Designing sustainable behaviour change

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An investigation into the design of environmental messages and the role of new media

Vanessa Stewart
Design Joint Honours K0718047 FADA HA3481: Design in Context III

556 January 14. 2010 2 .Paul Micklethwaite Word count: 2.

Yet. despite the pervasiveness of the ‘green’ message. The result was a consumer backlash unlike any the business world has ever seen. take a look at government educational campaigns. As green marketers. This is often referred to as the intentionaction gap. Existing messaging channels It might be said that the overall effectiveness of ‘green’ marketing on sustainable behaviour change is somewhat disappointing as the majority of consumers have yet to adopt this practice. government programmes. A few months later.Designing sustainable behaviour change: An investigation into the design of environmental messages and the role of new media I. Take the Are you doing your bit? campaign by the UK government that began in 1998 after the Kyoto negotiations a year earlier. there seems to be a baffling. Government educational campaigns First. It was an admirable 3 . To win over this consumer. The only stronger voice is the government. the original formula was back on the shelves (The Coca-Cola Company 2006). a. if not paradoxical absence of consistent commitment from the public. and ‘green’focused initiatives has saturated the marketing landscape within the last decade. it is useful to critically analyse that which already exists. traditional advertising strategies are being replaced with new media initiatives.000 consumers. Introduction In 1985. in the face of impending regulations and a new. and coverage available to the government are rarely topped. a proliferation of charitable campaigns. To design new marketing techniques. they introduced a new formula for “the world’s most popular soft drink” (see Figure 1). the Coca-Cola Company took the biggest risk in the history of their corporate existence. What role do the Internet and new media have in creating a more effective message? And in what way can the design of ‘green’ marketing contribute to positive behaviour change? II. After conducting tastes with 200. more demanding and highexpectation consumer. Stories like these are a testament to the influence the consumer holds over the products sold in stores. who continually regulate programmes to benefit the environmental cause. businesses are adopting sustainable practice at a steady pace. we ask: what have we been missing? Furthermore. This leaves the consumer as the last piece of the puzzle. There appears to be four main vehicles of the ‘green’ message present in the media and commercial environment. funds. as the influence. since the advent of the Internet and the social web. This is a promising avenue for the message. In the same way. ‘eco’ products.

and Adidas. Everywhere. washed-out messages that lack any real punch. It has attracted many celebrities and popular brands. is a unique take on the traditional ‘green’ initiative. an energy and environmental marketing agency. the message was good: “Every little thing I do makes a difference” (OECD 2000: 5). Furthermore. Cadbury’s Purple Goes Green campaign (see Figure 2) that began in 2007 is the company’s initiative to reduce their impact on global warming. Although the importance of such initiatives should never be devalued. Ecoalign (2005). Such a commitment could easily turn out to be a ‘New Year’s resolution’ never carried through. On the other hand. even that which contributes to global warming. the campaign falls short as it appeals to the ‘better nature’ of individuals and organisations. so does the pressure on corporations to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. the 10:10 campaign has enabled people to fashionably identify themselves with the cause through the creation of their limited 10:10 metal tags (see Figure 3) salvaged from scrap metal. energy efficiency. regardless of what climate change targets are agreed. making changes to reduce personal carbon emissions is just another responsibility to worry about. c. which aims to cut ten percent of emissions by 2010. big brands are rolling out new ‘green’ marketing campaigns that are incessant and ubiquitous. with no real way of knowing whether the participants will ever follow through on their commitments.recognition that. As the expectations of shareholders continue to rise. However well-intended. such as Thom York. Fundamentally. b. argue that marketers pushing the ‘green’. is well-intended. these campaigns hold a level of credibility that would be difficult for business and government to achieve. Microsoft. ‘Subvertising’ 4 .” Indeed. Coming from an independent organisation. Charitable campaigning Not-for-profit campaigns are another driving force for the ‘green’ message. At the end of the day. this approach lacks enough relevance on a personal level. Sara Cox. They have teamed up with organisations around the globe and also have a dedicated micro-site on the Guardian’s website to display their content. they can never fully be carried out without a change in the actions of businesses and individuals. their motives are probably centred on the belief that painting the company in a good light will ultimately result in greater good will and stronger brand equity. Like many other companies introducing sustainable practices. all human behaviour. The recent 10:10 campaign. Unlike most charitable campaigns. Big brand advertising Big brand advertising is the second vehicle. a reduction in carbon emissions is not likely to convince people to buy more chocolate. d. conservation and sustainability message have created “generic. this has been a great attempt on a more simplistic grass roots level.

