Plastic Free July, Take 2: Lessons for Behavior Change Campaigns

Plastic Free July turtle logo
The Plastic Free July campaign uses norming and pledges to encourage behavior change.

I just completed my second Plastic-Free July! This is a worldwide event that draws attention to the enormous, and enormously damaging, place that single-use plastic holds in our daily life.

While a single person’s actions may not seem to make much impact on the 8,000,000 tons of plastic that enter the ocean each year, we’ve got to start somewhere! And, it is possible to draw some lessons from the month-long discipline to help us think about behavior change.

Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good

As with any behavior change, it’s important not to punish yourself – or your target audience – if /when you fall off the wagon. I searched and searched for a non-plastic toothpaste tube, to no avail. I finally found a glass jar of toothpaste in a homeopathic shop. Yes, it had a plastic lid, but I decided the compromise was acceptable. And I got used to the taste! 

In our campaigns, we avoid showing super heroes – because the behavior change we are after doesn’t require super powers to do the right thing. “Regular” people can make a big difference. We steer clear of messages like “Can you get all your waste for the year into a peanut butter jar? No? What’s wrong with you?” Instead, we try to make the desired behavior attractive and achievable.

Boundaries Bring Freedom

Supermarket shopping gets a whole lot faster when single-use plastics are off limits. Entire aisles of cookies, chips and crackers are forbidden to the plastic avoider. How relaxing! I can avoid temptation and adhere to good plastic-free consumption and nutrition habits at the same time.

Freedom is an important value in the American psyche, and is one that environmental campaigns may be able to take more advantage of. Taking a restriction (reducing use of plastic or pesticide or water, for example) and reframing it as freedom can be an effective behavior change message.

Think Before You…Do, Buy, Cook, Toss!

One of the most important benefits of going plastic-free is a growing awareness of how often we cruise through life on auto-pilot. Going plastic-free means remembering every time to say, “No straw, please,” “Please use my reusable cup,” or “Can I get that wrapped in paper, not plastic?”

In behavior change campaigns, we look for ways to ingrain a new behavior, to create a body memory out of increased mindfulness. Several of our campaigns here at Gigantic now emphasize the the intelligence of our community members. “You’re smart about other things in your life, why not be smart about recycling?”

While I have not been able to stay completely plastic free, the search for alternatives to plastic is starting to become a comfortable behavior, and is making me more aware of things I take for granted. Carrying my work into my life, and vice versa, is very rewarding.

Sunnyvale’s FoodCycle Branding and Video — A CAPIO Award Winner!

Sunnyvale’s “FoodCycle” program is unique in the Bay Area. It truly “recycles” food into a new product—animal feed! The food scraps are collected using a split garbage/food scrap cart, and sent to a facility for processing. Using the garbage cart is a clear departure from nearby cities that collect food scraps in the yard trimmings cart to create compost. To address the many public concerns with this major change, the City needed clear and engaging marketing tools – including a video:

 

The Gigantic team structured the video around a behavioral process: How do people deal with food scraps? When do they make them? The information is broken down into clear steps:

1) Preparing the collection pail with accepted liners,

2) Showing when and how food waste is created,

3) Detailing what kinds of food scraps are accepted and

4) How to dispose of the kitchen waste in the new curbside cart.

This approach differs from other food scrap outreach that emphasizes what kinds of food are accepted. Instead, the model “FoodCycles” in situations when food waste is generated: cooking/prepping food, cleaning up after meals, and cleaning old leftovers out of the fridge.

We’re proud to say that the video won the Epic Award of Distinction in its category at the California Association of Public Information Officials (CAPIO) annual awards competition in April 2018.

 

Who Are You Talking To? Choosing a Strategy for Social Media Channels

sample tweet from @giganticideas

Are you planning an environmental outreach campaign that includes social media? I hope so! As you probably know, social media is a great way to spread the word about your organization’s activities and to encourage public participation. But “social media” is not a single, uniform bucket. Just as you would plan a different print ad for a publication that reaches high school students than for one that focuses on businesses, so your posts in social media should be guided by who you are trying to reach and why.

