Tag Archives: consumer behaviour

How long does it take to ‘go sustainable’?

A lot of my posts have been in and around how you can get people to change their behaviour.  In particular, how can you get people to act in a way that is more ‘sustainable’.  To me this usually means buying less stuff or eating less meat.  I’ve been thinking about trying to solve this from an advertising or communications perspective because that’s where my (work) experience lies.  However, I’ve come to realise that thinking of the issue of sustainability through the lens of advertising is this is far too simplistic.

This is because advertising, on the whole, works by trying to encourage you to choose a brand when you are already thinking about buying that category.  So, feel like a pint?  Choose Stella over the others for these reasons.  Need to buy some washing powder?  Then this is why Ariel is the one to buy.

(I know this is a gross over simplication, but when you think about a lot of categories, it’s true – all FMCG, fashion, health and beauty, car insurance etc etc).

So, advertising is typically short form (from posters up to 30′ TV ads) which is proven (sometimes) to encourage people to buy more of a particular brand.  The important thing however is how much of the work the consumer has already done for the advertiser.  For example, the consumer is typically  a) in a ‘consuming’ mindset – they have money in their pocket  b) are in the environment (e.g. shop or online) where you are available c) are in the mood to buy from the category (e.g. after work in the pub, or in the supermarket doing the weekly shop).  As a result, all the advertising has to do is to tip people to buy your brand rather than the competitor, which are likely to be next to them.  It’s pretty simple job really.


Now consider that against communications to try and get people to buy less.  This is going to be far more difficult because it’s about reversing the ‘consuming mindset’.  To get people to consider whether or not they actually need to buy what they are thinking of buying in the first place.  It’s about getting people to value the value of ‘stuff’ and what role it plays in their lives.  As a result, it’s about consumerism and meaning and what’s important etc etc.  To do this is huge task that’s going to take a lot more communication than a 30′ ad or a poster.  So, how long does it take to think like this?

Not 30′, more like a year, I reckon.  This is because that’s how long it’s taken me.  To change the way I think about shopping and eating meat – such that I’ve reduced both by a considerable amount.  And I’ve been thinking about this a lot and talking to people about it a lot.  Now, it might be possible to get people to do it quicker than me – I hope so and I guess that’s the challenge – but the recognition of the time frame it’s taken me has helped me frame the scale of the task that faces us all.  It’s a big task.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Can you live on 100 items?

Here’s another interesting article, via Donald.  It’s from the New York Times and is about a movement in the States whereby people are cutting down what they own to 100 items.  So, out go the juicer and the toastie maker and in comes endless debates as to what constitutes ‘1 item’?  A pair of socks?  Cutlery?  Book collection?

Either way, it would be an interesting exercise to undertake.  Presumably, you’d start by keeping everything that you’d use every day?  Every week?  Then what?  But, by going through the process, you’re going to realise how much stuff you really need and more importantly, how much you don’t. 

In this way, it would be a little like camping as you quickly understand you can only take what you can carry and you try and extend the number of uses for the same thing.

Further, what this does is that it frames the debate about consumerism as a personal challenge you can discuss and compare with others undergoing the same task.  You can see what your 100 items are and compare them to others and debate the relative merits of different items, and the process of ‘One in, one out’ when you want to buy something new.

Perhaps most importantly, it turns the dry, negative ”Buy less stuff’ message into a game which you pit yourself against yourself and against others.  It makes you value what you’ve got more rather than feeling guilty about buying anything at all.  Good stuff indeed.

(as an addition to this post, there’s this site, the cult of less, whereby some American guy is trying to live with as little as possible – 2 boxes and 2 suitcases.  There’s an article about it here.)

Tagged , ,

Clear and Present Danger

The thing about humans is that we usually only react to danger when it is immediate and apparent.  So, when the bear came into the cave of our neanderthal ancestors, their ‘flight or fight’ response was invoked and they either ran away or got out their spears and stood their ground.  Evolutionarily, we haven’t changed much and the problem with Climate Change is there is no Clear and Present Danger – you can’t see the build up of CO2 and the ice-caps are melting in far away lands.  It may well be that we’ve already passed the point of no return, but it’s possible that we still won’t change the way we behave towards until the polar bear is in our front lawn trying to jump off his passing piece of ice into the living room.

This isn’t great, so it’s good to look for examples of how consumer behaviour has dramatically changed before it’s too late and seeing what we can learn.  And there’s a great example of this at The Ministry of Food Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The Ministry of Food was set up in September 1939 at the outset of the Second World War to manage the nations food suppy.  One significant part of its work was a huge public information campaign to change how the Britain related to food in order to benefit the war effort.  It was a huge exercise which influenced every aspect of the nation’s relationship with food – from encouraging people to grow their own, to what to eat and the need to minimise wastage.  So, it is a great example of consumer change at a national level that provides many pointers for the modern day Climate Change fraternity.  These include:

Establish the result.

In war it’s fairly binary, you either win or lose.  But clearly linking your actions to the final, positive result in a simple, memorable statement is a good start.  It’s like ‘Just do it’, but with a purpose.

The interesting thing about Climate Change is how do we know when we’ve succeeded?  At the moment it’s framed in the negative – the seas won’t rise; C02 levels won’t exceed certain levels.   But where’s the positive?  People are usually motivated by the addition of something positive, rather than the absence of negative.  You don’t sell toothpaste on the fact that you’re teeth won’t fall out if you don’t use it.  You sell it in the fact you have shiny, healthy teeth if you do.

Who’s the enemy?

