Monday, September 10

Making It Personal: From Education To Marketing

While most people see the 1960s as the "Golden Age of Advertising," its birth can be traced bak to the 1950s. Along with the booming post-war prosperity and adoption of television as a means of mass communication, it was the ideal time for agencies to capture the imagination of a semi-captive audience. 

Some people find the old commercials produced from the 1950s through the 1970s a bit campy with relatively poor production techniques. But if you take a closer look, you'll understand why people responded to the messages — those commercials connected to their era on a personal and sometimes intimate level. 

Unless it's being used as a 1980s and 1990s broadcast channel (when advertising sought to out clever itself instead of appealing to anyone), social media (and social business to some degree) makes the same promise. It provides people the opportunity to get to know the people behind the company, the musicians behind a band, the authors behind the books, so on and so forth. Making it personal works. 

Where advertising and education meet is a matter of perspective. 

While that might seem an odd way to start a post touching on education, some might propose the two are related more than most people think. When it comes to delivering an effective, memorable message that sticks, there really isn't much difference. Personal perspective can solidify and shape how we view history or even current events much more effectively than statistics and bullet points. Stories work. 

One groundbreaking independent documentary series, POV (Point of View) on PBS, has been doing exactly that for almost 25 years. As it aimed to widen the nation's discussion of the most important social issues of the day, it has become its own historic archive of personal perspective by putting a human face on current affairs and now history. Here are a few examples. 

I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad, and the Beautiful by Jonathan Demme conducts character analyses of fearless matriarch Carolyn Parker, who struggled to rebuild her house in New Orleans after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Depending on the class, POV suggests watching film clips and then organizing the information into essays (with outside sources too, I imagine) that can be applied to civics, geography, social studies, and history. 

The City Dark by Ian Cheney studies the nesting process of the endangered loggerhead turtle species. The video illustrates how artificial lighting along beaches disorients turtle hatchlings and hinders their ability to reach the ocean successfully. The film provides cross-over content for biology, environmental studies, geography, and current events. 

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement by Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday follows civil rights veteran and barber James Armstrong and where the movement fits within the context of U.S. history. Integrated into a lesson plan, it provides a perspective for civics, social studies, world history, and current events. 

There are other films too. And while teachers must always be mindful to provide contrasting viewpoints or lead students toward appreciating the "why" behind the "what happened," all of them make for memorable communication, reinforced by a personal connection between the subject and viewer. 

Interestingly enough, POV has been developing a better connection between the films too. Its Community Engagement and Education Department partners with middle schools, high schools, colleges, and community organizations to provide more resources than the films themselves. 

Educators are invited to the join a growing community network where they can borrow more than 70 films for free download, along with 125 free standards-based lesson plans. There are also more than 217 streaming video clips and access to 130 film-based discussion guides for a variety of subject areas and grade levels.

"We have found that the personal storytelling in our films is a wonderful learning tool; it becomes a springboard for discussion that not only helps students understand the issues, but often helps them learn about themselves," said Eliza Licht, vice president, POV Community Engagement and Education. "The goal of our interactive education campaigns is to use film as a tool to support students in becoming thoughtfully engaged citizens." 

While the films sometimes don't necessarily provide a broad view of all subjects (because that's the point of perspective), all of them demonstrate how communication is most effective when someone can relate to the subject. For consideration, educators might want to visit the POV's Lesson Plan section.

How educational instruction can help professional communicators.

For marketers, advertisers and communication professionals, there might be something else to consider.  When was the last time your company produced anything that connected to the people you want to reach? Or perhaps, if you want to think about it another way, what was the real reason Blendtec became one of the most referenced YouTube success stories?

Some advertising students and professionals immediately think it's the gimmick that gave the series a lift.  Sure, that was part of it. But the foundation doesn't have as much to do with one well-thought out gimmick as everything else in the segments — the personality and empathy of the spokesperson and the viewer's connection to the products they decide to blend — have equal weight.

They make it personal, much in the same way it advertisers did several decades ago. And that's the point. You might ask how you can make your company's message just as personal too, but without the blender.
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