In the chapter “Taking Troy,” in Begging for Change, Roger Egger introduces the idea of the “calculated epiphany.”
His thinking goes like this. Folks are overwhelmed with direct messages about problems and programs. Those messages don’t work anymore. So you need a stealth way to change their worldview. You need a marketing Trojan Horse that will slip past the gates.
You need a calculated epiphany.
Here’s an example. The for-profit catering firm made up of DC Central Kitchen grads caters a black tie reception. At the end of the night, Egger introduces the kitchen and wait staff, gets a round of applause for them, and then tells folks that they are homeless or formerly homeless. The power of their transformation impresses people and gets them to start changing their ideas about the homeless. (Of course, this would only work after the dinner and after the guests have eaten good food and gotten good service.)
So far, so good. I agree this is a powerful way to change people’s views.
But I disagree with Egger when he takes to task some of the print ads and how they use emotion to make their point.
For example, he critiques an ad by the Ad Council and America’s Second Harvest. The add is a tear-jerker with the picture of a young (white) girl and the text:
Julie is cold. She has chicken skin, she says. She woke up in the middle of the night shivering because I turned the heat down. I’m afraid if my bill gets too high I won’t have any money left for food. I pull Julie close and hug her tight. She says she will be fine-she knows she’s not really a chicken.
Egger makes two critiques of this ad. First, he asks “now what?” Here I agree with him. There isn’t a call to action. The ad doesn’t lead people to do anything.
His proposed ad reads like this:
Everyday, Second Harvest Food Banks save empowerment programs across this country tens of millions of dollars so they can focus on job training, literacy classes, and after-school program so that families like this can live independently
Second harvest-Using Food as a Tool to Combat Hunger and Build Communities, one family at a time.
I ask Egger the same question, “now what?” What do you want me to do?
Also, Egger asserts this will be a more effective ad. I want to see the evidence. Most of the research I’ve seen says that emotion compels action, not statistics and arguments.
Here Egger is acting on ideology, not evidence, and I find it disappointing.