How to get started with a channel-specific strategy?

To start, try creating a mission statement for each channel. The mission statements should be based on your organizational goals and the audience you are most likely to reach with each channel. For example, are you trying to reach young people? Snapchat (60% of Snapchat users are under 25) is a good channel to consider. If you’re trying to reach Baby Boomers or businesses, not so much.

Here are some sample mission statements by channel:

We will use Twitter to raise our profile with influencers in the U.S. and beyond.
We will use Facebook to keep our fans updated and informed about our organization’s activities and to provide calls to action to the public.
We will use Instagram to promote the joy of a waste-free lifestyle with the local community.
Our blog provides detail and a personal voice on our organization’s issues and activities for those who already know about us.

Next, tailor your content by channel. Some organizations, looking to save time, make all of their Facebook posts automatically post to Twitter. This may undermine your efforts when your audience and mission  are different for each channel.

This doesn’t mean you should not cross-post the same topic in different channels. But it is a good idea to structure the content for your target audience: customize the language and images to achieve your mission.

Measure, Measure, Measure

How do you know if your channel strategy is working? Measure the results and compare your progress to your goals. For instance, your Twitter feed may be focused on reaching influencers. You can then evaluate your Twitter efforts by the number of key influencers who follow or retweet you. (In other words, it may be that the quality of your followers is more important than the number of them.) If your goal is to raise awareness of an issue, then the metric of reach/impressions is key. If your goal is to have users respond to a call to action, you will want to look at both click-through rate and number of clicks.

There is so much more to say about social media strategy, but starting with a channel mission statement is a useful guide when you are creating and customizing your communications. Happy posting!

Gigantic Idea Studio Hosts NewCo Oakland Session

Last Thursday, October 8, we opened our Gigantic doors to host a diverse group of visitors interested in learning more about us and our work as part of the NewCo Festival. NewCo engages companies with an innovative mission to share their vision and ideas with festival attendees. This year, the event expanded from San Francisco to include Oakland for the first time, and we are so proud to have been selected to participate as a host company. Host businesses include small, specialized groups like us, along with big players like Twitter, Pandora, Uber, and everything in between. NewCo is an inspiring event, and a great way to share ideas across business disciplines, as our attendees were from well-known tech companies, a university, an online retailer and more.

Surprisingly, preparing this presentation became a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. I realized the history of Gigantic’s founding and early development is intertwined with the advent of recycling, the tipping  point of green as mainstream, and the rise of social science research on how to change behaviors related to environment and sustainability—and this made a cool story. It was great to meet people interested in taking the latest ideas and techniques back to their workplaces to inspire change. Here is the presentation:

Enlivening Outreach: 5 Techniques for Creating Vivid Communication

This post is the third in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.” 


At this point in the story you now know the power of emotional appeal and storytelling. Now it’s time to add another element to the mix: vivid communication.

By vivid communication, we mean communication that forms distinct and striking mental images.  Vivid communication works because it gets attention and aids recall. Without attention, there is no recall. Without recall, there is no action.

Consider these five techniques to incorporate vivid communication to your projects.

1) Make the Invisible, Visible.
Vivid1

Take a look at this ad campaign from Georgia’s Clean Air Program. This is a clever way to depict the positive impact of public transit and carpool options on Atlanta’s freeways.

 2) Relate to what people know.

Vivid3

PG&E learned how to weave vivid communications into scripts. PG&E noticed when they sent auditors to visit homeowners to talk about weather stripping, caulking and attic insulation alone – they did not see homeowners take action to correct issues.

However, once auditors were trained to incorporate vivid communication into their discussions with homeowners, they noticed a significant increase in repairs being made. For example, if an auditor found a lack of insulation in the attic they would say “We call that a ‘naked attic’ – it’s as if your home is facing winter not just without a coat, but without any clothing at all.

3) Illustrate your data.

