One TV Spot Shows 5 Ways to Make Facts Matter

If you’ve worked in advocacy, marketing or communications, you’ve probably come across it before – the killer fact. The fact that makes your point, and then some. “Wow,” someone says, “if people only knew …”

Then, one day, you recognize one of two things:

  1. People already knew it. Maybe not specifically, that precise killer fact, but generally they knew some food wasn’t healthy, some people weren’t being treated fairly or some politician wasn’t honest. What we saw as a killer fact was just another example of what our target audience already recognized. It was baked into their behavior the way expected earnings are factored into a stock price.
  2. People don’t seem to care. Maybe you felt this during the election (this works regardless of what side you were on). We’re expecting dramatic recognition of what we saw all along. Instead, we get a shrug – like no big deal.

Well, here’s the harsh reality: Facts don’t matter. Not in isolation. Not by themselves. Facts – even astonishing or incriminating facts – are simply one Lego in a much larger structure. When it comes to behavior change, the real levers of power are context, choices, needs-states and behavioral determinants.

Case in point: This new 60-second spot for the Horizon Foundation campaign against sugary drinks.


The Killer Fact is clear: Gatorade has all the sugar of soda. But is that really the power behind this series of spots? We think not. There are actually at least five ways this spot shows how all of us can make the fact matter.



Recognize your “killer fact” is only a starting point.

In this case, we had a powerful data point. Only one in four Maryland parents (27%) considered sports drinks “unhealthy” but, in research last year, once they heard that a 20-ounce sports drink packed in all the sugar of a can of soda, that number almost tripled. In fact, two-thirds of those interviewed said it would make them less likely to buy sports drinks.

But we knew it was not that simple: While consumers in surveys report making logical utility-based decisions, we know factors such as emotion, norms and short-term rewards are what really guide behavior. We had a surprising fact, that changed how parents viewed sports drinks.. Our next step was to find the emotional and behavioral levers to pull.


Tell a story, not a truth.

Chances are you are more interested in your fact that your audience is. If our audience wanted to know more about public health, they would have pursued an MPH. People want to enjoy themselves – not hear downer messages. These spots play out like little mysteries – we explore a question with the people in the spot. These stories have a beginning, middle and end. It’s entertaining. Imagine if the spot below started with our Killer Fact instead of the question that set it up. There would be no reason to watch.

Show real-people reactions, not just peer-reviewed studies.

These spots start where our target does – the stars of the spot have no idea where this is headed. Slowly, ordinary people of all shapes and sizes go on the same journey as the viewer. Their reactions are real. They have the credibility of a convert instead of the distance of a spokesperson for an organization with an agenda. They’re like us, so we relate.

Viewers are not just learning new information, they are seeing how people like them react.

Tap into the power of social norms.

Facts only go so far – they point out one way to look at reality. But as social creatures we’re looking at how others react: Is this something people like me just dismiss and move on? Is this something others really care about? What’s the social norm – the thing I’m expected to do?

Listen to the mother at the end of the spot below and imagine how this makes other mothers like her feel. She’s essentially saying moms who care about their kids don’t let them buy sports drinks. But what’s great is that she doesn’t actually say it. She demonstrates it. If you imagine she represents many mothers, you now have another reason to keep sports drinks away from you kids: You don’t want to be seen as a bad mom.

Address more than what NOT to do.

You can only glimpse it in these spots, but one of the foundations of this campaign is making the healthy choices more visible and accessible. Maybe one of the reasons in this last election that many voters didn’t seem to care about incriminating facts about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton facts is because they so detested the alternative.

Same goes when the only alternative we offer to sugary drinks is tap water. One of the foundations of the Horizon campaign, which was recently featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was a Better Beverage Finder, which helps people find healthy drinks they love. The URL at the end of these spots – – takes viewers to a sister website where they type in the drink they love now and we suggest alternatives based on that drink.

So yes, we had a fact our target audience didn’t know yet (for the most part). But the big reveal was not the answer. It was the context and the tone of the reveal, and how it was used to leverage common behavioral determinants. It was how it made Gatorade look risky (not fun), difficult to stomach (not easy) and an anathema to loving parents (not popular).

Peter Mitchell is Principal + Chief Creative Officer at Marketing for Change.