Tuesday, December 06, 2005

If you want people's blood....(Free advice from an altruistic vampire...)

Nowadays I always see the advertisements on the MRT trains that try to convince Singaporeans to 'give blood'. This inspired me to write this post. I'm also inspired by this brilliant Chinese television series showing now which is called My Date with a Vampire III (我和僵尸有个约会 III). It features a number of actresses who have mesmerized some of my fellow bloggers (haha, you know who you are...) ;) Anyway, I've digressed. I meant to talk about the highly 'effective' advertisments that urge kind folks like us to donate blood. These MRT advertisements essentially go like this (based on my personal interpretation, which is obviously subjective, not objective)....

Advertisements' Summary
(1) "hey come on it's not a big deal! We just want a few drops of your blood! No big deal, right?"
(2) "hey come on, you're really gonna make a huge difference to Singapore. You're really really gonna make a HUGE difference by donating a few DROPS of your blood!"
(3) "hey come on, do you mean you can't afford to pay for the transport expenses that you'll have to incur for travelling all the way from (say) Yishun to that blood donation station at Outram MRT? Oh come on, it will cost you ONLY about $5 to donate blood...by the way, your time is not worth anything to us, okay."
(4) "hey do you know that you can keep donating blood? You are thinking of donating once only? So stingy!"

And on 5th December 2005, I read the Straits Times 'Forum' page. Dr Diana Teo from Health Sciences Authority of Singapore said that the reason why we shouldn't give 'material rewards' to kind folks who bother to donate blood is that 'Voluntary blood donation on an altruistic basis is promoted by the World Health Organization, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Federation of Blood Donor Organizations and International Society of Blood Transfusion as the foundation of a safe national blood supply'. So look, all these prestigious global organizations are saying that altruism should be the basis for blood donation; and so, Dr Teo thinks that we in Singapore must therefore not even reimburse a single cent for the blood donors, because that one cent shall constitute a 'material reward'.

I personally feel that the whole campaign to get more blood from people is poorly conceptualized. Although the World organizations have stated that altruism should be the basis, one might feel that they are saying so (a) in order to sound nice, (b) because that is the right thing to say, and (c) they are assuming that this principle would work in all countries. But this is Singapore, a tiny city-state with so few people. Do you actually think that most Singaporeans will bother to go through so much trouble to donate their blood, bearing in mind that Singaporeans are people who are (a) frequently exhausted from work, (b) perpetually short of time,and that (c) it is expensive to commute in Singapore. Besides, the culture here is one of extreme pragmatism. Although there will certainly be folks who still donate blood, I think that without some incentives, it's very difficult for the campaign to succeed....

Dr Teo then says that 'those who have donated blood...regularly...form the basis of a sustainable and safe blood supply to meet the country's needs'. This makes potential blood donors feel that they are not going to make that much of a difference after all, as the MRT advertisements had led them to believe. The mentioning of a substantial group of regular blood donors undermines the MRT advertising to some extent, in my opinion. Basically, their messages are conflicting: on one hand they're saying, "Hey we're desperate..." (and one would indeed think they are seriously short of blood after looking at their advertisements); on the other hand they seem to be saying "Hey no worries, mate, we've got loads of blood...." I'm confused. If they are very short of blood, then I will donate. If they are not really that short of blood, then I won't donate. Now, it's not that I'm selfish, but Heavenly Sword is really scared of being poked by needles, you know? :)

The greatest problem I have with the blood donation campaign is that it simply trivializes the efforts and sacrifices of blood donors (current and potential). It makes it seem as though blood donors are only giving a few drops of blood when they are in fact giving much more than that, perhaps a few bags of blood! It remains silent about the money that people have to spend in order to travel to the blood donation station. It assumes that everybody lives in Outram Park, or has a bicycle (and the necessary energy) to cycle from Yishun to Outram. Worse, it assumes that a few dollars of MRT fare is not a big deal at all, that a few dollars is 'peanuts'...

Dr Teo in the ST Forum also said that there is 'clear evidence that monetary incentives will lead some donors to withold information that might prevent them from donating blood'. How am I supposed to interpret this? It makes me worried because I thought that there should be systems in place to ensure that the blood donated by everyone is safe. How can you just count on people being honest? People can still withhold information if they are sinister enough, and sinister people, I believe, are not affected by the presence or absence of monetary considerations at all! Also, there is no need for a large amount of money to be paid; a small token amount of $3 or $4 is better than nothing. After all, I think that after donating blood people will need to eat a more nutritious meal right after that in order to replenish their energies. And it is only fair to reimburse people who sacrifice their time, energies, money, and blood, for their commuting expenses, right?

In short, treat Singaporeans as busy people who need to work and are short of time. Also, assume that people are not staying within 5 minutes walk from the blood donation station. Further assume that people need to eat well after donating blood, and finally, acknowledge that a few dollars is not peanuts to everybody. These are the important assumptions that blood donation centres need to adopt before they formulate their advertising campaigns.

Translated to practical advice, this means:

1) Acknowledge that something requires sacrifices, if it really does.
2) Assume that your target audiences are those who are reluctant, rather than those who are already quite willing to donate (the latter group will donate anyway, with or without advertisements.)
3) Use realistic language (e.g. not 'drops' of blood - a 'drop' of blood can't help. And you are not drawing 'drops' of blood from people; people do want to know exactly how much blood will be removed from their body. If the process involves a little bit of pain, don't say it's painless. Tell us how long the process will take. I think the messages will be more effective that way, at least for me.)
4) Don't send out conflicting messages; aim for one thing at a time (e.g. do you want to convince those who've never tried donating blood to give it a try? If so, don't try to get them to donate many times when they haven't even gone for the very first donation. One step at a time. One message per campaign.)
5) Minimize cost to the donor; aim for maximum impact (currently the campaign can only convince those who are already inclined to donate.)


Blogger jllt said...

They need integrated marketing campaign! And more mobile blood donation centers!

Wed Dec 07, 03:29:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Jllt, yeah, I think so too! IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications)! :)

And yes, they need to have more mobile donation centres....Why don't they have more? That's very strange....

Wed Dec 07, 08:06:00 PM 2005  

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