Vivid2

Yes, facts are important! However, facts with visuals can really get your point across. It’s one thing to say a glacier receded eight miles in 100 years and another eight miles in the last 10 years; we hit another level of comprehension when those facts are illustrated visually.

4) Create an infographic.

Vivid4

This technique is perfect for grabbing someone’s attention and keeping it.

5) Engage the senses.

Vivid5

We created a three-cart game for Oakland Recycles to promote composting and recycling behaviors. The game begins with a noisy and attention-getting prize wheel. The prize wheel lands on a photo of a common discard and the player must find the game piece and walk over and determine which is the proper cart to use. The booth team coaches players as needed and we encourage them to look for clues under the lids. The player is engaged kinetically by taking the item, recognizing what it is and physically placing it in the right cart. This aids recall when they are back home and encountering the same item.

Remember…

No matter the budget dollars behind your campaign, you can weave vivid communications into all your existing outreach efforts including newsletters, bill inserts, presentations, social media posts, event tabling and more! You can change the script, add imagery feature community members, even add a game or activity.

The complete CRRA presentation can be viewed here.

Once More, with Feeling: Incorporating Emotion in Environmental Outreach

This post is the first in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.” 

sitting brain
People are not just brains on a chair – they respond to emotional appeal
Environmental outreach depends on getting the facts about pollution, recycling, and other eco-challenges to the public in order to encourage more sustainable behaviors. But over and over, we see that facts alone don’t change public behavior. We have to make our messages matter and be memorable. To do this, we recommend three key strategies.
Our first strategy: appeal to the whole person by using emotion. People are not just brains sitting on a chair, motivated by facts and data. Getting people to laugh, cry, sigh or shake their heads in wonder or disgust is what makes a message stick. Businesses have known this for ages. Think about it: Coca-Cola doesn’t focus on telling you exactly what’s in their bottles of acidic sugar water. No! They work to associate their product with emotions of joy, happiness, or belonging, with slogans like “Share a Coke and a Smile” or “Coke Adds Life” or…well, you get the picture.
Emotional appeals do not have to be shocking to work. When we need to convince others to act, it is an invitation to display passion, instill a sense of immediacy or threat, or to invite people to be part of something…there are many emotional appeals to choose from.  See examples of emotional appeals in videos, display ads, and more, in the complete presentation, below.
So the next time you are planning an outreach campaign, consider how to include an emotional appeal. Far from being fluffy or silly, that emotional appeal will make your message more likely to stick.
The complete CRRA presentation can be viewed here.

Touched by the Cart: Five Recycling Videos with Emotional Appeal

Stevie Wonder sings in a recycling video from the early 1990s
Stevie Wonder sings in a 1991 recycling PSA.


Haulers, waste agencies and environmental outreach professionals have been working for decades to improve the U.S. recycling rate, yet overall the country’s recycling rate is around 34 percent – so there is much room for improvement.

Part of the challenge that we see is putting the emphasis on operational facts before attracting people with an emotional appeal.  Search for “recycling” in YouTube and you get almost 900,000 results. Most of the top hits focus on how to recycle. Some examine if it works, or problems with recycling. But very few focus on why people should recycle, which is a very important factor in encouraging behavior change. In fact, the video results indicate how we take recycling for granted, assuming everyone is already on board and participating. The truth is, even with established behavioral practices, it helps to periodically boost morale with a new appeal that is fun, moving, or otherwise stirs our feelings.

There’s a kind of taxonomy that emerges if you look at enough videos that encourage recycling. Here are some categories with examples of different approaches, mostly light-hearted, that aim to increase recycling and composting activities:

“Here’s What to Do”

This is a classic “what goes where” video from Livonia, Michigan.  The viewer is given no context, no appeal to emotion, just “this is what to do.” (And it’s not so simple, either!). While the information is important, the delivery could be more compelling:

Hot Tunes and Celebrity Sightings

This 1991 classic from an earlier time of recycling outreach has action-packed celebrity sightings and groovy music in an attempt to make recycling cool. The video played on MTV and in move houses and was part of an integrated campaign by the Take it Back Foundation that included classroom curricula and the development of a resolution introduced to the House and Senate to declare April 15 “National Recycling Day.” It’s a great example of use of using a catchy campaign to increase awareness. (Bonus – how many of the celebs can you name?)

