From its inception, advertising has been used to sell everything: shoes, food, cars, charities and even causes. That’s because in its most simple form, advertising simply connects those with a need with those who can fulfill that need. Suffering from credit card debt? Here’s a debt relief program. Pipes clogged? Meet Draino. Looking for public bathrooms? There’s an app for that.
But “needs” aren’t always obvious if you’re just looking at your product/service as a solution. Indeed, nobody “needs” a 5,000 sq foot home, or a $1,500 watch. What those markets “need” are things that demonstrate their importance to themselves and others.
These psychological needs are really the foundation on which much of today’s advertising is built. And it works really, really well.
So well, in fact, that when Columbia looked for ways to persuade rebels to drop their arms and turn themselves in, they turned to TV advertising. Yes, TV. But their spots didn’t criticize the rebels’ cause. They didn’t try to tell convince them that they were in a losing battle. Instead, they attacked their pyschological need for freedom which wasn’t being met by being a guerrilla.
Many in-depth interviews with former guerrillas made it clear to the government that the best way to get rebels to quit was to shine a spotlight on what was upsetting to them in their current situation. The life of a rebel isn’t pretty. Sure, they had money from drug dealing and other things to have plasma TVs with satellite service, good food and other trappings. But they also were always hiding, always running and always fearing for their lives. Some had families that they couldn’t even see for fear of getting those members killed. They weren’t free, despite the fact that they were fighting for freedom.
So Columbia used an advertising agency to produce TV spots that focused on the needs of these rebels to get their lives back — basically to get their freedom back. The spots, using actual rebels who turned themselves in, highlighted the feelings these men had when they had to kill a commander and an innocent couple. Another rebel spoke of the disappointment he felt when he had to miss another birthday being celebrated by his child. A third described the empty feeling he had when he had to bury his best friend. The ads end with “Think about it. There’s another life. Demobilization is the way out.”
Since the agency knew the rebels watched soccer, these spots ran almost exclusively during soccer matches. In addition to getting rebels to turn themselves in, the media buy had an added bonus of showing non-rebels that the government was serious (and humane) in its effort to end the guerrilla warfare.
The results? In 1999, there were as many as 30,000 rebels. After the aggressive program began in 2002, that number is now down to an estimated 5,000 — despite new recruits. In fact, one of the most recent spots touts that 8,900 rebels have quit. And much of the success is due to the fact that they did not advertise to the obvious need (quit the warfare), but rather to the rebels innate need to secure their freedom.