Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Two Cents on Dollar Coin Campaign

Some of you might be aware that West Michigan is one of four test cities for the federal campaign to encourage citizens to use the new dollar coins. (By the way, we are a test market region for lots of things, from flavored milk to new fast food chain restaurants).

Anyway, the dollar coin campaign isn't going too well. Some of the reasons are articulated by residents in an article in the Muskegon Chronicle recently. People think the old fashioned paper greenbacks are lighter and more convenient. People also see the dollar coins as a novelty for collecting, not for spending.

I'm in Europe about once a year the past few years, and I always note that change comes back to me in a handful of metal. The lowest paper denomination of the Euro is the 5; coins come in E2, E1, and the 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 cent pieces. I feel like I walk with a limp after a mere purchase of a pain de chocalate et deux cafes pour moi et ma femme.

My father-in-law, an avid coin collector, pointed out that the Canadians did it right when the introduced the "loony," the one dollar Canadian coin. They made sure to introduce parking meters and vending machines that only took the coin version, not the paper. People started using loonies.

Ironically, the campaign by the U.S. government to encourage us to use American dollar coins is, well, loony. If you read that Chronicle piece with your PR hat on, you hear the public saying the dollar coin is not convenient, not better than the paper dollar, and other complaints. Then you hear the government official saying it will save the nation money because metal money lasts longer than paper.

In other words, they are trying to motivate people with an appeal to idealistic patriotism versus a practical personal benefit for changing their behavior with regard to their monetary habits. While some PR pros eschew theory, there are several that scream for attention here--diffusion of innovation, adaption theory, uses and gratifications, cognitive dissonance among them.

This is a campaign that seems based on assumptions instead of research; on idealistic appeals versus pragmatic persuasion. It also seems based on message to influence attitude, versus actions to change behavior--in other words, work with retail businesses to do things to give the dollar coin an advantage over the paper money, like the Canadians did.

Until then, in West Michigan and anywhere else, the campaign for the dollar coin will not be (dare I say it?) change we can believe in.

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