This Cal Recycle video combines humor and a self-deprecating celebrity “endorsement” from Ed Begley Jr., as the public is shown that you don’t have to be a star to make a difference.

Personifying Trash

Some campaigns take the point of view of the stuff being recycled rather than the recycler, as in this video from Keep America Beautiful. It was created following research that showed that only 10 percent of Americans have a recycling bin in their bathroom:

Personifying the Bin

If creating empathy for trash doesn’t help, how about empathy for the recycling and compost bins? Here’s one example from the UK, aimed at making folks more mindful of those useful outdoor bins:

At Gigantic, we thought that creating an organics cart mascot would raise awareness, and use of the green cart when we created this video for the City of Livermore:

We’ll be looking at the use of memorable messaging to increase recycling and composting participation during our session “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting the Message to Matter” at the CRRA conference this August. We hope to see you there!

Community-Based Social Marketing (CBSM) – Takeaways from Doug McKenzie-Mohr’s Training

word cloud from blogThe Gigantic Idea Studio team attended the San Francisco Community-Based Social Marketing training in February. No, not THAT social marketing – there was no Facebook fanning or Twitter theory involved. Social marketing in this case is the process of encouraging behavior change for social good. In our case, that means fostering eco-friendly behavior such as recycling, waste reduction, preserving water quality, and so on. While our firm also employs other methods of promoting environmental programs and behaviors, CBSM remains the most studied and proven process for facilitating behavior change. While our team members have previously studied and practiced CBSM for years, we know it never hurts to take time for a refresher course in order to deepen our understanding.

Perhaps the biggest point McKenzie-Mohr made during the training was that CBSM is a process, a full set of steps to follow to ensure you have the best chance at success. He was quick to point out that using one tactic on its own—doing a pledge or a prompt for instance—was not truly CBSM, if it wasn’t selected based on completing the steps of behavior identification, researching barriers and benefits, developing strategies and piloting.

It was an informative four days for our team at the trainings, where we worked closely in groups to practice CBSM techniques. We have always encouraged our clients to use the full CBSM process, but understand that sometimes budget and timing gets in the way. Fortunately, the training offered various options for completing the research and evaluation steps that make the CBSM process work, in ways that save money, but still allow for your strategies to be chosen based on actual information from your community.

Having completed the advanced training allows us access to McKenzie-Mohr’s CBSM presentation, and he encouraged attendees to deliver the presentation to key decision makers. Armed with the background on CBSM’s effectiveness, it is easier to convince funders, boards, managers and directors to approve outreach projects that use the full CBSM process. We would be happy to deliver this presentation to any of our clients!

Have You Heard? Word of Mouth Empowers Green Behavior Change

2 women chatting over a fence
Good, old-fashioned word of mouth

A recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association has some fairly depressing statistics (for example, 18 percent of consumers say they discarded electronics devices in the trash during the last year, a six point increase from 2012), but another result caught our eye: according to the survey, “nearly half of consumers (42 percent) first learned how to recycle their old devices by word of mouth from friends, family or co-workers.”

Surprising? Not at all. Study after study shows the importance of friends, family and co-workers on influencing all kinds of behavior. Nielsen’s 2013 survey of trust in advertising channels shows that 84% of respondents say word of mouth from family and friends was the most trustworthy form of persuasion.  For those of us involved in green behavior change, this is good news, since we usually don’t have the budget for Coca-Cola-style mass media campaigns. However, word of mouth still needs to be made simple in order to get your ideas to spread.

So how to design campaigns that enhance the power of friends and family?

To enable word of mouth, we need to reach people, give them the information they need in an appealing, trustworthy and shareable form, and help them to feel that their sharing will be appreciated. A writer for Forbes describes this as the three E’s: Engage, Equip and Empower.

