Don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex. And now a different approach.

For years, almost every public service ad campaign created to fight tobacco or drugs or teen sex took a pretty similar approach: the scare tactic.

“Here’s what you’ll look and sound like 30 years from now if you don’t stop smoking.”

“Picture yourself as a pregnant teenager; your life and future are basically over.”

“Do you want to do this to your brain? Well ingest illegal substances and you might as well fry your frontal lobe.”

However, there’s a lot of research that suggests most of this stuff doesn’t work. One approach that does work, we’re told, is real data. Tell students how much booze they and their friends actually consume when they party, show them comparisons of themselves to others, and they are far more likely to respond positively.

But there may also be another approach: positive deviance. It’s a technique that health care and social workers have started to practice in places around the world where they are outsiders. Rather than show up and tell people from another culture how they should behave, raise their children, nourish infants, they find someone from within the culture who’s doing things right and attempt to seed and spread that positive behavior.  Celebrate what’s right rather than condemn what’s wrong.

Could a similar approach work in advertising? Might it be a new way to get people to avoid driving drunk or buzzed? Why not? At least that’s Mullen’s hope with this new spot.  What do you think?  Can positive deviance work?

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