Application of Behavioral Change Communications and Transmedia Storytelling for Peace


How can peace be “sold”…and who will buy it?  The Peace for Sale working session will seek to bring a discussion in the methods and mechanisms for combining social marketing (behavioral change communications) and transmedia storytelling which engages the target audience through the offering of “peace products” which they can buy (adopt).  This will then transform a conflict by fostering a participatory culture in which the collective intelligence of stakeholders create a shared vision of an emerging peace end story.

The working session will begin with an introduction to key terms such as social marketing and transmedia storytelling and continue by showing a few case studies where I have implemented this peacebuilding intervention method which I call Strategic Social Behavioral Change Communications For Peace (SSBCC 4 Peace) in various stages of the conflict cycle using multiple technology and communications.  In addition, current communications and media trends in peacebuilding will be cataloged and discussed so as to foster discussion on how best to leverage them in a transmedia storytelling + social marketing type of initiative. The session will conclude with a discussion on key issues and challenges when implementing this type of intervention, such as; timing of implementation within conflict cycle, how to market peace when there are in-tangibles that are difficult to portray, highly sensitive/ taboo issues, limited communication options, invisible benefits to stakeholders, require a long term approach with few short term results (to name a few).


Social marketing’s aim is to sell social change as a product in the same way a commercial marketer would sell a commercial good or service. When applying social marketing to the field of conflict resolution or peacebuilding, the product, which I call a “peace product” is the knowledge, attitude and peaceful behaviors to be adopted, or the tangible goods and services that support and facilitate the desired peaceful behavioral change” (Kotler & Lee, 2008) Whether a dialogue group, an entertainment/educational radio program or peace agreement,[1], a peace product is any deliverable that seeks to build peace or transform the conflict. (Dickason, 2000)

A target audience or stakeholder in a conflict is for the most part inextricably connected to the conflict.  Social marketing when applied to peacebuilding therefore aims to take a peace product and sell it to the targeted audience through a strategic social marketing plan.  Social marketing always begins and ends listening to the target population and maintains a target audience orientation, which means it is shaped and formed by the issues and things that move them.  Formative research helps identify and understand the characteristics interests, behaviors and needs of the target audience that influence their decisions and actions. 


Transmedia storytelling is an emerging promotional mechanism that seeks to engage participants and immerse them into the story where they begin to create a new narrative.  Placing social marketing and transmedia storytelling within their current media contexts, the working session will move to describe what the process of combining the applications of social marketing and transmedia storytelling to peacebuilding initiatives could look like.  While beginning from a theoretical perspective, the ideas will coalesce around story and the significant potential social marketing and transmedia storytelling holds in not only supporting current peace projects and initiatives but to actually transform conflicts. The Strategic Social Behavioral Change Communications for Peace Framework (SSBCC4P) I have developed is a conceptual framework, which combines social marketing, transmedia storytelling and conflict transformation practices.  The SSBCC4P framework has been applied to several projects with varying degrees and has proven to be initially successful.



 SOCIAL MARKETING: The social marketing approach is, “more than information dissemination and persuasion to change behavior” (LeFebvre, 2011).  According to Craig LeFebvre, Social marketing, unlike mass media communications approaches (such as Health Communication or social advertising) “are more effective when the target behavior is a one-off or episodic occurrence such as screening or inoculation.”  He continues to explain how Social Marketing is more effective with] more habitual or ongoing behaviors,” (LeFebvre, 2011) such as making food choices or engaging in regular physical activity (are) less susceptible to the influence of mass media campaigns.” Conflict resolution and peacebuilding meets these criteria, as building peace in communities and thru structures require ongoing peaceful behaviors.

