Amos Yee

How Negative Attention Harms Movements

Abundant research shows people who are simply given more information, aren't likely to change their beliefs or behavior. Of course awareness is important to create the environment for change to be possible (art, tv shows, etc.). But campaigns which ONLY focus on awareness are limited and waste a lot of resources. Also bear in mind awareness can actually do more harm than good if done incorrectly.

No Action

The CDC tried to raise awareness to take emergency precautions against earthquakes and floods, by comparing it to a Zombie Apocalypse.

The campaign got hundreds of thousands of views, yet didn't change behavior. It didn't get viewers to make the emergency kit the CDC wanted.

Studies found that people exposed to humor placed inappropriately on serious messages, caused them to take campaigns less seriously, despite the campaign receiving a large amount of awareness.

Wrong Audience

Awareness could reach the wrong audience, either to people entirely unsympathetic to your goals, or are already convinced.

For example, when seafood awareness campaigns placed an eco-friendly label on fish. It had little effect on consumers, because the only people who liked the label are those who already belonged to environmental organisations.

In fact, this opened the floodgates for unethical fisheries to mislabel products as 'eco-friendly' to receive better PR. So right now, more than 50% of environmental advertising on seafood is misleading.

Causing Harm

Look at the viral 'Dumb Ways to Die' campaign that aimed to reduce the number of people committing suicide by stepping in front of metro trains. The 'Dumb Ways to Die' video has more than 144 million views, it earned more than 60 million dollars, millions signed the pledge to be safer around trains.

Yet the campaign not only wasn't effective in creating behavior change, it might have even caused harm.

The campaign with its catchy music and charming cartoon figures, might have made death more appealing. Reports show media can normalise death, suicide and violence as something common, cool and not permanent. Higher newspaper coverage of suicide leads to higher suicide rates in a community.

It's uncommon for marketers to review research that can accurately predict the effect their campaigns would cause.

Unnecessary Backlash

The CDC recommended a national requirement that adolescent girls be vaccinated against sexually transmitted diseases. This created a political outcry, as social conservatives argued that such a vaccine could cause promiscuity.

Prior to the controversy, 90% of children received the vaccine. In the years that followed, only 33% of girls and 7% of boys did. This was because people believe information that supports their cultural and political views. So when political polarisation increases, people on one side may feel threatened.

If the vaccine were introduced not with a high-profile campaign, but slowly through personal physicians and existing medical programs, then it would have been successful.


First half of this excellent article on effective activism: