It was 1996, and one of the world’s largest military bases, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, had a problem.
It was losing far too many service personnel to road accidents. The fatalities and injuries far out-numbered those from other accidents during training.
And you can understand why.
These were young (mostly) men, who were being trained to be tough and fearless, and not unnaturally, took that attitude on to the roads when they were off-duty.
The military high-ups had produced plenty of public service-style communications – stern lectures, videos and so on about the dangers on the road.
They had no effect on the death toll.
So, they took another tack.
They came up with a ridiculous idea. They got soldiers to put on a song-and-dance show.
Between the musical numbers, they ran videos about the terrible death toll from road accidents.
It was the most ridiculous show you’d ever see.
And it worked, cutting road deaths by a third.
Why was it necessary? This was the army – you could order people to watch something.
You could force them to be in the room, and awake. But you couldn’t force them to internalise the message.
Even with this captive audience, you had to seduce their attention.
Entertainment – even as in this case, utterly irrelevant entertainment – leavened the stern message.
There are no truly captive audiences.
And most of the time, we can’t even order them to watch.
We have to seduce, we have to engage.
And that applies from the 50p-in-a-charity-box donor, to the billion-pound foundation donor.
There are no captive audiences. Everyone has to be seduced. Everyone has to be engaged.