Social marketing is a framework of communication, which uses the many methods and channels of communication to influence behavior change (Allen & Stremlau, 2005).  Social marketing is a theory and a practice.  Academics and practitioners alike have spent time and energy developing approaches and models for the application of social marketing to a variety of different fields such as health, poverty or vaccinations. While there are many current projects that use communication methodologies in conflict intervention, social marketing has yet to be fully applied in its fullest and most robust extent to the fields of peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

Social Marketing is based on behavioral change theories such as the Health Belief Model, Theory of Planned Behavior,

TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING: Henry Jenkins Provost and Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, first developed transmedia storytelling, referring to the way a story can be told on multiple media platforms, each one offering more glimpses into the entire plot. Transmedia is different from multimedia, which would be a retelling of the same story told using different media (e.g., a movie, a graphic novel, an audiobook), while the story transmedia tells is dynamic and grows with the addition of each participant. Transmedia storytelling has the ability for participants and engaged viewers to own the allow them to be inventors in the creation process.

Transmedia storytelling for good is the use of various media platforms to convey a narrative around health or social issues that benefits a particular audience or society in general. For a non-profit or mission based organization, or a storyteller who desires to change the world for the better, transmedia can augment a communications strategy by using multiple media to raise awareness of a certain topic or spur action. 

Transmedia storytelling can be a powerful platform to induce social change and increase participation, two elements that are key in any peacebuilding intervention, however first it is important to understand how social and behavioral change actually happens.

BEHAVIORAL CHANGE THEORIES IN CONFLICT: Peacebuilders are in the business of catalyzing social and individual change towards peace.  Peacebuilders work with individuals in communities to help transform destructive knowledge, attitudes and behaviors, into ones of dialog and transformation. To do this every effort is made to understand the conflict context and the actors involved.  Deciding what should change within a context is based on change theories. While a programmatic change is based on a “theory of change” as described by Church and Rogers (2005, p. 15), however to understand social and individual change, we must draw on social science theory. Social and behavioral change models and theories are widely used in strategic communications and social marketing campaigns as they explain the psychology beneath change.  While not an exhaustive list, this section will seek to list and describe multiple theories and apply them, where appropriate to the fields of conflict resolution or peacebuilding.

Targeted behavioral change whether for individuals or groups can and should be implemented even when environmental/market conditions are not ideal or ripe for peace – because individuals can change conditions and conflict dynamics change based not only on internal but external factors.  Further, “ripeness” or “tipping points” can be triggered by a critical mass of individuals changing behavior as was recently shown in the Arab Spring.  This concept is based on the Diffusions of Innovations model (Orr, 1995; Rogers, 2003), where a step by step process transfers from individual to individual until it reaches a tipping point where a peaceful or conflict de-escalating behavior becomes normative. 

Behavior is primarily influenced by factors within the individual and his immediate environment as most behaviors are learned through modeling.  Therefore in the similar manner violent behaviors are learned so too are non-violent ones.  Modeling can happen through mass media, which is the bases of the Social Cognitive (Learning) Theory (Bandura, 2001, pp. 1-26), which states that those in mass media often frame normative behaviors and attitudes for the populations they disseminate to.  Further it has been seen that mass media has also shifted views and understanding of collective memory in various conflict contexts.[2] 

The Social Ecological model is especially relevant in for the SSBCC for Peace framework as conflict is complex. Individuals, such as targeted conflict consumers are part of a conflict ecosystem; therefore changing individual behavior does not always solve the problem. Actors, factors and dynamics in conflict can be the root causes. Any effort should consider the compounding levels of change that need to change further any evaluation should reflect measure impact against this caveat.

 THE SSBCC 4 P FRAMEWORK: Using a combinatory variant of Behavioral Change Communications, Social Marketing, and Health Communications, the proposed framework is based on behavioral change theories, models and guiding principles The Strategic Social Behavioral Change Communications for Peace framework has five main components.

1. Analyses and Formative Research: conflict analysis, situation analysis, Communications Analysis, And Formative Research (define the problem, choose conflict consumers-Segment primary and secondary audience)

 2) Planning and Strategy Development: Goals and Objectives, Marketing Mix, Message development, Communication Channels, Transmedia Strategy.

