The Community Against Preventable Injuries (Preventable): “It’ll Never Happen to Me”

 by Ricardo D. LaGrange, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Injuries are a major public health problem in every country around the world, causing over 5 million deaths per year, or 16,000 deaths per day.[1] In British Columbia, Canada, where preventable injuries are the leading cause of death for residents between the ages of 1 and 44 and are responsible for over 2,000 deaths each year,[2] citizens are not immune to this problem. In addition to the human suffering, the treatment of preventable injuries is one of the largest burdens on the province, costing over $6 billion per year.
While accidents may seem inevitable and random, most injuries are predictable and avoidable.  In 2006, the British Columbia government made a commitment to safety and injury prevention in every aspect of provincial life by sponsoring the organization that eventually became the non-profit, The Community Against Preventable Injuries (a.k.a. Preventable).  After conducting 3 years of research and planning, this organization launched a highly effective social marketing campaign to raise awareness and transform societal attitudes towards reducing the human and financial burden of preventable injuries.   The campaign utilized a multi-year, multi-faceted approach with TV, Radio, print, social media and guerilla events that focused on the attitudes that cause serious preventable injuries in everyday settings.  Approximately 50% of the BC population (i.e., 2 million people) were reached weekly, and over 100 million media impressions were generated during a 6-month launch period that began in 2009.
Preventable was able to raise and sustain awareness of the issue and their brand by using different channels in an unexpected way.  Their efforts have made a difference in several tangible ways.  Those who have seen the campaign are significantly more likely to perceive injuries as preventable. Since launch, there has been a significant reduction in deaths by injuries among Preventable’s target audience age 25-55. Campaign monitoring shows a 4-5% positive shift in attitudes and behaviors towards preventable injuries across the entire BC population. Also, Preventable’s brand equity is strong, and is viewed by the public as caring, credible and trusted.
The iSMA Communications Team recently conducted an interview with Jennifer Smith, Senior Program Manager at Preventable, to gain more insight on the strategy and approach the organization uses to make “It’ll Never Happen to Me” such a success.

iSMA: Developing a brand strategy can be one of the most difficult, yet vital, steps in initiating a social marketing campaign.  What strategies did preventable rely upon to build a trusted injury prevention “brand’ that successfully reached the citizens of British Columbia?

Preventable: Injury is a hugely pervasive and complex issue. Thus it was absolutely essential for us to develop a clearly defined set of values that would guide our efforts towards achieving the overall mission: reducing the burden of preventable injuries in British Columbia by raising awareness, shifting attitudes and ultimately transforming behaviors. Engaging a network of public, private and not-for-profit partner organizations that share those values was the cornerstone of our strategy. It really does take a community to tackle an issue like injury!

iSMA: Exposing the public to the campaign though multiple channels and in unexpected ways helped to raise awareness to the issue and your brand.  What were some of the specific methods, messages or themes that you think resonated most with the public and why?

Preventable: The messaging is designed to trigger self-reflection and is illustrated by everyday risk scenarios that our audience can relate to instantly, such as using a ladder to put up Christmas lights, or speeding to avoid being late for work. Preventable also uses guerrilla stunts to generate media interest in the message and raise the profile of the brand. For example, Preventable dressed the statues in a beachside public park in larger-than-life PFDs, accompanied by the message, “Think drowning only happens to people who can’t swim? Seriously?” The fun element of the supersize lifejackets drew people to share the message through social media. The giant banana peel was also a big hit, with the message, “If you can see it coming, you can prevent it from happening.”

iSMA: What lead Preventable to incorporate a more nuanced strategy that avoided explicit messages about danger and how do you think this made a difference for your campaign?

Preventable: This approach followed directly from the stated preferences of our audience. During the formative phase of the campaign we heard from British Columbians, over and over, that they did not need (or want) to be told what to do to prevent injuries, that they would be repelled by content designed to shock or shame them into changing their behavior. The Preventable approach acknowledges our audience as intelligent adults who already know how to prevent injuries, but just need a reminder in the right time and place to exercise their judgment.

iSMA: Social marketing makes the distinction between having an initial impact and a lasting impact. The goal is not simply to enhance awareness or change attitudes towards an issue, it’s to motivate and empower people to take the desired behavior. “It’ll Never Happen to Me”, really seems to embrace this challenge.  How have you been able to engage the community in a way that will help sustain your efforts in the future?

Preventable: It’s true that social change takes time and sustaining momentum is a key challenge. When it comes to serious injuries, people believe “It’ll never happen to me.” The campaign taglines “Have a word with yourself” and “Seriously?” are a subtle call to action, as they challenge that assumption and prompt the audience to reconsider their intended behavior. People must feel motivated to change their behavior, and this is why Preventable believes that shifting attitudes is the essential first step in reducing serious injuries over the long term. Engaging a community of partners who are also committed to this long-term vision, and therefore willing to support the campaign and amplify the message through their own channels, has allowed Preventable to not only build the brand but to maintain our momentum year to year. The results of our efforts are clear – public surveys administered each year have seen encouraging improvement on measures of awareness, attitudes and behaviors related to serious preventable injuries.

iSMA: You’ve had tremendous success with “It’ll Never Happen to Me”.  What’s next for this campaign and Preventable?

Preventable: While we have seen encouraging trends in the campaign tracking data, as well as in injury hospitalizations and deaths, we continue to strive for further improvements. This will mean keeping the campaign platform fresh, innovative and engaging, while remaining recognizable and relatable, by continuing to engage in conversations with British Columbians about preventable injuries.

To find out more about Preventable and this social marketing campaign visit:

[1] World Health Organization. Violence, Injuries, and Disability: Biennial 2006–2007 Report. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2008

[2] Pike I, Scime G, Lafreniere K Preventable: a social marketing campaign to prevent injuries in British Columbia, Canada Injury Prevention 2012;18:A176.