Why apologize for sexual assault when you could help stop it?
To paraphrase a great persuader, what’s important is not what senders put into their message but what receivers take out of it. The target for this message is young men. And what the creators of this message put into it is very different from what many young men take out of it.
More than one-third of the people who expressed an opinion on this ad disliked it. It’s clear that most of those who disliked the ad are young men. They not only disliked the message, it made them angry.
Why wouldn’t this message work? Why would people dislike a video that literally says:
- “Stop sexual assault.”
- “Don’t blame the victim.”
- “Get a friend home safe.”
To persuade young men, the message should talk about something they want and show them how to get it. It should offer young men a reward for taking the recommended action. But this message says nothing about what young men want. It offers no reward.
One might argue that doing what’s morally correct should be reward enough. It should be, but moral correctness is not persuasive.
Secondly, with every message, the sender makes an implicit promise to receivers. The sender promises receivers that they will want to receive the message. Just by sending a message, the sender implies the message is worthy of attention. This message is not worthy of attention because it doesn’t communicate what its target would like to hear. It only communicates what the sender wants to say.
Any message that asks for a change of behavior and doesn’t talk about what receivers want to hear is nagging.
This nagging message is not just ineffective; it angers many young men. Why?
The negative emotional reaction to the ad comes from its tone and style. What an ad says is less important than how the ad says it. The disapproving looks and somber music of the ad give the impression of parents wagging their fingers at sons who’ve disappointed them. The tone, style, and selection of spokespeople seem to communicate to many that young men are an embarrassment and that society would be better off if all young men were metrosexuals. That’s not what the message literally says, but that’s what the message communicates.
It is possible to come at the problem in a different way.
One should start by thinking about what young men want that they can get by taking the anti-sexual assault pledge. For example, young men want to feel manly. They buy certain cigarettes to feel manly. They buy certain beers to feel manly. They wear certain clothes to feel manly. Can young men feel manly by taking the anti-sexual assault pledge? Of course, they can. But young men won’t feel manly by taking an apologetic, whiny “It’s on us.” pledge. If Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, and Sylvester Stallone (or your favorite manly men) tell young men that “Real men don’t.”, and encourage them to take the “Real men don’t” pledge, many would take the pledge and few would get angry.
This message encourages people outside the target to pat themselves on the back for being against sexual assault. Unfortunately, it makes its target angry and doesn’t do anything to reduce the problem. Talk about what young men want and show them how to get it. Make the message something young men want to hear not something you want to say.