What has marketing got to do with organ donation?

Lucy Handley is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and has also worked in advertising agencies so can bring a unique perspective to client-agency relationships when writing on this topic.

Marketing techniques can help change perceptions and save 1,000 lives a year.

People that are dying could be kept alive so that their organs can be removed and donated to those that need them, in controversial proposals announced today.

This may seem an unusual subject for Marketing Week to write about, but the proposals from the British Medical Association (BMA) call for advertising to help get families to talk about this subject and therefore reduce the number of people who say no when asked if their loved one’s organs can be removed for a transplant.

Currently, 35% of people refuse to let this happen, The Guardian reports. This contributes to an organ shortage, meaning that 1,000 people a year are dying before an organ becomes available for a transplant.

I’d argue that this presents one of the biggest marketing challenges of all: changing human behaviour by encouraging families to discuss a very taboo topic and considering whether they would want their organs donated.

This isn’t about using marketing to get people to try a new flavour of crisps, spend a bit more money on a skin ‘perfecting’ cream or book a flight abroad just because it costs £2 each way.

It is about using marketing techniques to get people to talk about that most-avoided of subjects: dying and death, with the aim of saving 1,000 lives a year.

The proposals are especially radical because they include a suggestion that someone who has just died could have their heart removed and its function maintained, by putting blood and oxygen into it, so it can be transplanted into someone who needs a new one.

It is clearly a delicate and controversial topic, with ethical considerations top of the agenda.

But it would prove to be a fascinating, difficult and ultimately life-saving challenge to market, involving researching the fundamentals of human behaviour and creating marketing that has to work at the deepest level.

No, this isn’t a topic that is often discussed around the dinner table by families, but clever and targeted messages might encourage people to do so, before they are faced with a situation where they are too distraught to think about it.

Death is the only certainty in life. It isn’t one that any of us can yet control, but we can be encouraged to be open about it. I know this will be a turn-off to some readers, but if the result of marketing is helping to save 1,000 lives a year, surely it is worth talking about.

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