What The Designated Driver Campain Can Teach Us About Spreading Good Ideas

The idea of the designated driver has been around since the 1920s. However, the popularization of the idea didn’t happen in the US until 1988. Here’s how they took a socially good idea and made it socially embraced.

First, you should know it didn’t happen by accident or because people said, “Hey, that makes sense!” The Harvard Alcohol Project took the idea and joined forces with Hollywood to normalize the role a designated driver would take on a night out. Using a mix of public service announcements and planting the role in TV shows like Cheers, LA Law, and The Cosby Show, America went from hearing about it to seeing it everywhere.

If we want an idea to get adopted, it’s not enough to just tell people why it makes sense. We have to show them how it works. We have to make sure they feel it. And, when possible, we have to model the behavior (and social proof of the response of others to behavior) in whatever ways possible.

Without the Hollywood promotion of the idea, the designated driver program would likely not have been as successful in lowering drunk driving-related accidents and deaths.

We may not have access to television to show potential clients how to use or engage with our products and services, but we can remember the core idea that made the designated driver campaign a success. Having a clear name for what we’re doing, providing use-cases and examples, can help people understand how “people like us do things like this.”

Once it feels normal, the path of least resistance is open for advancement.