The extraordinary science of programming entire populations’ beliefs and behaviour through soap operas: 

“Anguach and Demlew are the main characters in an Ethiopian serial drama. They are a loving young couple with a bright future. But Demlew’s mother, who doesn’t like Anguach, begins to meddle and pushes a neighbor to seduce her son. He succumbs, sleeps with the neighbor, and is infected with HIV. Anguach is devastated, but forgives him, and cares for him until he dies. Although terrified that she might be HIV positive, Anguach gets tested and finds out that she is negative. Anguach eventually marries again (this time, a man without a meddling mother!) and lives happily ever after. Touching story – but did it have any impact?

“This episode was one of 257 in a radio serial drama Yeken Kignit (“Looking Over One’s Daily Life”), produced between 2002 and 2004 by the Ethiopian office of Population Media Center (PMC), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization. PMC works in approximately 20 countries worldwide using entertainment-education to change attitudes and behavior related to health and well-being in areas, such as family planning, environmental awareness, gender equity and other critical issues affecting society. Among a number of issues, Yeken Kignit addressed HIV/AIDS – specifically the need for early detection and prevention…

“Named after its creator, Miguel Sabido, the Sabido methodology is a theoretical model for stimulating positive change in social attitudes and behaviors through commercial television and radio programming. Sabido pioneered the use of telenovelas to address social issues during the 1970s, when he was vice president for research at the Mexican television network Televisa. Over the next decade, he produced six social content serial dramas in Mexico and during the time when many of his telenovelas were on the air, Mexico underwent a 34 percent decline in its population growth rate. As a result, in May 1986, the United Nations Population Prize was presented to Mexico as the foremost population success story in the world. Since the 1980s, the Sabido methodology has been used to motivate changes in attitudes and behaviors on a wide range of issues, including child slavery, women’s status, environmental protection, and HIV/AIDS.

“One of the advantages of using serial dramas, rather than documentaries or single-episode dramas, is that they allow time for the audience to form bonds with the characters and allow characters to evolve at a gradual and believable pace in response to problems that have been well-illustrated in the story line. Entertainment programs forge emotional ties to audience members that influence values and behaviors more forcefully than the purely cognitive information provided in documentaries.

“Entertainment, whether via a nation’s airwaves, popular magazines, or newspapers, is the most pervasive mass media genre. It can also be extremely persuasive – influencing how we dress, speak, think and behave. We are “educated” by the entertainment media, often unwittingly.

“As audiences fall in love with, and emulate the positive behaviors of characters like Anguach – we can create meaningful behavior change among millions of listeners. Such change is critical to sustainable health and social development throughout the world.”

Sex, Soap and Social Change