Social Marketing Analysis: One Kalamazoo


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This is an analysis by Milano Management student Dava Antoniotti of the One Kalamazoo Campaign to pass a municipal ordinance prohibiting discrimination of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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Social Marketing Analysis: One Kalamazoo

  1. 1. A Media Advocacy and Social Marketing Analysis of the One Kalamazoo Campaign Dava Antoniotti Spring 2010
  2. 2. 2 Dava Antoniotti Spring 2010 A Media Advocacy and Social Marketing Analysis of the One Kalamazoo Campaign On July 31st of 2009, an official campaign was launched in Kalamazoo, Michigan to pass an ordinance that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. Kalamazoo, with a population of approximately 77,000, had been grappling with the issue for a number of years as grassroots activists from the area worked to develop a strategy that would persuade voters and city leaders that adopting a more comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance would benefit the entire community. With the ordinance on the November ballot, the official launch of the One Kalamazoo campaign marked the beginning of a critical three months in which members of the campaign would utilize a variety of media to raise awareness about LGBT discrimination, gain acceptance of the idea that such persons in Kalamazoo deserve to be treated fairly and equally, and promote the behavior of citizens taking action and voting yes to pass the ordinance. The issue at hand involved a close examination of policy and power, which brought the need for media advocacy to the forefront. Social marketing strategy to influence individual behavior would also be necessary since citizen votes were needed to achieve the intended goal. In the end, the individuals working within the One Kalamazoo campaign used both media advocacy and social marketing strategy to achieve their goal of passing a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance that protected the rights of LGBT citizens. Through a careful landscape assessment that helped the campaign to identify and understand their target audience, current community attitudes, and the potential barriers that could prevent the desired behavioral change, a comprehensive communications strategy was constructed with a focus on positive, one-sided messaging, the use of partnerships and opportunities for local discourse.
  3. 3. 3 Identifying and Understanding the Target Audience In order to develop an effective media strategy, the campaign needed to identify and understand its target audience with more specificity than simply “Kalamazoo voters”. An assessment of current attitudes was done through a series of informal conversations with community members and more formal interviews with community leaders. One Kalamazoo Campaign Manager Jon Hoadley reported that between 50 and 60 interviews were done with a variety of significant individuals within the community to find out how much knowledge people had, and how they felt about the ordinance. The One Kalamazoo steering committee included community leaders with a variety of perspectives and areas of knowledge and expertise such as public schooling, faith groups, university student leadership, business owners and nonprofit leaders, and advocacy groups such as the NAACP. Having a broad range of perspectives allowed the campaign to more fully understand how messaging should be approached. Because a wide range of opinions on LGBT rights, from very supportive to very opposed, existed in the Kalamazoo community, Narda Beauchamp, a member of the steering committee identified the target audience as the moveable middle. “We focused our energies on trying to educate people who were open enough to even have a dialogue or try to analyze the situation.” (Beauchamp). Hoadley felt that on the issue of LGBT rights, most people are not very persuadable, and directing communications toward those who are already supportive of the idea,
  4. 4. 4 but may need further motivation to take action would be the most successful. “Most people come to their decision on LGBT issues with a combination of a rational approach and an irrational approach. What is their gut telling them, what are their friends saying. The focus of the campaign was “who are people who are currently identifying with us who might end up moving away because they might hear something that scares them or that is a lie. That’s who we were really focusing on keeping.” (Hoadley) Selecting Media and Modes of Communication In the One Kalamazoo campaign the product being promoted was acceptance and adoption, through a public vote, of the non-discrimination ordinance. Having identified the target audience the had the potential to deliver the campaign’s objectives, the individuals working within the campaign had the important job of deciding how to reach their audience in a compelling way. Because the issue was local, using a very local approach to media outreach would be most effective. While earlier national coverage of the issue was important in attracting some funding from national organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as well as political leadership in the campaign, local messaging in this final three-month period was likely to have the greatest impact on intended outcomes. The campaign chose to leverage local television advertising to raise awareness of the issue, hold