or subversive organisations.direct. then ‘What government is doing’. loss of natural resources. and other sustainability issues. in his book Design for the Real World. graffiti. In fact. a. an analysis of these methods reveals that most have been designed. The first pertains to those issues that concern us but are beyond our personal control. spoof advertisements. Whether it comes from the government. Viktor Papanek. this approach also inherently excludes the larger majority of people. This includes climate change. such as the annual “Buy Nothing Day” to stir up a response from the public. Tackling any issue from “genetically modified foods to media concentration”. The second circle pertains to our immediate environment. discusses the impact of the “circle of concern” versus the “circle of influence”. it employs the ‘information-awareness-action’ method fallaciously believed to be generally effective. The landing page of the website has self-explanatory and leading navigation that negates the need to dig deeper into the site: the first button is ‘Climate change: the facts’ followed by ‘What you can do’. ‘Current campaigns’. then a new form of activism known as ‘subvertising’ must surely have value. and the health of our families (Gordon 2002: 24). However. and finally ‘About ACT ON CO2’. foreseeable end. The UK government’s Act On CO2 (actonco2.uk) campaign is a good example (see Figure 5). III. that which is within our power to influence. but the question remains as to why the success of conventional products has not been replicated with ‘green’ ones. consciously or not.gov. it is clear that the principal strategy is ‘information-awareness-action’.If traditional and respectable not-for-profit campaigning is not enough to spur consumers to action. this will appeal to a specific segment of the population – a segment that may not otherwise be reached through conventional means. potentially summed up both our problem and solution when he said: “Design is the patterning and planning of any act toward a desired. And again. and several campaigns. large corporations. Just as the term suggests. the organisation uses creative media. the above case studies offer a valuable contribution to generating awareness. ‘Information’ is not the answer Wendy Gordon (2002). Before clicking anywhere into the site. charities. What can design offer? Certainly. Adbusters. people are largely uninspired by facts and distant causes. ‘What business is doing’. to produce the results they are receiving. 5 .” In the same way.org is an excellent example of this new form of media. This includes litter. local education. these tactics are largely cynical and anti-establishment. Undoubtedly. Put like this. it is easy to see why people often feel environmental calls-to-action are ultimately profitless. most of them use the basic method of lobbying information. author of Brand Green.

although organic milk may cost twice as much. This was attributed to placing their household care products at a price level comparable to higher-end conventional brands.methodproducts. The US company Method Products Inc. This was not the result of positioning the premium-priced package as the admirable ‘right thing to do for the environment’. which has just entered the UK market. Any kind of mass marketing must include what is known as ‘points of parity’.b. For consumers. Even the mere belief that organic milk is better has returned positive results for purveyors of the product. Take. He states: “Consumers need more subtle motivations than ever to buy a certain brand. people will not buy it. if the quality of a product fails to be as good as or better than conventional alternatives. Texas’ Austin Energy. for example. d. This is perfectly in line with the belief of Renzo Rosso. They have to identify themselves with the product they are buying. founder of the globally successful fashion and lifestyle brand Diesel. a growing number of people purchase organic milk simply because they claim it tastes better (Global Shades of Green 2008). c. If ‘green’ brands wish to compete with conventional ones. it was the result of tying benefits into the package that appealed to the lifestyles of their consumers. demand for their wind energy programme ‘Green Choice’ outpaced supply. Gordon (2002) suggests that mass marketing tactics are the best and possibly only way to send ‘green’ products mainstream. In 2006. Points of parity Sending ‘green’ products mainstream is not only achieved through relating products to individual identity. Personal and relevant messaging Yet. has achieved mass-market success in the relatively short space of nine years (see Figure 6). selecting the product with environmental credibility is an easy decision when the price points are the same. These are the “shared values between the target brand and its competitiors” (Kellar 2006: 5). they must compete on these points. surely if marketers can convince us to spend £500 on a designer handbag. Moreover. its attitude” (Pavit 2001: 64). This is largely due to the growing negative publicity surrounding hormone-raised cows. Instead. For example. She says: “We need to learn how to connect ‘green’ brands to the lives of ordinary people” (Gordon 2002: 9). there must be a way to influence consumers to buy ‘green’. 6 . et al 2006: 30). such as public recognition in broadcast media and branding the programme as “home grown” – thus appealing to the characteristic pride and loyalty of Texans (Ottman. Product quality A further requirement of ‘green’ mainstreaming is product quality. increase in sales has been exponential in recent years.com). (www. with its lifestyle. Simply put.

