Research & Insights

Message to Myself: “Wow…I Can Do It!”

I watched the #likeagirl video that recently went viral. It is inspiring and gets people to see that using “you throw like a girl” as well-intentioned teasing is in fact a disempowering insult. The video’s director, Lauren Greenfield, summed up for the Telegraph what was so powerful about her approach of asking people to demonstrate what it means to run like a girl:

“That moment of realisation – when the women and men in our film suddenly understood that they had been sucked into this cultural cliché – is magical to witness, because the viewer also gets to experience it at the same time. It is not judgmental, but collegiate – a moment we share that is simple and yet instantly empowering and illuminating.”


For many issues we work on – from racial equity to gender discrimination – we can’t simply lecture people about what’s right and wrong and expect change. We need them to experience the point we’re making, and decipher what it means to them personally. I call this epiphany messaging. It is messaging that sparks people to have epiphanies for themselves that motivate them to change their mind or behavior, or both. It isn’t easy to do, but incredibly powerful when it happens.

Hold up a mirror and let people see for themselves

A fellow FRANKster, Shankar Vedantam, writes about studies that show how to use hypocrisy to motivate people. A critical element of this approach is getting people to see FOR THEMSELVES when and how they are hypocritical, instead of us calling them out as hypocrites. A psychologist in California used this with students who were not using condoms despite knowing the health risks, by asking them to make videos telling others the importance of safe sex. Once they made their heart-felt pitches, they became more likely to use condoms themselves. He credits “gently rubbing their face in their own hypocrisy” as the reason for behavior change that stuck.

Give them room to change their own mind

Another approach to change is seen in the research Third Way did that helped shape the messaging behind the freedom to marry movement for LGBT people. One of the most important recommendations they made was to “give people permission to change their minds about why gay couples marry.” They suggested featuring people as messengers who could describe changing their own opinion, and showing the journey they took. This allows others to reconsider their own position because they see someone like them doing it, and resolve a difficult issue in a way that aligns with their values. This ad shows this concept in action.

Offer questions instead of answers

Researcher and author Anat Shenker-Osorio (@anatosaurus) shared yet another idea for developing epiphany messaging, specifically with progressives. In a recent talk, she suggested that this audience is more open to new ideas and will change their minds about issues if you spark curiosity rather than laying down the law. Instead of messages as statements, ask questions. For example, you could say something like ‘when is it ok for men to get paid more than women when they are doing the same job?’ This may lead to a more interesting response than if you say: women should be paid the same as men. By making a statement, people can think about exceptions when it might be ok to pay women less. However, when you ask them a question, many will come up with the same response that it is never okay to pay women less than a man for the same job. People believe it more when they come up with the answer themselves, rather than being told.

Let them motivate themselves

I’ll leave you with the brilliance of Nike’s Just Do It campaign. Not only is it memorable. When you see these ads in print or on TV,  the words “Just Do It” appear. They are never spoken. You say them to yourself. This mantra may lead to the epiphany that you need to get off the couch—and need new shoes to do so.

Posted: August 8, 2014
Tagged as: , , ,