Tackling Wicked Problems
As organizations look to activism to help solve the world’s “wicked problems” and foster audience loyalty, they’ll need Edutainment initiatives that focus on Science, Social Issues, or Sustainability. Edutainment alone can’t solve these problems. But brands and organizations can break down these topics in simple and interesting ways to create engaging content and make people feel passionate about a cause.
Many of the most powerful examples in Act 2 of our Edutainment story were from organizations and initiatives seeking to solve what Horst Rittel coined as 'Wicked Problems’.
What's a 'wicked problem'?
‟...a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil”
Many of these wicked problems can be broadly categorized as being based around Science, Social Issues, or Sustainability. As an example, The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals are often thought of as Wicked Problems.
Edutainment isn’t going to solve them alone, but it can certainly make positive change - particularly among the generations who are taking over our world.
One example is in health. According to a recent marketing study from Baylor University, storytelling that educates and entertains - aka "edutainment" - is a powerful communications tool that can lead to positive health-related changes among multicultural millennials.
"This study finds that by bolstering self-identity and employing health 'edutainment,' it is possible to have a positive impact on the health intentions and behaviors of the millennial generation" the researchers wrote.
In addition to the one-on-one interviews, each of the 20 interviewees watched media clips from two television programs -- ABC's "Private Practice" and the nationally syndicated health show, "The Doctors." Each show highlighted the accurate health information concerning attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
"Private Practice" told its story via fictional characters in an episodic dramatic storytelling format. In this format, health issues were not directly promoted and there was no direct-to-camera discussion of those issues.
"The Doctors," on the other hand, utilized the format of real doctors conveying accurate health information in real-life situations, directly to the camera and in front of a studio audience.
"From the interviews, it was apparent that the storytelling in the health edutainment stimuli worked because the participants enjoyed and were more involved in the narrative conveyed in 'Private Practice' versus 'The Doctors,'" the researchers wrote. "For example, the 'Private Practice' segment told the story of a young boy and his parents who desperately asked their doctor to give them a prescription for ADHD medicine for their son, even though the son did not want the medicine and the doctor felt that the prescription might not have been needed."
The Future of Expertise: use the power of story
Additionally, leading venture capital firm a16z’s exploration into the future of expertise included science fiction novelist Eliot Peper suggesting that any area with technical or complex topics should use the power of storytelling.
Eliot suggests channeling some approaches from one of the characters we met in Act 2 - none other than Richard Feynman.
Why this trend matters
Brand activism is on customers’ minds. They want to buy from companies and interact with nonprofits that share core values and care about issues affecting the world.But unpacking complex topics like the Coronavirus pandemic or climate change can be difficult.The organizations and individuals that use Edutainment to do this in simple and interesting ways will be the most successful at attracting people who want to support a cause.
In Action: Tackling Wicked Problems
Emma Stone narrates this Netflix docuseries that provides insightful knowledge about complex topics involving how the brain works. From memory to anxiety to dreams, this show investigates what goes on in our heads. Viewers love it because of the way it presents information that was previously the sole preserve of scientists.
“Meeting Places” or “Common Ground,” is a feminist Nicaraguan NGO (non-government organization) that promotes youth and women’s rights.
It challenges social norms by combining multimedia strategies like a television drama, a radio talk show, and a feminist magazine, with leadership training and community education to help uplift youths and women.
Facebook has ordered an English remake of the Norwegian web series, Skam, for its Watch platform. This controversial teen drama is similar to Skins and was critically acclaimed for its handling of issues like homophobia, sexual assault, and mental illness.
What’s more, Skam has a choose-your-own-adventure approach, layering into multiple formats and platforms. They’re embracing Edutainment 3.0.
This is education more than Edutainment, but still a great example of trying to solve wicked problems for all. Patagonia’s campaign told customers not to buy their jackets because of over-consumption concerns. It was a mix of education, activism, good brand image, and marketing. Beyond that, it donated 100% of its tax savings to the environment, gave 1% of profits to the environment, and banned Wall Street bankers from buying their logo polar fleeces.
MTV Shuga is a coming-of-age drama that follows the lives of young friends as they navigate their sexual health, relationships and family issues, against a backdrop of bustling townships in East, West and South Africa.
Two recent research studies conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in South Africa and Tulane University in Nigeria confirmed the show’s edutainment approach increases awareness of HIV testing and impacts attitudes towards issues like gender-based violence and early pregnancy.
