So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

Fish felt like the theme at Lions Health this year (including some fish controversy) and right in the middle of it all were some ideas that really stood out for being as simple as one can get in this business today — a couple of low-tech gems. One of them was the Lucky Iron Fish.

My grandmother used to have an iron pot that she would cook with over the fire (she had an oven, too, but favored the pot for stews and bread baking). I remember the great taste of her stew and dumplings and the tang of the iron from the pot. I wasn’t popping vitamins and I didn’t want to eat my greens, but I was certainly getting a regular dose of iron. The Lucky Iron Fish does the same thing for the millions of Cambodians who have an iron deficiency simply by encouraging people to drop a block of iron into the cooking pot for ten minutes. Even better, make the block fish-shaped, which is a cultural symbol of good luck, and more people were likely to take up the practice. Marry that with foraging the fish locally and using local people to create the packaging (many of whom were victims of land mines), put it all together and you have an idea that is life changing in more ways than one. Lovely.

Equally beautiful is the Life Saving Dot. In India, a Bindi is a sign of beauty and many women wear one daily. Coincidently, many Indian women also suffer from serious iodine deficiencies. Getting these women to be seen and treated for the deficiency or distributing the correct drugs and expecting them to be taken regularly was a challenge. Normally we might do a PSA about the iodine deficiency crisis, but the creators of Life Saving Dot had a different idea: one based on an understanding of people, Indian culture and their daily habits. Using this knowledge, Life Saving Dot initiated behavior change; not by introducing a new behavior, but by turning up inside an ancient one and placing a dose of iodine onto the Bindi that women wear everyday.

“Where’s the salt? There’s nothing coming out!,” was all you’d hear as my mum and dad shook the saltcellar vigorously all over their dinner. They both had high blood pressure and neither of them ever listened when I pointed out that they were putting too much salt on their food. I get the feeling that this conversation happens in different languages in many different countries, which is why someone in Argentina had the genius idea of adding purple dye to regular salt to make it show up on your food.

Now for more fish or rather fishy-ness.

As I look at the sheer elegance of these ideas, I can’t help but wish I had been in the room for the creation of any one of them. There was some controversy at Lions Health about whether these ideas were “agency ideas” or done by someone else. What does that mean? And why does it matter?

The real beauty of these three ideas is that they cannot be described as traditional advertising: they do not tell you what to do or think, rather they actually change behavior just by existing. Agencies can learn from that. Today we need to be more fluid with our thinking and move away from the formulas of “what agencies do.” The Life Saving Dot did not need a content platform. Salt You Can See did not need an app, and the Lucky Iron Fish did not need healthy recipe suggestions. They are just deceptively simple ideas that people adopted because they fitted into their lives. And that’s where the future of marketing lies: finding ideas that truly connect with people by using all of the wonderful tools that we have at hand – whether it is hi tech, low tech or ancient tech.


This article was originally published by MediaPost

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