 3) Pre-testing: testing on a sample audience and change according to feedback.

 4) Implementation: Work plan, Implementation plan, Monitoring and evaluation plan, Transmedia Storytelling Strategy Plan

 5) Monitoring and Evaluation and Transmedia Storytelling Feedback Loops


The innovative application of transmedia storytelling and social marketing in a peacebuilding initiative lays in its ability to immerse participants in the story through the combination of three unique factors; participatory culture (meaning that culture is created by its participants), collective intelligence (the development of shared intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making), and media convergence (flow of content across multiple media platforms). (Jenkins, 2006)

 Conflict narratives are not static, but rather dynamic and ever changing.  The conflict narrative is collectively created within a participatory culture, in the same vein a peaceful narrative can emerge within the same construct. In any given conflict there are often contain competing narratives.  Conflict target audiences create these narratives based on subjective collective memory resulting from “relative deprivation, conflicting identities, destructive ideologies or harm done to a group”. (Bar-Tal, 2010)

 Through the use of collective intelligence the very target audience that were once entrenched in the conflict narrative can create a new vision and develop a new narrative of what peace means to them. A social marketing campaign can begin this process by facilitating the environment where a peace product is offered.  Further through media and interactive activities that foster participatory culture and collective intelligence, transmedia storytelling take the target audience from consumption of a conflict to creation of a new narrative.

 Creating a multi-platform transmedia storytelling for social is good has been used in a few documentaries and series in the last few years.  Of note is East Los High, a made for Hulu series that covers a variety of issues that affect Urban Latino youth (East Los Angeles in this case); teen pregnancy, bullying, gang activity etc.  The series has gained a huge following through the many platforms it tells the story; YouTube, twitter, Facebook, Hulu among others. Each platform offers different angles to the characters, back-stories and deepening plot lines. The series models good behavior and shows the negative consequences of bad choices. While not completely a social marketing effort, the series does use health communications and diffusion of innovations social change theory to influence behavior. 

 PAX Manifesto, the small social marketing and transmedia storytelling consultancy I run has worked on a few projects that follow similar basic patterns as East Los High, however instead of a made for Hulu series as the central point, I have worked within a conflict context to create platforms to better tell the story and augment the voice of both peacebuilders and victims alike. A current project is the Real Housewives of Syria which is currently collecting and curating stories of Syrian women revolutionary activists which will then be used as the plotlines for a graphic novel series about the often untold story of the resilience and power that Syrian women have had and continue to have in the Syrian conflict.  The stories are also disseminated on Facebook, twitter and in the future in print for youth in Syria.  Initially, the project developed out of the Syrian “I AM SHE“ campaign, which Pax Manifesto helped create with a group of Syrian activists from the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria. The goal of the project is to create a platform where Syrian women active in the revolution can tell their stories to empower others without their own security being risked.

With hopes to make transmedia for good more mainstream, Nedra Wienrich a social marketing consultant and myself have co-founded Transmdia for Good: SoCAL  where opportunities, events and key findings are shared and discussed. We have held three events last year and are planning 4 more in 2014 to showcase transmedia for good projects and discuss challenges that practitioners face.


 The peacebuilding and conflict resolution fields have much to gain by applying of SSBCC for Peace as an intervention.  Already highlighted in this paper is how the use of behavioral change models and theories and a combination of strategic communication approaches were used to develop the Strategic Social and Behavioral Change Communications Framework presented.  However there are various challenges that should be anticipated. 