Gillette Venus recently unveiled the 'Summer Skinclusive Line' as the newest activation of the 'My Skin. My Way' campaign. This inclusive ad takes a "quarantine-friendly" approach to marketing by targeting consumers virtually, on a digital island in the video game 'Animal Crossing.'
The campaign includes over 250 diverse skin representations with 19 different skin types and 8 in-game skin tones. These avatars enable gamers to showcase common skin realities like freckles, acne, hair, cellulite, scars and stretch marks, vitiligo, tattoos, psoriasis, and differently-abled bodies.
Key Themes for Edutainment 3.0
Consumers are aligning their buying preferences with organizations that aren’t afraid to support a cause and speak out about social issues. According to an Accenture survey of 30,000 consumers across 35 countries, 62% of customers want companies to take a stand on issues such as sustainability and fair employment practices.
Applying this along with the guidelines of ‘Brand as Neo Educators’ is a powerful combination.
What’s the story?
As consumers align themselves with brands and organizations that support a cause, breaking down these topics in simple and interesting ways has one key element - storytelling. To communicate the “why” behind the “what” and the “how” of social issues, brands must be intentional with their storytelling so it’s effective and turns Wicked Problems into engaging content.
Multiple modes of delivery
While Edutainment has been a successful approach for many mission-driven organizations, the majority of campaigns have used a singular delivery method. Edutainment 3.0 offers the opportunity to utilize multiple modes of delivery to show problems and solutions from a variety of angles.
In Action: Ones to watch
TikTok launched a public scholarship project to teach socio-cultural issues on the platform. This “Syllabus” provides a curation of the early landscape of TikTok Studies. It equips educators and researchers with resources to teach and think about TikTok through various socio-cultural perspectives.
"How many lives can a bottle have?" is the provocation behind this initiative between Coca-Cola and Italian vending machine company Ivs. PET bottles are stocked in the company's 20,000 vending machines and feature a campaign designed to sensitize consumers to the correct recovery of bottles made from recycled material so they can be recycled and reused again, helping save the planet from plastic.
This event series brings together over 40 musicians, artists, creatives, and nonprofit partners to present their reactions to the Climate Crisis. The first edition of Undercurrent launched Brooklyn, New York with more than 11 original audiovisual art installations. Undercurrent seeks to utilize creativity to spark conversations about critical issues shaping our lives.
Garnier’s Green Beauty launched an educational campaign that’s dedicated to sustainable consumption. The brand will give consumers access to expert knowledge and real-world advice about sustainability using Edutainment. The content is produced by National Geographic CreativeWorks and covers topics like plastic & packaging, water usage, and green sciences. Garnier hopes to empower 250 million people to live greener on the planet.
Guidelines for Greatness
Convince your audience that they’re capable of understanding your topic. Break down barriers communicate ideas in multiple mediums to offer as much accessibility as possible.
Make impact visible
Your audience should clearly understand the impact and potential benefits of every initiative to tackle a wicked problem. These challenges can sometimes feel unassailable, so offering a glimpse of even the smallest wins can make a difference. This approach also drives up engagement, empathy and legitimacy.
Wicked Problems can be difficult to talk about, so it’s easy to take a step back and keep communications one-way. Instead, aim to create spaces for audiences to engage around what you’re doing. Community input is also a great way to source ideas for new cause-driven Edutainment initiatives, and to ensure the tone and approach hit the mark.
More than one way forward
Edutainment 3.0 is all about multiple modes of delivery. Being stuck on one platform or medium can hinder your goals and lessen your impact.
Video is still underplayed
As video content continues to grow in popularity, there’s scope to use the medium to explain complicated subjects in concise and colorful ways.
Games beyond the game
People love games. Even a relatively simple campaign can include some subtle game mechanics to encourage audiences to explore further and tell the others.
Wicked for a reason
These problems are tough for a reason. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when decided which problem to tackle or to overestimate what you can achieve in a short period of time.
Just because there’s an entertainment element, it doesn’t mean there’s carte blanche to chase hyped data interpretation. This has already been shown to be a real issue.
Many of the less successful attempts to Tackle Wicked Problems through Edutainment fell down on poor storytelling and communication. Flawed logic, unimaginative characters, and an unclear connection to the cause’s mission are a recipe for bad storytelling. (yup, logic is a key part of telling a compelling story...)
Spark Your Creativity
Ideas to jumpstart your imagination and help you include Edutainment 3.0 in your endeavors:
- What are the hidden stories behind complex or challenging topics? Who are the remarkable people you can shine a light upon?
- Which games could you create for your audience to play? Perhaps it’s a game they may not be fully aware of...