town-hall style meetings to create opportunities for local discourse and education on the issues at hand, go door-to-door to give supportive or undecided voters the chance to have one-on-one dialogues with campaign supporters, and to create a recurring presence in the local newspaper by encouraging supporters to write letters to the editor throughout the campaign. Reading the supportive arguments of friends and neighbors in the local press reminded voters that this was an issue that mattered to everyday community members, not just liberal outsiders. With 77,000 citizens to reach, mass-media communication was necessary. Because the topic at hand had great potential for both controversy and lack of understanding, however, a mass- communication approach would not be sufficient on its own, and even personal dialogue had to
  5. 5. 5 be handled carefully. “People won’t show up to a giant group meeting where they feel like their question might be judged,” said Campaign Manager Jon Hoadley. “We brought the opportunity to dialogue to people’s doors. We knocked on 15 or 16 thousand doors. That’s when you can have a real conversation with someone” (Hoadley). Barriers to Acceptance and Action Through conversations with community members, research on opposing views, and prior knowledge of the debate over LGBT rights, the One Kalamazoo campaign was able to identify a number of potential barriers to the intended action of a yes vote on the nondiscrimination ordinance. This set of fears and beliefs could prove too costly for the intended behavior and attitude change to occur. The primary group opposing the ordinance put forth a list of arguments and fear-tactics intended to influence voters. They claimed that the ordinance was a form of discrimination against business owners, people of faith, and those who disagree with LGBT sexual behaviors, that the ordinance would “stop potential violations of the privacy rights of women and children in public restrooms, locker rooms and showers”, and that the ordinance violated “the First Amendment rights of religion and free speech of those who oppose cross- dressing and homosexual behavior” (Talking Points: Is There a Man in your Daughter’s Bathroom). Although barriers to action may not always be based in fact, they are no less significant to the audience and must be considered in planning an effective marketing strategy. In
  6. 6. 6 addition to these potential psychological and ideological barriers to participation, One Kalamazoo also had to consider the social price of supporting the ordinance if one’s social circle is not also in agreement. “The strong acculturating power of local discourse results in major part from the thickness of interconnection of small groups and local communities. A closely knit group (family, congregation, schoolmates – in some conditions even co-workers) can bring considerable pressure to bear on a member who departs from the group’s beliefs and approved behavior…Because the sense of self is so strongly affected by socialization in groups like these, and because the social issues repeatedly bring group identities and group status into play, a realistic view of the politics of gender, race and religion will take into account not only such things as mass mailings or TV announcements, but local discourse as well.” (Karst, pg 7) The social nature of the decision-making process made opportunities for local discourse an important tool in the One Kalamazoo outreach strategy. Understanding High Involvement vs. Low Involvement Perception To make appropriate decisions about types of media messaging and how much information should be included, the campaign had to understand whether the audience would consider the vote to be a high involvement or low involvement decision. “Consumers will be more involved in a situation if they perceive it as having immediate and personal relevance to themselves. Moreover, if the situation is perceived as having a high degree of risk associated with it, the level of involvement will also be enhanced. Low-involvement decisions…are typically of little importance to the consumer as the outcome of the decision will not have a major impact on their lifestyle. Such decisions involve little thought, do not involve a detailed search for information in respect of the alternatives, and carry few penalties if the wrong decision is made” (Sargeant 222). While many of the One Kalamazoo advocates and supporters may have felt that the decision at hand was one of low involvement, since prohibiting discrimination against a small segment of the local population would not have immediate personal effects on the majority of citizens, the opposition seemed to feel that the decision was one of high involvement, with a great deal of risk
