Freddy the Fly: A lesson in effective development communications

The organization I work for, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), recently released the short animated video, ‘Freddy the Fly’, which I helped produce. ‘Freddy the Fly’ tells the story of a community that is mobilized to clean up its act and become open defecation free. But what makes the video so unique is that it is told from the perspective of a fly, who grows increasingly grumpy as the community steadily improves its sanitation and hygiene.

The main audiences for the video are those who need to hear the messages to improve their sanitation and hygiene (communities, school children, and the like) and those who can use the video as a tool to promote sanitation and hygiene behaviour change (development practitioners, especially those involved in sanitation programmes).

Check out the video below:

Ensuring that sustainable development issues, such as behaviour change and sanitation, resonate with your key audiences can sometimes be challenging. This can be due to the dynamic, multi-layered nature of these issues, as well as the complex and technical concepts linked to them. For example, how should one communicate faecal sludge management to non-sanitation practitioners?

This is where effective communications comes in. After identifying your audiences through communications and content strategies, communications professionals must ensure that they convey messages in the most clear, concise and engaging ways possible, adapted to those audiences. This includes identifying the appropriate tools and channels through which the messages are conveyed.

Though I’m being subjective here, I think ‘Freddy the Fly’ is a strong example of how to effectively communicate international development topics that may seem overly technical or not immediately marketable or exciting. Like pooping in the open! Here’s why:

  • It conveys key messages via a powerful channel: video.
  • It uses effective storytelling to engage audiences.
  • It repackages multi-layered, low-profile (but extremely important) topics – such as behaviour change through Community-Led Total Sanitation, sustainable sanitation and hygiene and open defecation – in an easy to understand, entertaining way.
  • It uses simple but creative visuals and narration (rhyming couplets) to engage audiences of all ages.
  • It tells the story from the perspective of a fly, using the element of novelty to engage audiences.
  • Finally, it’s an effective organizational promotion tool, as it effectively positions the organization addressing the issues presented in the video: WSSCC. The end of the video explains how WSSCC, through its Global Sanitation Fund, is helping end open defecation, with numbers to boot. It also directs audiences to WSSCC’s website, where they can learn more or support the cause.

Voila, the anatomy of an effective communications product. If you’re interested in learning more about WSSCC’s work, or sanitation and hygiene improvement in the context of international development, check out

Social marketing: Can it tackle the ‘super wicked problem’ of climate change?

There are problems, and then there are wicked problems – and then there are super wicked problems. Many researchers and academics will say that climate change falls in the latter category.

My interest in climate change was reinvigorated while browsing through the programme for the upcoming World Social Marketing Conference on 16-17 May. Climate change is a key conference theme, with various paper presentations and a panel session devoted to the issue. Leading up to the conference, it’s worthwhile to explore the role social marketing plays in addressing the super wicked problem that is climate change.

The super wicked problem

I became refamiliarized with the phrase while listening to a great Re-Quilibrium podcast on social marketing and climate change. In the podcast, researcher David Meiklejohn first defines a wicked problem as a difficult problem with no easy solution – a problem that is harder to define and harder to end cleanly than a ‘tame’ problem (read more). Smoking is one example.

Meiklejohn then explains that the emergence of climate change as an issue created four additional complexity factors that went beyond those defined for wicked problems. As a result, academics began defining climate change as a super wicked problem with the following additional complexity factors:

  1. There is a limited time to respond. Example: With weather hazards growing in frequency and intensity, and increased community vulnerability linked to climate change, we need to act now before the issue becomes too overwhelming to tackle.
  2. They are caused by those seeking the solution. Example: Many of us fail to take practical actions to address climate change, though we may believe that it is a problem.
  3. There is weak or non-existent central authority. Example: Government action is affected by declining public trust and fluctuating levels of support for climate action and policies.
  4. We discount future benefits gained from taking action. Example: We value the current benefits of fossil fuels over the long-term benefits of renewable energy sources.

Is social marketing a super wicked solution?

Meiklejohn explains that from a policy perspective, climate change solutions tend towards large policy changes that can impact whole populations. But when it comes to social marketing “that’s more difficult, because we tend to work downstream – we don’t tend to work at a high policy level…we tend to work much more directly with the populations that we have contact with.”

Thinking about the four complexity factors is therefore a very useful way to develop better social marketing interventions targeting climate change. Meiklejohn recommends that such programmes should not focus on what people think about the issue, but rather what they do, or actions that they can take or are already taking.

“People say one thing about climate change and one thing about sustainability but they do very different things at times, and ultimately we’re going to be judged on how effective we are – we’re not going to be judged on whether people remember the brand of a programme, whether they remember the message of a programme – it’s got to be about what did they do.”

Meiklejohn supports using segmentation to look at specific group behaviours and lifestyles in the target population that can impact on climate change, as opposed to a broad approach that tries to get everybody to act in the same way. “The things that we do are very different across the population, and they all contribute to climate change, but we may not recognize them as doing so,” he says.

