Social marketing for political change

Last week I saw the movie No, which tells the story of how commercial marketing techniques were applied in creating the No campaign in the 1988 plebiscite to decide on whether General Augusto Pinochet should continue as leader of Chile. This movie seemed to me to be a perfect case study of the use of marketing techniques to influence behaviour, and political, change.

The movie follows René Saavedra, a young advertising professional, as he is recruited and then leads the design of the No campaign. René, who has been very successful developing campaigns for soft drinks and soap operas, must convince the politically diverse No side to get behind his strategy of using happy imagery and jingles to sell the No vote to the Chilean population.

One of the most interesting scenes for me was of an initial meeting between René and the various groups representing the No side to see what they have come up with so far. Their video uses documentary footage to highlight all of the atrocities that have taken place during the 15 years of dictatorship. René asks the group whether they really think that this campaign will win the election for them. Someone responds that no, it won’t, but they hope it will at least motivate people to go out and vote. Basically, many people are resigned to the fact that this will not be a legitimate election and that the No side has no hope of winning. Even though each side is technically given 15 minutes per night to air their televised campaign, they argue that Pinochet really has all of the remaining hours in the day to transmit his messages.

René decides that the way to get people to vote is not by reminding them of the terrible things that have transpired during the dictatorship or by instilling fear of what suffering could continue should the Yes side win, but by appealing to their desire for a happier, more peaceful life. The campaign he envisions will sell democracy as a product that will lead to happiness.

The movie goes on to show how the campaign materials are developed and the often contentious decision-making processes over what the campaign should look like. The choice of a rainbow as the logo and the use of young people dancing offend many people on the No side who feel that the campaign is completely neglecting all of the horrors of the dictatorship and making light of a very serious and important moment in the country’s history. I found this to be a very compelling part of the movie as it really makes you consider what decisions you might make if you were tasked with developing this sort of campaign.


Working in public health, I think it is often our instinct to highlight the reasons why a certain behaviour is unhealthy or harmful. The damage that cigarettes are doing to your lungs seems like the important message that needs to be transmitted just as the violence and human rights abuses of the Pinochet dictatorship seem like the images you want clear in people’s minds leading up to a referendum to decide whether he should remain in power. However, as we have gone over in our course and as experience has shown, these are often not the messages that motivate people and instead one must look at the benefits and barriers of behaviour change.  In the movie, this behaviour change is getting people to vote No by appealing to common values in Chilean society and promising a more prosperous future in exchange for their vote.

No is playing in Vancouver at the International Village Cinema. I highly recommend you check it out.

Further reading/watching:

One of the great parts of the movie is that it shows real footage of the campaign. You can also watch some of the real footage on YouTube. (Warning: you might get the jingle stuck in your head like I did)

NPR interview with the director and main actor:

Background information on the 1988 Chilean plebiscite:

NYT article highlighting some criticisms that have arisen about the movie:

– Aislin R.


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