SMACK-ing communication in the face


I’ve been drinking a glass of Coke at night for the last couple of weeks. The reason? I have 5 two-liter bottles of Coke sitting on my balcony thanks to my cousins who bought them just to get a free stuffed polar bear as part of the deal. Their excuse was that they were doing market research because they work in the marketing industry for a small agency in London. And why not research and learn from a company/brand that has been around for over 100 years doing some creative marketing that gets you to buy and drink their product?

Warning: this might upset some people… If their communication and marketing strategy has been so successful, why not apply it to other areas and industries, like around social issues (ex. health, climate change, and education)? The strategy behind the “buying” can be applied to other things like getting people to wash their hands properly or to switch to more climate friendly transportation.

If you’ve ever wondered the same thing, you’re in luck. There’s a summer program at New York University that covers the topic/issue from 8-26 July 2013. It’s called the “Integrated Marketing Communication for Behavioral Impact (IMC/COMBI) in Health and Social Development“. Here’s a brief description of the program:

This New York University course in collaboration with the World Health Organization focuses on strategic communication planning for behavioral impact in health and social development… The course stresses that behavioral impact comes with the critical support of effective communication programs purposefully planned for behavioral results, and not directed just at awareness creation, advocacy, or public education.

I took the 3-week course in 2010 and had a blast: met great people in the program, got some interesting insight by visiting some heavy-weights like UNICEF and Burson-Marsteller, fine-tuned presentation and speaking skills, and came up with some innovative communication ideas and plans. After the 3 weeks, you’ll know why you want to “SMACK” communication in the face. :)

Marketing with a bit of a conscience

UPDATE (4 March 2014): I just found the presentation we put together for the final project of the course on how to provide safe drinking water to South Sudan. Download it here.

I’ve enrolled in a three-week course at New York University on using marketing and communications for social/environment/development issues… basically – taking what Coca Cola, Nike, Nestle, etc. has done with selling their products and applying it to more social justice issues. It’s an interesting concept and one that I’ve been thinking about for a while especially since I’ve been reading on how techniques in advertising, public relations and graphic design can be used to help worth-while causes. The program is called “Integrated Marketing Communication for Behavioral Impact in Health and Social Development” or “IMC/COMBI” for short.

I’m in week two of the program and it’s been a lot of discussions, lectures, presentations, and field trips to advertising and PR agencies in NYC. It’s great to be exposed to a variety of different marketing-type companies and projects. So now it’s onto the final week – I think there’s a likely possibility of staying after school to work on a final project – a marketing communication plan that will encourage someone somewhere to adjust their behavioral for some common good… so far, we are going try to ensure that people in rural Northern Sudan are able to have clean drinking water.

Washington Square Park – just outside our NYU classes where it’s a pretty chilled place to take a break.

Logo for Timor and Signs in NYC

If you’re wondering about the photo above, yes, that’s NOT New York… that’s Timor-Leste and that’s the logo I designed for an Asian Foundation project on Community-Police Partnership (the one on the far right). The whole process was an experience and interesting working with Asia Foundation and their local partners on figuring out how to represent their project as a logo and to have it make sense for the local communities, police, and governments working together.

It’s been a busy week in NYC… Museum of Natural History, walks in Central Park, basketball in Brooklyn, shopping, eating… did I mention that there is a lot (maybe too much) to do in NYC? There are also lots and lots of signs and symbols that are iconic in NY or if not, will be difficult to forget when I’m not in the city anymore. It’s funny how are memories are based on signs and symbols that we see. We may be have five (or sometimes six) senses, but it seems the visual one gets the most work out.

Sightseeing in English is a weird feeling

Burger at midnight - not the best idea

One of the strangest feelings I had when we first came to NYC was being a tourist in an English-speaking country. It was strange to not have to argue, bargain, or explain myself in another language other than English. I was so use to trying to converse in another language (very limited French, Thai, Tetun, Bahasa Indonesian) that being in an ALL English-speaking country was hard to get use to at the beginning. It’s amazing not to have to try to find words, organize your thoughts/sentences/phrases, or even use hand signs when trying to go to the toilet, order food, buy stuff… It’s a strange feeling and I guess it takes a bit of getting use to (or adjusted)… I wonder if this is “reverse culture shock”?

There’s so much to do in NYC that trying to find out what’s going just gives me a headache… I guess it’s a exercise in patience and decision-making. No matter how much you think you know NYC, there are always new things to discover… just check out Time Out New York or if you need to plan on doing anything in the Big Apple.

“Hiking” through Manhattan

The "urban hike"

Because we wanted to get out and do some walking – a great way to see NYC by the way – and to meet some new people, Muriel and I joined a walk, or as our guide Dorian told us, an “urban hike”. I’ve been on hikes through the countryside and around islands before, so what would be the big deal in “hiking” through New York’s urban environment, where the pavement is flat and where you can stop anytime for a smoothie. But I think all of us on the tour (only 4 of us made it up at 730am on a Saturday morning) underestimated the pain – we hiked from Times Square, up along the Upper West Side, crossing Harlem and Spanish Harlem in the north, down the Upper East Side, further down Lower Eastside and then to Battery Park, finally going back up to Tribeca… we almost made it back to Times Square, but by that time we were sitting down an enjoying a well-deserved meal when we decided it was better to call it a day. We started at 730am and we didn’t finish until around 3pm – other than a couple of brief breaks, we were walking for about 8 hours!

B is for Brooklyn and Brownstones

I’ve been in New York for a whole week (2 more months to go) and I haven’t even scratched the surface… so far the city has blown me away. Temperatures are rising, people are on the streets, free events starting, and the food has been diverse and delicious.

Our first exposure to NYC was staying at our friend’s 100+ year-old brownstone building in Brooklyn (and a long walk to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge). And to top it off, it was on the penthouse floor with a roof deck… definitely will try to convince her to have some summer drinks up there. We stayed in an upcoming part of Brooklyn called Park Slope. It includes Prospect Park, which I’ve been told, was also designed by the guy who designed Central Park. The area was calm and family-oriented, with a lot of tree-lined streets and little cafes and restaurants. This western part of Brooklyn is a lot nicer than the eastern part coming from JFK where the streetscape looked a lot like the down and dirty NY that we usually see in movies. I can’t wait to do more exploring and to actually see designs, architecture, buildings, streets, urban plans that I studied in university and that NYC is infamous for – to be exposed to so much energy, people, diversity and action is sometimes overwhelming – I’ve been taking naps everyday just to recuperate.