How Behaviourial Marketing Can Effect Change for Good

Written by Walsh:PR - December 2018

One of Ireland’s most popular music and dance festivals, Electric Picnic hit the headlines this year for all the wrong reasons. Ten kilos of rubbish per person (the equivalent of a full aircraft hand-luggage travel case) were abandoned on-site by festival goers after the event. Included in the rubbish were tents, empty beer cans, food wrappers, chairs, inflatable mattresses and discarded clothing, including shoes and coats.

The festival is attended in the main by Millennials and Gen Z’ers – a demographic considered to be the most Eco-conscious compared with previous generations. The dichotomy made us curious to know how consumers can think one way and act another and what marketing and PR can do to genuinely effect behavioural change.

We invited behavioural marketing expert Sara Isaac from Marketing for Change, our IPREX partner in Florida, to shed some light on the psychology behind behaviour and to explain what behavioural change marketing is and how it can help us create better habits for ourselves and the planet.

Here’s what Sara had to say:


W:PR:  Sara, so what happened at Electric Picnic?

SI: If we really want to know what happened and why, we need to talk to people who were there. But my guess is that the festival grounds were set up in a way that made it a hassle to carry out or dispose of items people brought in. After a weekend of revelry and drinking, people were tired and eager to get home. So some people started abandoning their stuff, and others joined in, and that created broad social permission that this was “normal” behaviour at the festival.


W:PR: How can a generation known to be Eco-conscious behave in such a contradictory way?

SI: We all do things that contradict our stated values. How many of us want to eat healthier but then justify serving up that second piece of cake? Or disparage reckless drivers and then speed when we’re late to work, or send a text message while navigating traffic? Knowing what we “should” do is only one factor that influences behaviour – and it’s a pretty weak one at that.


W:PR: What is behavioural change marketing?

SI: Behaviour change marketing develops social change campaigns that influence not just what people think, but what they do. At Marketing for Change, we design our campaigns around 14 common behavioural determinants, including rewards (making a behaviour fun to do), efficacy (making it easier), and social norms (showing how this behaviour is “normal” for our target audience). In short, we make social change Fun, Easy and Popular.


W:PR: How can it make a difference in changing people’s behaviour towards the environment?

SI: Most social change campaigns operate from an “information deficit” model. That is, they think people just need to know what they’re supposed to do, and then they’ll do it. Behaviour change marketing recognises that many elements influence behaviour and that knowledge, while important, is only one small part.


W:PR: What is your advice to the organisers of festivals who want to encourage people to behave more sustainably?

SI: First of all, I would recommend they conduct some audience research to better understand all the factors (both rational and emotional) at play. Next, I would make sure the event grounds are set up to make it easier to take belongings out or dispose of them properly. Are there sufficient trash, recycling and donation bins that are easy to access? Can a corps of volunteers be at the ready to help people tote their belongings? Can you partner with a charity to bring a large truck to collect donations? And how can you send clear signals that it is “normal” at such festivals for people to pick up after themselves? Can you post some fun messaging on signs around the park – designed to resonate with festival goers – that help people take pride in their actions? For example, could you create a selfie-ready “I’m trashed” sign by the garbage bin or donation truck that people can use to show off their good behaviour? I think there are many creative things event planners can do to make it easier and more rewarding to do the right thing.

Want to find out more?