Of course, word of mouth alone cannot create behavior change, but it can be an important tool in a multi-touch campaign. Some questions to ask while designing our environmental behavior change campaigns include:

Are we being clear? Are we using terms that make sense to our audience? As we’ve seen in our research, it’s not a good idea to make assumptions about what people know about waste or water quality.

Are we providing the tools that people need to spread the word? People will be more likely to spread the word if they are equipped with catchy facts, a story, or shareable content.  Is there such a thing as too many facts and data? For spreading messages, the answer is yes.

Have we asked for help?  So simple, but so frequently overlooked. Just by saying “Let your neighbors know …” or “Please Retweet or Share,” your messages are more likely to be spread. Thanking people afterwards is even more powerful.

As we plan for new behavior change campaigns in 2015, the Gigantic team will be focused on fostering the thousands of individual conversations, both off and online, that will move us closer to a sustainable world.  Let’s spread the word!

Social Media for Environmental Outreach: 6 Commandments and a Golden Rule

goldenrule_e0b6a47365d17e9424c830816a7e70c3Agencies focused on green behavior change — such as recycling, energy use, and water conservation — have a lot on their plates. Tackling the ravenous, always-open maw of social media can seem a daunting task to add to that already bulging to-do list. But if your goal is to reach people at a time and place where they’re likely to be receptive, social media merits a prominent place on that list of tasks.

Here are six commandments that may help guide your agency’s social media tactics and conserve time and money:

Commandment #1—Thou Shalt Not Attempt To Be All Things To All People.  You may think that you need a presence on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Tumblr (wait, what about Reddit? Google+?), but that is nearly impossible with limited time and resources. It’s also unnecessary. Pick one or two channels, based on where your target audience is, and where chances are good they will be open to messaging about waste, recycling, energy, etc. Got lots of great visuals of re-use projects for the home? Consider a Pinterest account. Have a grants program aimed at helping local businesses streamline operations? Look to LinkedIn and Twitter. Study each channel’s advantages and culture, and pick the best fit for your overall outreach goals. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself reaching that choir and making your campaigns sing.

Commandment #2—Thou Shalt Not Be Boring. Effective social media is a many-way street. Social media audiences, by definition, expect the channel to be interactive and responsive.  Treating it like a bulletin board (“Here’s our new program”; “Do what we say”) will eventually cause your audience to tune you out. This leads us to …

Commandment #3—Thou Shalt Provide Relevant, Interesting Content. Content marketing is king these days, and that quirky infographic, eye-catching image or catchy video is key to capturing the eye of the people you most want to reach. Stick to your core subjects but find an angle that makes those subjects matter to those who matter to you. This leads us to:

Commandment #4Thou Shalt Be Strategic. Having written social media guidelines will streamline your work and allow tasks to be shared or passed on without wheel re-invention. Guidelines should include topics, tone, type and frequency of posts, all the while referring back to your overall outreach goals. This will save time and ensure you present a consistent public face.

Commandment #5Thou Shalt Listen Intently … And Respond. Social media is not about you; it’s about what other people are saying about you and your programs. Use Google Alerts or other tools to listen in on what folks are saying about your issue, good and bad. Find the influencers in your field and build relationships over social media before you ask them for any favors. And if someone is kind enough to praise your program or ask a question, a prompt response demonstrates that your agency listens and cares.

Commandment #6Thou Shalt be Flexible. As with any marketing tactic, evaluation and measurement are essential. If a social media channel is not working (and you’ve given it the old college try), modify your approach. A drop-off in engagement could be an early sign that your message, channel or both aren’t working. The only certainty in the world of social media is that it moves fast, fast, fast. So take a gulp of coffee and look at your analytics (web metrics, Facebook Insights, YouTube views, etc.) with a critical eye.

Lastly, the Golden Rule. No, not a new one. The Golden Rule you already know. “Do unto others …” works in social media as in life. Take the time to support relevant causes, applaud others’ efforts, respond to comments and thank your supporters. Agencies that take the time to participate fully in this amazing global phenomenon will stand out and enjoy remarkable returns.

 

PageLines