Related to the above point, in the war the enemy was clear – the Nazis – clearly represented by Hitler and the swastika.  They were the bad guys and clearly fitted into our age old concept of good vs. evil.  With Climate Change, who is the enemy that we can clearly identify with?  Is it Fossil Fuels?  Oil companies?  The West?  The East?  People going to the next Copenhagen?  And how do you represent whichever you chose in a simple way that everyone can understand, as an idea and as an image?  In a way, the Nazis made it easy for us to identify them and therefore to hate them.  

The Ministry of Food took advantage of this and was able to not only talk about the positive consequence of acting in the right way, they also communicate what would happen if you didn’t. 

Be specific. 

There’s something really interesting in this, which is about linking a seemingly minor action to the broader war effort and ultimate victory.  A lot of the behaviour change around Climate Change is like this – use less plastic bags, turn the heating down etc. etc.  But, do we ever see them connected to the bigger goal in such a simple and effective way as this:

Another, and perhaps more powerful example than this was in the exhibtion.  It encouaged you do eat potatoes andnot bread with you meal if you wanted to fill yourself up.  The rationale was that the UK could produce its own potatoes but it had to import the wheat to make bread from North America.  The wheat would come over in ships which ran the risk of being torpedoed by German subs.  So, the message was ‘Eat Potatoes and Not Bread and Save Lives’. 

Education. 

This might be seen as a patronising now, but a great deal of the Ministry of Food output educated the nation about food.  From what size of alloment you need and what to plant in it, to what food has the most nutritonal value, to how to build a chicken run.  They produced an endless stream of informative, imaginative and educative material to keep people interested and motivated to act. 

The Climate Change movement seems to be doing a good job of education (in the UK) and we becoming clear about what steps we need to take to minimise our own carbon emissions.  However, if we were able to ‘Establish the Result’ and define a clear enemy could we expect to see a higher take-up of the activities we know we are supposed to perform? 

Extend the metaphor. 

This is a small point, but interesting.  Below you can see how they extended the idea of the Allies vs. the Nazis into every part of the campaign in how they educated people about different varieties of guest in your garden:

Overall, when you go through the exhibition, you get a sense of the huge volume and variety of output that the Ministry of Food produced.  From posters to pamphlets; from Food Flashes before movies to books.  They seemed to cover every relevant message in every available outlet.  I wonder what the equivalent media spend woudl have been today, but it seems likely that we haven’t seen many campaigns the size of it since.  There is a degree of realism required when it comes to Climate Change – could the government ever pull off anything of this scale again?  It could be argued that the government would need to spend even more money to turn things around because the market is saturated with commercial messages encouraging consumers to ‘buy and do more’, when any message from them would effectively be to ‘do less’.  So, perhaps part of the strategy would be to halt some or all commerical advertising.  Which wouldn’t go down well.

But did it work?  Well we won the war, so people who did dig, did help the victory.  But there was this more informative fact at the start of the exhibition which shows that they did manage to invoke a huge consumer change across the nation which would have resulted in thousands of people spending millions of hours in a new type of relationship with food, for the greater good.  The challenge is, can we replicate something like this again for the benefit of saving the planet, rather than just Britain?:

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Stopping Smoking is Easier than Stopping Shopping

As part of the MSc, I think it’s going to be useful looking at different government campagins to encourage the public to change certain behaviours.  They include:

Stop smoking

Wear seatbelts

Anti-drink driving

Recycle

Turn heating down

If you take Stop Smoking, which is probably the one which will have the most written about, it’ll become apparent how difficult it is to get people to stop and yet people know that they will die.  So, you’d think that getting people to buy less will be easy.  But I don’t think it will be.  Anyway, here’s a bunch of anti-smoking ads.  The interesting thing is that:

a) the all kind of look and feel the same

b) they look like they’ve been created to win awards, not to stop people smoking

c) why are they using posters?  How can a simple poster message be expected to stop an addiction?

Anyway, here they are for reference:

Tagged , ,

Getting people to do what they don’t want to do

The Big Issue with trying to get people to buy less is ‘Why would you want to stop doing something that you like?’

Shopping is great.  It’s a fun, social activity.  What you buy makes you happy because you buy the latest

RESEARCH WHY PEOPLE LIKE SHOPPING

So, getting people to do less of this is going to be difficult.  However, things can be easier if people believe that the benefit of not buying things is greater than the benefit of buying things.  And there are many reasons which could be used – not causing climate change, protecting the planet for future generations, saving money, being a canny shopper.  These are all valid, but none of them are interesting.  They are all about ‘not’, because fundamentally, buying less is about ‘not’, which runs against the culture  which is all about ‘yes’.   There’s no big idea in here that I want to sign up to.  If you think about consumerism, it’s linked to the post-WW2 imperative for economic growth.  One caused the other.  We need to grow, so you buy stuff because that stimulates growth.  We get more stuff and the economy gets bigger.  Buying and having things is linked to the success of the country and buying and having more things feels good. What’s not to like about that?

We are now trying to reverse the spiral.  The Climate Change Agenda (which trumps the  Economic Imperative) states that we have to consume less.  In order to do this, you have to make buying less and having less feel better than buying and having more.  This is a massive volte face and will take years to turn around. 

It’s interesting to look at other parallels to understand how this has been done before.  Two examples are anti-smoking and wearing seatbelts.

IPA PAPERS

With these two examples, we know that smoking or not wearing your seatbelt has a significant personal downside risk.  You can die a slow and painful death from cancer or be flung through the windscreen.  For a start, there no significant downside risk to not shopping, unless you get very literal about ‘I’m going to die if I can’t buy that pair of shoes”.

Tagged ,