  7. 7. 7 involved for the entire community. At the largest public debate over the ordinance, held at the Kalamazoo Public Library, each side was given twenty minutes to present its argument. As a representative from the opposition spoke, she showed a slide show full of photographs of outrageously costumed individuals from gay pride parades around the country and told the audience “this is what you’re bringing to our city” (Beauchamp). Clearly the opposition viewed the issue as high-involvement for every member of the community, and One Kalamazoo had to decide how to address their target audience with this in mind. Positively and Negatively Framed Messages High involvement decisions require a greater degree of thought, so messages tend to be more effective when they include more detailed information about the benefits of adopting a behavior. In this case, the opposition was campaigning for the behavior of a no vote on the ordinance. High involvement decisions also tend to fare better when paired with negatively framed messages highlighting the risks of not adopting the intended behavior (Sargeant 236). Having approached the issue from a high-involvement perspective, the opposition chose messaging that presented voters with detailed information about the perceived risks of adopting the ordinance (the consequences of not taking the action of voting no). One such message was a television advertisement that showed a young girl walking into a restroom in a public park, followed shortly behind by an adult male in dark sunglasses who looked around for observers before entering the restroom behind the young girl. The advertisement then displayed the words “On June 29, 2009 your City Commission made this legal. Is this what you want for Kalamazoo?” One Kalamazoo
  8. 8. 8 chose a positively framed message approach, focused on the benefits of voting yes, which tends to be more successful in low-involvement decisions. “Ultimately, our approach to the messaging was this is a campaign that is about the core values of Kalamazoo, values that we can all agree on, that we should treat people fairly and equally” (Hoadley). One-Sided or Two-Sided Messages With the opposition publicizing so many arguments against the ordinance, the One Kalamazoo supporters had to decide whether to adopt a one-sided messaging approach that would focus exclusively on the campaign objectives and reasons for supporting the ordinance and voting yes, or a two-sided approach that would also acknowledge the opposing arguments and possibly diffuse them. While two-sided messages are generally better for audiences that hold a negative view of the behavior change, or are well educated, one-sided messages are often used for audiences who already view the behavior positively and/or are less educated (Sargeant 235). Because One Kalamazoo had already chosen to target citizens who had a pre-existing favorable leaning view of LGBT rights, a one-sided approach seemed to be the appropriate choice. Another motivation for choosing a one-sided approach was One Kalamazoo leaders’ awareness that it would not be a wise use of time or scarce media resources to try to address all of the opposing arguments. Beauchamp emphasized that early on, campaign leaders realized through attempts at dialogue with the opposition that there were simply too many false assertions. “There was such a mountain of untruths, trying to address each of them would give too much attention to what they were saying. When there is a microphone in front of you, maybe fifteen seconds of what you say will end up on the air. We couldn’t debate logically with people who were presenting volumes of false information” (Beauchamp). Instead of making attempts at that debate, One Kalamazoo focused exclusively on why voters should support the ordinance, keeping messaging simple.
  9. 9. 9 Strategic Partnerships From the beginning, One Kalamazoo saw the need for coalitions and partnerships that could help them to reach diverse segments of the population, since much of their audience already respected the views and opinions of their own community leaders. “Communication strategies that acknowledge the significance of the opinion leaders and formers are far more likely to effect the desired change in behavior” (Sargeant 223). Anticipating that the opposition might try to divide the community with messaging that suggested the ordinance would harm some segments of the Kalamazoo population more than others, One Kalamazoo reached out to form coalitions with members of the NAACP, downtown churches and other faith-based groups, women’s organizations and others who represented segments of the target audience who could have been more difficult to persuade. The campaign referenced these partnerships and endorsements in Internet viral video messages, the campaign’s website, and even television advertisements. “We’ve seen before that the opposition will try to use the politics of race and religion to create a wedge. We wanted to make sure that our partnerships reflected that the community wasn’t divided” (Hoadley). In addition, One Kalamazoo organizers communicated regularly with activists in other states who were working to pass similar LGBT ordinances in their own communities, to share resources, information and ideas. These strategic partnerships allowed the campaign to work quickly and streamline their processes rather than creating duplicate work in multiple communities. Strategic Advertising While face-to-face dialogue was a critical part of communicating information and gathering support for the ordinance, television advertising had the potential to reach much higher numbers of voters much more quickly. The challenge was to select words and images that would communicate the most important messages clearly to a diverse viewership. According to Sargeant, there are three significant stages in creating an effective message. “Before a social idea can gain acceptance, the target audience must be apprised of the concept and made to
