Marketing Peace using SMS Mobile Advertising: A New Approach to Conflict Prevention

I was just in Kenya working on the next phase of the PeaceTXT project with my colleague Rachel Brown from Sisi ni Amani. I’m finally getting to implement an approach to conflict early warning and early response that I have been advocating for since 2006. I came close in 2008 whilst working on a conflict early and response project in Timor-Leste. But I wasn’t in Dili long enough to see the project through and the country’s limited mobile phone coverage presented an important obstacle. Long story short, I’ve been advocating for a people-centered and preparedness-based approach to conflict early warning systems for half a decade and am finally implementing one with PeaceTXT.

Conflicts are often grounded in the stories and narratives that people tell themselves and the emotions that these stories generate. Narratives shape identity and the social construct of reality—we interpret our lives through stories. These have the power to transform relationships and communities. The purpose of PeaceTXT is to leverage mobile messaging (SMS) to market peace in strategic ways and thereby generate alternative narratives. SMS reminders have been particularly effective in catalyzing behavior change in several important public health projects. In addition, marketing to the “Bottom of the Pyramid” is increasingly big business and getting more sophisticated. We believe that lessons learned from these sectors can be combined and applied to catalyze behavior  change vis-a-vis peace and conflict issues by amplifying new narratives using timely and strategically targeted SMS campaigns.

Last year, Sisi ni Amani sent the following SMS to 10,000 subscribers across Kenya: A good leader initiates and encourages peace and development among all people and is not tribal. “In a nation divided along ethnic lines, where a winner-takes-all mindset fuels rampant corruption and political violence, changing perceptions of good leadership is a daunting endeavor. And yet, according to post-campaign data, 90 percent of respondents said they changed their understanding of ‘what makes a good leader’ in response to the organization’s messaging. As one respondent commented: ‘I used to think a good leader is one who has the most votes, but now I know a good leader is one who thinks of the people who voted for him, not himself'” (NextBillion Blog Post).

PeaceTXT is about marketing peace using mobile advertising by leveraging user-generated content for said text messages. We’re in the business of selling peace for free by countering other narratives that tend to incite violent behavior. Preparedness is core to the PeaceTXT model. To be sure, local mobile-based advertising is hardly reactive or random. Indeed, billions of dollars go into marketing campaigns for a reason. To this end, we’re busy developing an agile SMS protocol that will allow us to send pre-determined customized text messages to specific groups (demographics) in targeted locations within minutes of an incident occurring. The content for said text messages will come from local communities themselves.

The next step is for Rachel and her team to organize and hold several local focus groups in July to begin generating appropriate content for text messages to de-escalate and/or counter police-community tensions, rumors and insecurity. I’ll be back in Kenya in August to review this user-generated content so we can add the text messages to our SMS protocol and customized SMS platform. I’m thrilled and can’t wait to work on this next phase.

25 responses to “Marketing Peace using SMS Mobile Advertising: A New Approach to Conflict Prevention

  1. Thanks for writing about this. I have been writing and working on this with the communications agency called Peaceforsale Communications and I think a combo of online/offline marketing an often be more successful – I am currently using transmedia storytelling methods in my projects to create an immersive experience for the target group which not only disseminates messages but takes in target group feedback and reapplies data towards the project ( so as creating an m and e / design feedback loop).

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  8. I just came onto your post and found it quite interesting. I am also associated with SMS Marketing, SMS text Marketing ,text Marketing, text Messages marketing, and enjoy to read the stuff on the same as its rarely found on internet. Thanks again for writing such a good post.

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  13. Reblogged this on Peace For Sale and commented:
    love this approach – coupled with strategic communications campaign it has the potential to really create a space for behavioral change in conflict zones.

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  18. Dear Patrick:

    This is a very helpful post and an innovative way to get tailored messages out quickly. If you haven’t done so already, one suggestion is to inform your strategy with social marketing techniques. In a global health course taught here, Karen Gutierrez (who has substantial experience especially in smoking cessation campaigns) uses a text by Alan R. Andreasen, Social Marketing in the 21st Century (Sage, 2006).

    Sincerely, Joe

    • Dear Joe, many thanks for your comment and for the Andreasen reference. Yes, we’ve added as a partner on this project in order to have their expertise in social marketing inform our work. I’m flying to Nairobi tomorrow to meet with one of their reps from NY. Thanks again!

  19. Hi Patrick – I too appreciate what Joe Block suggested. I have worked with the main thinkers in social marketing (Philip Kotler, Nedra Wienrich, Nancy Lee and many others) in my research of applying strategic communications (with an emphasis in social marketing) to Peace. I developed a framework I called SSBCC for peace (strategic social behavioral change communications). I found that while social marketing is not a perfect fit – there are many lessons we can borrow. I am currently consulting for various peacebuilding and development agencies working on communications strategies and campaigns. I would love to work with you, please feel free to contact me if you think there is room for partnership or collaboration .email –

  20. Really interesting how Sisi ni Amani was able to send a simple message and have a large percent of respondents change their understanding of “what makes a good leader”. Mobile advertising works when you are trying to get your message across to such a large group. This is a great example of how other non-profit organizations can learn from this.

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