Many years ago, on an unremarkable Tuesday, I read a tweet: Happy Banana Pancake Day! Yum, I thought. Odd, but yum. I mentioned the tweet to a colleague and her response stuck with me ever since. ‘There is literally a day every day,’ she sighed.
While many might lament the misuse of the word ‘literally’ she was correct, literally and figuratively. There is literally a ‘celebrate-something-day’ every day, in fact, there are often multiple days every day, as well as weeks and months.
For example today is wine day, but today is also towel day, geek pride day and tap dance day. Now I’m not trying to detract from the value of each of these days, or their role in raising awareness of delicious wine, but as a communicator it does make me question the effectiveness of awareness days as a tool to create awareness and behaviour change. How do I make sure my awareness day/ week/ month (d/w/m) doesn’t get buried under posts about wine?/ how do I make people aware of my awareness d/w/m?
This article looks at the rise of date-specific periods of awareness and action on a given issue and finishes with some tips for growing your own.
Do awareness days/ weeks/ months work?
A quick search for awareness d/w/m illustrates just how many are already out there, and how quickly the phenomenon is growing around the world. The Australian Department of Health has around 60 listed on its website and that’s just one government department. The United Nations has 130 and we haven’t even touched on the hundreds of novelty days.
There have been a few studies on the effectiveness of awareness d/w/m but nothing hugely concrete. This article in American journal The Atlantic goes into depth on the matter. It stresses the importance of having a strong call to action when raising awareness because people tend to equate gaining knowledge with taking action, and stop there.
“There is a sociological theory called narcotizing dysfunction, which proposes that the more people learn about an issue from the media, the less likely they are to do something about it.”
When they work
Let’s take a look at some of the more successful campaigns we’re familiar with.
Movember has to be one of the most renowned awareness months. It helps that it’s got a really catchy name that includes its call to action. Starting as a competition between a few mates in 2003, by 2005 it had gone international and by 2007 it was unusual to see any man without a moustache in November. (There was a slight hiccup in 2013 when the worldwide hipster movement threatened to derail the novelty factor but by and large the campaign has gone from strength to strength.)
The success of Movember goes far beyond persuading lots of men to grow moustaches; it raises bucket loads of money, and more importantly, most people understand what Movember is raising money and awareness for.
Dry July/ Feb Fast / Ocsober
I’m lumping these three together because until I started writing this blog I didn’t know they were for different causes. Feb Fast is for young people experiencing alcohol and drug related problems. Dry July is for cancer patients, families and carers. Ocsober is to teach young people to stand up to the pressures of alcohol abuse. The concept is the same: don’t drink for a month and get your mates to sponsor you.
As well as having catchy names these awareness months change behaviour, resulting in a reduction in the amount of alcohol consumed after participating in the month.
Food Revolution Day
If you haven’t heard, Jamie Oliver’s in town, and he’s here to tackle childhood obesity. Jamie’s Food Revolution is a big movement in the UK, involving cooking programs, kitchen gardens, apprentice programs and measures to reduce obesity rates. Jamie was also one of the many people who lobbied the British government to introduce a sugar tax, which will roll out in 2018.
I included this as an ambitious example of an awareness day that seeks to create a huge generational shift in attitudes and behaviour and change public policy. Both really big asks, but really worthwhile.
Tips for creating your own day/ week/ month
Obviously an awareness d/w/m will only work as part of a wider campaign, and for that, all the usual rules apply. As with any campaign you need to have a clear idea of your objectives, who your audience is and what communication channels you will use.
- Develop clear objectives: Is your objective really awareness or is it behaviour change? Do you want to raise money? Do you want to convince your neighbours to throw a street party? If you answered yes to any of the first two options, then yes, an awareness d/w/m could be right for you.
- Create a memorable name and concept: I’m a sucker for a pun or some good alliteration so if you can work that into the name or the call to action, all the better.
- Tap existing resources: Where possible make the most of existing audiences, channels and communities. Depending on your audience, social can be a hugely effective way of building awareness about your d/w/m and can really help spread the call to action.
- Make it news worthy: If you’re looking for media coverage you’ll need to develop a strong angle. Many journalists share the view of my colleague in that ‘there is literally a day every day’, so the day in itself isn’t going to be a strong enough media hook. You need a strong call to action or better yet, new research. Make sure that you pick a journalist who is likely to be interested in your cause, and shape your pitch to them.
Depending on your perspective, the sun may be setting on the traditional awareness d/w/m. Sheer numbers suggest we have reached a tipping point where only those with big enough budgets and celebrity figureheads can compete in this crowded space and create mass change. On the other hand we may be seeing a downsizing trend towards smaller-scale initiatives that target specific communities to highlight issues that are tailored to their interests and this could be just as, if not more effective.
Either way I think it would be a real shame not to have a Banana Pancake Day.
By Alexandra Haddon