Subtle, persistent campaigns yield results for those willing to invest

I once worked with a gifted design director on a custom magazine that featured on its cover, and at the client request, a very large logo.

I once worked with a gifted design director on a custom magazine that featured on its cover, and at the client request, a very large logo. The client wanted it to be as big as possible. “Bigger, bigger, bigger!” the client exhorted us, taking the logo beyond the visual tolerance of even a design novice like me. It looked dreadful.

The design director, who would never ordinarily hesitate to do battle to preserve her aesthetic principles, remained quiet and seemingly obliged with the request. As the project progressed through round after round of proofing, the client seeing the full design at least five more times in various stages of proofing, I found that I got used to the cover logo and grew to actually like it. The clients also grew more and more enthusiastic about the quality of the piece.

“You know,” I said to the design director, “I really hated the cover at first, but now I really like it. Not sure why I disliked it before.”

She smiled at me and explained. “That's because I've been gradually making the logo smaller, with each round of proofing.” Indeed, that is what happened. Rather than stand her ground and argue the point, and risk an unhappy client digging its heels in for a pyrrhic victory, she gradually changed the logo until we all ended up with a cover that satisfied everyone, even if they didn't know exactly why.

Genius. And a big lesson learned for me. I was reminded of this recently when The Wall Street Journal reported on how ConAgra, the Campbell Soup Company, and others have been gradually decreasing the sodium levels in many of their food products, without putting a word on their labels.

"If you gradually move sodium down in products, the consumers that use those products get used to them still tasting good but at lower salt," Douglas Balentine, Unilever NV's North American director of nutrition and health told the Journal. Far more effective, it seems, than creating distinctive labels touting low sodium that suggest to consumers they won't get the flavor experience they want. Of course, on an issue where policy could impact your business – e.g., city-mandated limits on food's sodium levels – it might be wise to let regulators know you're making changes, but the point is that sometimes taking the long view is the best route when considering how to change ingrained habits.

How many PR programs are designed to do the same thing, changing behavior, expectations, interest, over the long term, slowly and deliberately? How many companies and brands are willing to let these efforts unfold in this way? Certainly public health issues such as seatbelt use and smoking have benefitted from long-term action and reaffirmation of messages. But we all know we're being educated in those cases.

I'm certain that the fundamental strategies of these activities are being applied to many different types of campaigns, from potato chips to public policy. But I wonder if enough companies and brands are willing to spend the kind of time and money necessary to change behavior and attitudes over the long haul?

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