BLESS UP

Jamaica’s central bank is using catchy reggae tunes to teach the country about inflation

Bob Marley, inflation hawk?
Bob Marley, inflation hawk?
Image: Reuters/ Gilbert Bellamy
By
We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Videos for the campaign were produced by local media maven Donovan Watkis.
Videos for the campaign were produced by local media maven Donovan Watkis.
Image: Screenshot/Bank of Jamaica

The country of Bob Marley, curry goat, Olympic sprinters, and jammin’ in all its splendid forms has a message for its citizens: A little bit of inflation isn’t necessarily such a bad thing.

That’s not a widely held view, though, so to spread the word about its inflation-targeting policy, Jamaica’s central bank has adopted an innovative, even ingenious, strategy. They’re using reggae music.

Tony Morrison, the Bank of Jamaica‘s public relations director, is the brains behind the campaign. It’s a multi-pronged line of attack, he says, combining billboards, radio jingles, and television ads. The videos have now made their way online, where they’re setting hearts aglow internationally in even the Grinchiest corners of the financial world. One video has been viewed nearly 200,000 times on Twitter.

The bank has been applauded for its rhythm, but also, in the words of economist Damien King, for “building credibility for the new policy stance by asking to be held accountable for it by the wider populace.” Local reception was generally positive, Morrison said, but he’s nonetheless been surprised by the level of global interest. “I’ve been blushing a lot.”

For much of its history as an independent nation, Jamaica had worryingly high inflation rates, a byproduct of decades of economic and political mayhem. As recently as 2015, annual inflation was in the double-digits, while in 1991, it hit 90%. Now, after five years of economic and legislative reforms to balance the books and curb wayward policymakers, it’s back in check at around 2.5%. The bank’s official target is between 4 and 6%.

Though the people of Jamaica understand why low inflation is good, Morrison told Quartz, “they just don’t understand yet why too low is bad. When we start aiming for 3%, or one day maybe 2%, we’ll have to explain why we’re not aiming for 1% or 0.” The first parts of that explanation is a lyric—”Low and stable inflation is to the economy what the bass-line is to reggae music”—and comes complete with killer bass.

Campaign videos generally follow the same format: jaunty guitars, a thrumming beat, slamming musicians all geared up to share the good news about inflation. Local all-female band Adahzeh provide the soundtrack (their other hits include “Good Vibes” and “Island Girl“), while actor and musician Donald Anderson, aka Ice Man, stands in as their frontman.

Another video from the series features a blue right-hand drive Mitsubishi Evo X driven at speed by a woman in a white helmet. (It’s not clear whether she’s hoping to crush inflation beneath her wheels.) The advertisement generated some interest in Japan, Morrison says, not to mention with the “car-loving demographic” more generally.

This is not the first taste of online fame for the Bank of Jamaica. Its very first tweet, back in October, was a parody of the CIA’s own attempt at humor, back in 2014: “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.” The bank followed suit: “Ceteris paribus, we estimate this to be our first tweet,” a riff on the Latin for “all else being equal,” a common phrase in economics. A brief flurry of local and international media attention followed, Morrison said. “We thought we were successful, but nothing compared to what we have here.”

Among the new campaign’s high-profile fans is Patrick Njoroge, the governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, who tweeted enthusiastically: “No one can stop reggae!” Fingers crossed for a Genge-economics mash-up follow in the not-so-distant future.