Simple and emotive the way to trigger green behaviour

Brand marketers should find simple ways to change people’s behaviour that appeal to emotions rather than rational logic if they want to succeed in making consumer lifestyles more environmentally friendly, according to industry leaders.


Companies such as Unilever and Marks & Spencer are looking for ways to change consumer behaviour to reduce their impact on the environment. This is because the majority of the businesses’ environmental impact comes from consumer use of their products, despite improvements to the supply chain and manufacture of products.

M&S launched its ‘shwopping” initiative, fronted by Joanna Lumley, last week to encourage customers to recycle their old clothes at the same time they are buying new ones. The aim is to reduce the amount of clothing sent to landfill each year. The retailer says it is the simplicity of the initiative that will be key to its success.

Speaking to Marketing Week at the launch, marketing director Steve Sharp said behaviour change is a challenge because some customers just aren’t willing to change, whether it’s recycling clothes or swapping to more sustainable fish under its Forever Fish campaign. He adds that giving a direct instruction with something simple to do is key to retailers and businesses achieving social change.

Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed also aims to help make sustainable behaviours commonplace, but believes that marketing has to be more than just telling people the right thing to do.

At an event to mark one year’s progress of its Sustainable Living Plan, Weed said that behaviour change is the area in which the company has made least progress.

He cited the example of the Comfort One Rinse laundry detergent it has introduced in developing countries. While product innovation means that half the normal amount of water is needed to rinse clothes, people continue to use more water than they need. Weed says this is proof that Unilever must work harder in its marketing and communications to elicit behavioural change.

Unilever believes that its role is to find the right triggers for behaviour change so that people will start doing the right thing without thinking about it, because while people may “nod their head and say yes” to more sustainable lifestyles, in reality it is difficult to change a habit.

Rory Sutherland, executive creative director and vice-chairman of OgilvyOne London and Ogilvy & Mather UK, has long advocated the use of heuristics, a sort of ‘common sense’ method of problem solving, in marketing to encourage behaviour change. Rational instruction, he says, requires active thought and so is less likely to be effective.

Speaking at an OgilvyAction event this month, he said: “[Marketers should] come up with recommendations about behaviour that are easy to do without consciousness, rather than something that requires conscious thought.”

Sutherland cites the example of responsible drinking campaigns that ask people to drink fewer than 21 units a week as “hopeless” because it appeals to rationality, rather than emotion. Instead he says campaigners should encourage people not to drink for three nights a week, which he says is easier to apply, and will therefore be more successful in changing behaviour.

Five Levers for Change

Unilever’s behaviour change model, used by its marketers to encourage sustainable changes in living habits

1 Make it understood to raise awareness and encourage acceptance.

2 Make it easy to establish convenience and confidence.

3 Make it desirable so the new behaviour fits how people like to think of themselves.

4 Make it rewarding by articulating the tangible benefits.

5 Make it a habit to hold the behaviour in place for the long-term.


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