  10. 10. 10 realize that alternative behaviors exist.” Next “the social marketer must strive to ensure that the target audience actually understands the benefits that a change in behavior could bring” and finally “it is then necessary to generate a sense of conviction” (Sargeant 233). The television advertisement needed to make viewers aware of the issue, show them why the ordinance was important, and tell them exactly what they could do to help. “There were a big chunk of voters who didn’t know the difference between a yes and a no vote” (Hoadley). Delivering clear instructions to those voters would be critical. The source of the message would also be relevant to viewers; whether or not they felt a connection to the source might determine whether or not the messages had an impact. The advertisements used images and voices of a wide variety of Kalamazoo residents, people of different races, genders and ages, as well as families with children. “We needed to make sure that the messengers in the campaign aligned with the people we were trying to reach” (Hoadley). In one advertisement, Narda Beauchamp declares that she is both a mother and a teacher, and that she supports the ordinance. In other videos, faith leaders in the community declare their support of One Kalamazoo. The most prominent television advertisement featured the faces of diverse local people, set against a backdrop of familiar downtown Kalamazoo sites. In a woman’s voice, the voiceover says:
  11. 11. 11 “Admit it, Kalamazoo is special. A great place to live, study, work and raise a family, and Black, White straight and gay we’re working hard to be one Kalamazoo. On November 3rd , a Yes vote on non-discrimination ordinance 1856 will help guarantee that all Kalamazoo families are treated fairly and equally, by adding basic protections for people who are gay or transgender, and reaffirming equality and fairness for all. Vote November 3rd – Yes on 1856” The advertisement seeks to promote the idea of unity that goes beyond divisions such as race, gender identity and sexual orientation and that all residents really want the same thing: to live in a community where people are treated fairly. It makes a statement about the benefits of passing the ordinance, and it clearly instructs viewers how they can play a part in creating a more just community – by voting yes on November 3rd . The 30-second spot achieves all three of Sargeant’s goals for social marketing messages. The spot also highlights, in text below the primary images, endorsements by the NAACP, YWCA and League of Women Voters. This further serves to unify the message and show support from a variety of community leaders. Strategy Leads to Success The One Kalamazoo campaign faced powerful resistance from conservative groups, but by launching a comprehensive media advocacy and social marketing campaign, they were able to successfully pass a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT citizens in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Every step in the process was significant, beginning with a landscape assessment that involved interviews with community members, analysis of challenges faced by cities of similar size and demographic in passing their own non-discrimination ordinances, research on opposing viewpoints and potential barriers to participation, and developing an understanding of how everyday citizens in Kalamazoo make decisions about issues affecting their community. The campaign identified the most relevant mass-media outlets with the appropriate local reach, television networks and newspapers local people respected and turned to for information, and chose messaging with the aim of making diverse voters feel included, clearly laying out the
  12. 12. 12 benefits of participation in the campaign, and telling voters exactly what action to take in support of the ordinance. No less significantly, the campaign identified that such a complex and potentially controversial issue might require a face-to-face approach, and one in which people could feel comfortable asking questions about a topic as sensitive as sexual orientation and gender identity, so they launched a tremendous door-to-door campaign to get the message to voters. The One Kalamazoo campaign understood the importance of local discourse, and they focused their message as locally as they could, asking volunteers to write letters to the editor, appear in television advertisements, and talk to friends and family about the ordinance. The One Kalamazoo campaign is a model of media advocacy and social marketing success, bringing together education about policy and its impact on people, and grassroots marketing to inspire citizen action on November 3rd , 2009. Voters passed the ordinance in a 62 to 38 margin, marking an important step toward equality in the Kalamazoo community.
  13. 13. 13 References Beauchamp, Narda. Steering Committee Member, One Kalamazoo. Personal Interview. 2 Mar. 2010. Hoadley, Jon. Campaign Manager, One Kalamazoo. Personal Interview 3 Mar. 2010 Karst, Kenneth L. “Local Discourse and the Social Issues.” Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature. 12.1 (2000): 1-36. “One Kalamazoo: Vote Yes for Fairness and Equality.” One Kalamazoo. 28 Feb 2010. <> Sargeant, Adrian. Marketing Management in Nonprofit Organizations. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. “Talking Points: Is There a Man in your Daughter’s Bathroom.” Responsible Voters. 28 Feb 2010. <> Dava Antoniotti is a graduate student in nonprofit management at Milano: The New School for Management and Urban Policy in New York City. Images and quotations are used with the permission of the One Kalamazoo campaign.