During the 1980s, the “two fisted slobber” was an animated character who would appear periodically during Milwaukee Brewers baseball games on the video scoreboard. His purpose was to address a rash of bad stadium etiquette. He was fat, drooled, and spilled beer and ketchup on the people sitting near him while simultaneously belching and yelling at the top of his extremely large lungs. This behavioral social marketing campaign on behalf of the Brewers organization was designed to make a mockery of bad behavior in an amusing way and to inspire fans to say to each other – hey, I think you’ve had enough – Don’t be a “two fisted slobber”!.
The problem with the “two fisted slobber” is that fans, over time, actually grew quite fond of him, seeing him as a model for amusing antics rather than the dismal fool he was, even rising out of their seats to toast him whenever he appeared. He was eventually pulled from the game. He lives on in kitschy t-shirt shops.
I would not go so far as to say the “two fisted slobber” completely backfired, but I don’t think he was especially effective. So the question is – is there something inherently faulty about negative social marketing? Is social marketing more effective with positive reinforcement dominates?
In the case of having a fictional “villain” – my hunch is that there will always be a certain percentage of people who sympathize with him for whatever reason, and in doing so become defensive when he continues to be berated. The irony of teenagers’ mocking of anti-drug campaigns comes to mind. When told not to do something, people often go ahead and do it.
A more effective social marketing campaign (judging by its longevity), would be Smokey Bear’s campaign to improve campfire safety. It relies on a more positive character and does not vilify anyone. Smokey doesn’t tell you NOT to do anything – rather, he says “Remember…Only You Can Prevent Wildfires!” (see official Smokey Site here).
That’s actually somewhat flattering – the campaign is saying that not only is it your responsibility to be careful with fire, but he says you can actually do it. Only you! You’re the one with the special ability, and you’d better use it, or else there might be a horrible fire. Plus, everyone loves a friendly bear.