The power of video — Changing a nation’s behaviour in under 3 weeks

Video is perhaps the most powerful tool for engaging with an audience.

It is a medium that connects people—one that can terrify, enlighten, educate and amuse. Most importantly of all, when used in conjunction with a truly great idea, video has the ability to change peoples’ behaviour.

In April 1987, while the rest of the developed world was struggling to come to grips with the deadly AIDS epidemic, the Australian government launched a controversial advertising campaign so effective in its execution that it simply could not be ignored. The advertisement depicted a terrifying, skeletal Grim Reaper in tattered, decaying rags as he indiscriminately struck down men, women and children who were lined up as human bowling pins. As the scene unfolded, a sullen voiceover foretold the predicted death toll of the AIDS epidemic.

If you were alive in 1987, then there's a good chance that you know the exact advertisement of which I speak. Like me, the terrifying images are probably forever burned into your mind's eye. Recent figures suggest that an adult living in the Western world is exposed to in excess of 5,000 advertisements per day. How amazing then to think that an advertisement from 30 years ago remains to be amongst the most memorable we've ever seen. Even more impressive is the fact that this advert ran for less than three weeks, and in that time changed an entire nation's behaviour in a very measurable way.

...this advert ran for less than three weeks and in that time changed an entire nation's behaviour in a very measurable way.

The result? HIV infection rates peaked the same year as the advertisement and continued to fall steadily for the following decade. It seemed Australia had well and truly gotten the message. In fact, since the Grim Reaper awareness campaign was beamed into our living rooms, Australia has boasted one of the lowest HIV infection rates in the developed world. Coincidence? I think not.

Power of video

What lesson can we take from this? Simply that the power of video is in the idea. If you truly want your video to have an impact – to start conversations and change behaviours – then invest more time in the conception. Production values are the easy part, and the world is replete with adverts that attempt to mask poor ideas with slick production. But a truly great idea, an idea that starts a conversation, makes a sale, stops something, starts something, shocks us, makes us laugh, enters our everyday vernacular: that is simply everything.

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