Virgil Scudder, President, Virgil Scudder & Associates
This may be the toughest challenge in marketing: selling a product or service to people who see no value in it and no need for it, and in fact have no desire to hear about it. How can you get them to listen?
WiRED International, a small San Francisco based non-profit organization trying to help reduce the high incidence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections in Kenya, found a way: soccer balls.
The toughest audience to attract to health education is young men. They don’t see themselves ever getting sick, they often don’t think ahead, and they don’t like the idea of sitting in a health training session for an hour or two. And in too many cases, they don’t know anything about the cause and prevention of things like sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
But, in Kenya as in much of the world, they do know about, and love, the game of soccer.
So, WiRED director Gary Selnow, Ph.D., headed to Kisumu, a small city near the Ugandan border, with a batch of soccer balls and potentially lifesaving presentation materials.
Lacking enough of the real thing, soccer teams in that area often practice with homemade balls, which are a patchwork of newspapers and tape. It’s hardly ideal for perfecting one’s technique.
So, here was the deal: to get a soccer ball, the adult team leaders had to agree to bring in their players for a health education session on sexually transmitted infections. The program was set up and run by two local WiRED staffers, Denis Onyango and Joseph Otiende.
Dr. Selnow was delighted with the results, noting, “I sat in on that session and was intrigued by the fixed attention of the audience as Joseph went through detailed and often graphic displays of the most common STIs. During the Q and A sessions, it became evident that these young men had never had a frank discussion about STIs—what causes them, their signs and symptoms, treatments and, in some cases, the irreversible consequences of contracting these diseases.”
Dr. Selnow now concludes that sports offer a way to introduce young men to health issues—first STIs, then a range of topics including family planning, diet and exercise, basic anatomy, and illness fundamentals. Moving forward, WiRED will explore partnerships with U.S.-based sports teams to help foster health training opportunities in the low-resource regions in which WiRED works. Previous and current locations include the Middle East, Asia, and Central and South America in addition to Africa.
You can learn more about WiRED’s work or donate to this worthy cause by logging on to www.wiredinternational.org.