 NEGATIVE DEMAND: The challenge known as “Negative Demand” (Andreasen, 1995, p. 46) refers to the distaste targeted conflict consumers may have for the product or service being promoted.  For example a SSBCC for Peace intervention may ask Kenyan pastoralist to give up their guns in order to curb tribal violence and small arms proliferation among cattle herders in the region (Orre, 2011).  This type of strategy, while clearly the first step in non-violent conflict-resolution would be reaching groups that might be fighting against the exact behavioral change desiring to be achieved.  Negative demand often is prevalent when dealing with spoilers within a conflict or those individuals that have more to gain from war than peace.  In “negative demand” situations there cannot be the same appeals for behavioral change as is used in commercial marketing or in a positive demand situation.  It might be that using fear, hard sell or humor might cheapen the initiative, often bringing the conflict consumer to feel defensive.

LIMITED COMMUNICATIONS OPTIONS: Strategic Social and Behavioral Change Communication for Peace campaigns are not immune to the similar challenges many peacebuilding interventions in a development setting have, such as, lack of communications infrastructure, lack of funding, sensitive political context and perceptions of bias from the conflict consumer.  There is a need to foster non-advertising channels of communications where individuals can play a part of in creating content.  The great increase in Internet and social media use has enabled this, however the majority of conflict consumers do not have access to these in part due to infrastructure issues and because of enforced media black outs. 

HIGHLY SENSITIVE ISSUES: Efforts such as peacebuilding and conflict resolution focus on highly sensitive issues such as identity, gender, justice, and history, etc. issues. Conducting participatory research to understand the needs and wants of the population can be very difficult.  Often participants are reluctant to give accurate answers and perhaps will instead prefer to talk about neutral and more socially desirable topics.

HIGHLY INVOLVED DECISIONS: In a conflict situation, most populations are socially, emotionally, psychologically and sadly often physically “highly involved” in the conflict dynamics.  Highly involved decisions are very different than their low involvement counterparts.  Low involvement decisions, are often “natural,” automatic, ones in which alternatives are often not considered, information about the decision is not researched, and there are few regrets (Andreasen, 1995). In highly involved decisions participants look closely at the consequences, trade-offs, social pressure, and self-efficacy in performing the action.

INVISIBLE BENEFITS: Like social marketing, SSBCC for Peace framework encourages behaviors where the positive outcomes are invisible and nothing happens.  In the same way immunizations are supposed to prevent disease. The absence of outcomes is success. No disease equals vaccination success.  Peaceful behaviors may induce stability, but the conflict consumer may have difficulty knowing if the behavior worked or if it was due to other factors.  “It is much harder to encourage behaviors that lack visible consequences than behaviors that have them” (Andreasen, 1995). In these situations it is difficult to assert that peace or stability is due to the change in behavior.  This is especially true if a targeted intervention is working with grassroots, and much of the decision making power for conflict transformation is held in the hands of a few political elites. 

IN-TANGIBLES THAT ARE DIFFICULT TO PORTRAY: According to Craig Lefebvre and June A. Flora (1988), social marketing is “distinguished by its emphasis on so-called “nontangible” products – ideas, attitudes, lifestyle changes- as opposed to the more tangible products and services that are the focus of marketing in the business, health-care and non-profit service sectors.” Trying to promote behavioral change from violent and destructive to non-violent and constructive might have tangible goods and services, such as workshops, non-violent protests, or dialog groups. However it might not always be appropriate or available to use goods and services.  In this case, peaceful behaviors are intangible and difficult for conflict consumers to visualize and therefore to be acted upon.

LONG-TERM APPROACH:  It has often been said that peace is a process, not an event or a singular action.  Indeed, achieving sustainable and lasting peace takes time, and rarely are there immediate results. Often an intervention may take the peace process one step forward and two steps back.  There are some interventions such as those that seek to directly address violent conflict, such as monitoring and maintaining presence peacekeeping forces or weapons embargoes, which may have short-term goals.  There are others that have more middle-range goals such as, addressing the consequences of sexual violence on female victims through trauma counseling as it may take longer and often does not deal with root causes. However many interventions which work on issues of structural violence in a contexts social fabric will necessitate a long-term approach.  The feedback loop of results from such interventions that deal with root causes may take generations to come around and therefore are difficult to measure (Fisher, Ludin, Willaims, Ibrahim Abdi, Smith, & Willlams, 2000).