As a result. author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR. brands. and where unsatisfactory companies will suffer greatly. users are reaching purpose-built landing pages replete with the content they seek and the products that meet their needs. Where individuals share ideas. With the advent of the Internet and new media has come an opportunity to influence a more dramatic change in consumer behaviour than ever before. turning to the collective wisdom and experience of their friends and peers to learn about products (Ottman. When a lifestyle or product is advocated. and spread their opinion of products. David Meerman Scott. For example. smiling blonde was enough to sell a bottle of Coke. users convene around shared interests. traditional advertisers are dealing with an irresolvable problem. a. et al 2006: 33). connect around common interests. says to create “micro-sites”. The idea is to create an environment where consumers will market to each other. Segment the audience The ability to tailor a message to a particular audience is another invaluable tool the social web offers. author of Unleashing the Ideavirus. The role of new media and communications Yet. it is possible to spread a corporate ‘agenda’. Seth Godin (2002). no matter how cleverly crafted the message. enabling organisations to communicate to an audience that is already interested in their products. So it’s imperative to stop marketing at people. Brand advocates present a distinct opportunity for companies to win the hearts of their target consumers. the marketing landscape is rapidly changing. or how well a ‘green’ product meets the points of parity. but they can also 7 . and corporations. says: “We live in a world where consumers actively resist marketing. By implementing the right keywords. a perfectly suited audience is reading about it – and converting – in near real-time. Consumers have grown wary of commercial messages. Leverage the ‘influencers’ This is why social networks and ‘blogging’ are exceptional tools for corporate leverage. b. This is one reason why the Super Bowl is able to charge what they do for a 15 second ad. No longer can they reach a mass audience with any single communication. Market with ‘permission’ Not only can a specific audience be targeted. followers often become devout believers and subscribe to the blog’s content. each aimed at a narrow target constituency. c.” The social web creates this environment: one where good products will naturally rise to the forefront. the consumer of the 21st century is increasingly skeptical and discerning. The endless amount of media available to consumers today – such as the variety of magazines – has caused information overload. when a blogger forges a strong identity and authority over a subject area.IV. On the social web. Unlike in the 1950’s when a placid.

Even so. as we move into a society where information is directed at us in excess. Re-designing the message of environmental product marketing is certainly a step in the right direction.com). the marketer can execute a curriculum. For this reason. Conclusion In the face of our ‘green’ paradox. every day. actions like these build the credibility and authenticity of a company by providing value beyond commercial exchange. using the attention offered by the consumer and continually providing incentives. those who have consented to engage with the company. V. the average person is exposed to over four hours of media (Godin 1999: 25-26). for example. Over time. ‘green’ brands will still be unable to compete unless they are made available at an affordable price. The Concrete Network (www. there could never exist one remedy to influence widespread behaviour change.be courted into offering their permission to build a relationship with them. new media provides an opportunity to reach the right people. So how do marketers break through all of the clutter and noise? Permission marketing is a new concept of offering the consumer value before demanding anything in return. created a series of buyer guides because they knew it would be useful to their market (Scott 2007: 22). 8 . In the long run. Thus. it is important to recognise that the issue of sustainability requires mass-scale participation. it necessitates that the products or services be of quality and live up to expectations. A combination of approaches will be necessary on a continual basis. marketers need to reduce their ‘noise’ and create purposeful. This is the only ‘sustainable strategy’. permission marketing is perfectly suited for ‘green’ companies seeking to reach the right individuals. Godin (1999) defines advertising as “the science of creating and placing media that interrupts the consumer and then gets him or her to take some action. Consequently. and those who are keen to receive relevant products that will reward and satisfy. Furthermore. permission marketing is a slow process and requires genuine commitment and transparency from the given company. with comparable quality to conventional brands. However.” In fact. Once marketers begin to acknowledge this.concretenetwork. unique messages. teaching the consumer about the products or services they offer.

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