A key challenge social marketers face may be that many people are indifferent or even actively hostile towards the climate change discourse, and they may therefore not identify with the brand being communicated in a given programme. So, how do you win these people over? Meiklejohn stresses that programmes need to go beyond branding campaigns or a one-size-fits-all approach, to framing the issue in other ways:

“You might have some people that are actively hostile to the idea of climate change but are not actively hostile to the idea of reducing their energy costs, and therefore solar might make a lot of sense to them from a purely financial point of view. Once you get them to put up solar, you might have an in to be able to talk to them about other things.”

Solar energy

Photo credit: Kaspars Dambis, Flickr Creative Commons

One interesting example from Meiklejohn’s podcast is an approach in the United Kingdom addressing the fourth complexity factor: discounting the future benefits of taking action on climate change. The Behavioural Insights Team examined approaches to encourage consumers to purchase more energy efficient dishwashers and washing machines. These products are better for the environment but are more expensive than less energy efficient models. However, the lifetime running costs of the efficient models tend to be lower. To get around the initial sticker price differentiation, BIT worked with department stores to include lifetime prices on these goods, encouraging customers to purchase the more energy efficient models (read more, page 147).

As Meiklejohn’s podcast proves, social marketing can be a very useful approach for addressing climate change, though pundits continue to debate its usefulness given its limited scale and scope. Nevertheless, it remains a tried and tested approach for fostering the real behaviour change that is so sorely needed for sustainable development.

Featured photo: Asian Development Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

Original article published on the International Social Marketing Association website

Augmented reality comic book narrates the resilience of acid attack survivors

The comic book Priya’s Mirror is based on the real-life stories of several acid attack survivors in India. The book is being used to empower other survivors, address the stigma and shame around this type of gendered violence, and boost awareness and action against it.

In the book, Priya is a gang-rape survivor who helps a group of acid attack survivors escape the rule of Ahankar (or ‘Ego’ in Hindi) – the demon king,

The narrative, based on the format of Hindu mythological tales, includes a character inspired by Monica Singh, who survived an acid attack in retaliation for her rejection of a marriage proposal. The attack burned more than half of Singh’s body instantly, altering her appearance permanently.

In a Mashable article, Singh says using a mirror has helped her reclaim love for her reflection, and for herself.

“I became my own strength. I used the mirror as a type of therapy to accept what happened to me — and that story was very much intertwined into the comic book. The mirror is Priya’s Mirror, but it’s also Monica’s Mirror, too.”

The book was co-produced by two nonprofits supporting victims of abuse and acid attacks — Singh’s foundation, the Mahendra Singh Foundation, and Fundacion Natalia Ponce de Leon. It is also the first comic book to be funded by the World Bank.

Readers can read Priya’s Mirror as a standard comic book or experience it in augmented reality. In the latter case, through an app readers can hold their phones or tablets up to the comic’s pages to unlock videos and animated content. Users can also use the app to participate in an awareness campaign inspired by Colombian activist and acid attack survivor Natalia Ponce de León.

But why was a comic book chosen? The book’s creator, Ram Devineni, explains that it is primarily targeting teenage boys, who are the next generation of potential aggressors. They are essential in the fight against gendered violence. The augmented reality component was also included to further engage this audience.

Devineni hopes Priya’s Mirror will have a similar impact to the first comic in the series, Priya’s Shakti, which was created in response to the gang rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012. Devineni points out that Priya’s Shakti helped create an “alternative narrative” about how society treats rape survivors.

Reaching out to fellow survivors, Singh says: “The worst thing that could happen to a girl has already been done to us. I wish nobody would go through the same thing. But, for us, it has allowed us to become fearless.”

Read the full feature about this powerful project on Mashable

Featured photo: Illustrations of the acid attack survivors who are the inspiration for the heroes in Priya’s Mirror.

Social media for social marketing: Building a movement for equality

As part of my social media for social marketing series I’m highlighting a diverse range of examples that exemplify this approach in very creative ways.

Last time, I looked at the #LikeAGirl campaign, and now I’ll briefly highlight the impact of the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC’s) Facebook Logo campaign.

In 2013, HRC catalyzed a movement supporting marriage equality, helping overturn Proposition 8 in California and the Defense of Marriage Act. HRC modified its logo by changing its colours to red and pink (see featured photo)—colours frequently associated with romance and love.

On March 25, 2013, the day before the Supreme Court was scheduled to start deliberations on Proposition 8, HRC posted on Facebook encouraging users to adopt the modified logo as their profile picture. The message was shared over 125,000 times. The logo and variants spread through the network, through millions of everyday users and social media influencers such as Beyoncé, George Takei, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres and Martha Stewart. A large number of supporters created their own remixes of the HRC logo, which was a testament to the ability of the campaign to engage and inspire.



The campaign drove over 700,000 unique visitors to HRC’s website in just 24 hours. More than 100,000 of them signed and shared HRC’s ‘Majority Opinion’ petition, recruiting more than 67,000 new supporters. Government leaders and corporations showed their support through Facebook posts and images. Not only did the campaign help overturn Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, it also helped make same-sex marriage become much more socially acceptable to support and advocate for. And the campaign itself won multiple awards to boot.

Read more about the campaign