The innovative application of transmedia storytelling and strategic communications to peacebuilding interventions is powerful because of its ability to immerse participants in their own story through the combination of three unique factors; participatory culture (meaning that culture is created by the conflict consumers), collective intelligence (the development of shared intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making), and media convergence (flow of content across multiple media platforms).  Like a story, with a plotline, beginning and conclusion, a conflict is narrative dependent, dynamic and ever changing. The conflict narrative is collectively created within a participatory culture, in the same vein a peaceful narrative can emerge within the same construct.  Through the use of collective intelligence the very target audience that were once entrenched in the conflict narrative can help rewrite the story and develop a vision of what peace means to them. A SSBCC for Peace campaign can begin this process by facilitating the environment where a peace product is offered.  Further through media and interactive activities that foster participatory culture and collective intelligence, transmedia storytelling can take conflict consumers from conflict consumption to peace creation. 


1. Why is social marketing not fully applied to peacebuilding today?

2. What kind of programs is most appropriate to leverage the SSBCC framework with? Which will not work?

3. When during the conflict cycle is the most optimal time to intervene in conflict using are media/communications?

4. How to get donors buy in for implementation of approaches of planning different then the project and program cycles?

Works Cited

Allen, T., & Stremlau, N. (2005). Media Policy, Peace and Reconstruction. London: Crisis States Research Centre.

Andreasen, A. (1995). Marketing Social Change. San Francisco, Ca: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentive perspective. Annual Review of Psychology , 52, 1-26.

Bar-Tal, D. (2010, Octorber 27). The Nature of Conflicts and Their Eruptions. Socio-Psychological Foundations of Intractable Conflicts . Waltham, MA, USA: Conflict and Coexistence Program, Brandeis University.

Church, C., & Rogers, M. M. (2005). Designing for Results. Washington DC: Search For Common Ground.

Dickason, R. (2000). British Television Advertisements. Luton, UK: University of Luton Press.

Fisher, S., Ludin, J., Willaims, S., Ibrahim Abdi, D., Smith, R., & Willlams, S. (2000). Working With Conflict: Skills and Strategies for Action. London: Zed Books.

Jenkins, H. (2006, 1 1). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Retrieved July 14, 2011, from

Kotler, P., & Lee, N. R. (2008). Social Marketing: Infuencing Behaviors for Good. Los Angeles, Ca: Sage Publications.

LeFebvre, C. (2011, 11 2). @chiefmaven tweet. Sarasota, FL, USA.

Lefrebvre, C., & Flora, J. (1988). Social Marketing and Public Health Intervention. Health Education Quarterly , 15, 299-315.

Orr, G. (1995, 1 1). Diffusions of Innovation. Retrieved 1 2, 2011, from Stanford Class Syllabi:

Orre, J. (2011, September 17). Informal Interview: strategies to combat violent interactions between Kenyan Cattle herders. (M. Curca, Interviewer) Washington , D.C.

Rogers, E. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations (5th ed.). New York City: Free Press.

Warsaw, M. (2013, January 1). East Los High. Retrieved March 23, 2014, from East Los High:

[1] The 1998 Good Friday Agreement was “sold” to Unionist and Republicans through the use of campaigns run by civil society or government agencies, which “advertised peace”.

[2] One example can be drawn from Israel, in his speech at Brandies University about “Psychological Barriers to Conflict Resolution: The Case of the Israeli Jewish Society,” Daniel Bar-Tal, mentions that prior to 1979 the average Israeli concept of “Greater Israel” was much smaller, with less emphasis on Zionism than the one that currently is considered “Fact” today. He attributes this change in perspective to the media as a force of influence. (Bar-Tal, Lunch Speaker Series, 2011)