category need to be dramatically empathetic. And this means every message should be constructed to provide the addict, and their loved ones, with HOPE.
Fraser Communications works on substance use disorder, COVID, and health issues for both the State of California and LA County and for the past five years we’ve been engaged in the tragic and highly politicized epidemics of both opioid and meth use. We’ve addressed the legalization of cannabis, and the dangers of vaping, which was sold as a way to wean smokers off cigarettes but was discovered to do damage all its own.
We understand the dilemmas that cause substance use disorder: living on the edge, the cost of medical care, accidents, poverty, and the pain pills that provide relief, but send users down a rabbit hole of life-threatening addiction. We have to understand their journey and offer a way out. We have to offer hope.
One of the most effective practices in public health is Motivational Interviewing. Motivational Interviewing helps people discover their intrinsic motivation to change. We ask the respondent an evolving sequence of open-ended questions, and the answers begin to build a mirror of their own thoughts and beliefs. Over time, as this mirror reflects their thoughts and beliefs, they find a way to author their own future. We go below the surface to tap into what people want their end result to be: how they want to feel, how they wish others would see them, and more. Then we guide them to a plan and offer a hopeful door out. The communications must lead to hope, for the addict, for their families, friends and loved ones.
A recent tool of hope that is gaining acceptance in public health is Harm Reduction. Due to the nature of addiction, Harm Reduction accepts that complete abstinence can cause a costly cycle of recidivism. Harm Reduction seeks to reduce the negative behavior, and make it less harmful to the sufferer, but it’s also the most realistic and human-centered approach to addiction. It could include medically assisted treatment for addiction (MAT) or the acceptance of a low level of occasional pain that can prevent an overdose from opioids.
Motivational Interviewing, done by expert, empathetic guides, leads the patient/addict/sufferer to the answer. Harm Reduction helps provide alternatives they won’t reject. Hope promises them the journey will have support and success. See the video that brings this approach to life.