ByClaire Rosling
4 min read

Behaviour change campaigns: Tips for success

We’ve pulled together tips from the experts on how to create a change campaign that works.

Creating real, lasting behaviour change is perhaps the biggest challenge when it comes to campaigning. Whether it’s encouraging healthier eating habits or saving energy, we humans can be a difficult bunch to convince. In this first part of a two-part focus on campaigns we’ve collected together some tips to guide you in creating a campaign that has a real impact.

1. Give people some incentive

First and foremost you need to get inside people’s heads and get a real understanding of why people behave the way they do. Simply telling people to change or giving them the information and expecting them to act on it is unlikely to produce any sustainable behaviour change if you don’t consider the benefits people derive from behaving that way in the first place. People do things the way they do because they enjoy it that way or it makes their life easier in some way.

Whether consciously or not, people always analyse the benefits vs. the drawbacks before making any sort of change in their life. Through understanding this and using a consumer-centred approach you will be able to design a campaign that focuses on an exchange that the target audience will value.

Short-term vs. long-term benefits

The Department of Health’s Five a Day campaign failed to achieve any significant change in behaviour (vegetable consumption in 2008 actually fell by 11% compared to the previous 5 years). The campaign focussing on long-term health benefits from eating 5-a-day rather than highlighting short-term as well as long-term benefits, which are more valued by the target audience.

In contrast, a campaign launched in the US to reduce pollution levels in Chesapeake Bay, cleverly focused on locally valued short-term benefits to achieve success. Years of eco-based campaigning to encourage people to use less fertilisers on their lawns failed to achieve any effective behaviour change and so they adopted a new approach by looking at the issue from the audience’s perspective. Rather than focusing on long term environmental benefits they honed in on the short-term benefit of saving a local delicacy, the blue crab from extinction. They even injected a little humour into it with the slogan “Save the crabs, then eat ‘em!”.

People are often more motivated to change their behaviour when campaigns focus on the possible losses experienced (through in-action) rather than gains.

2. Be remembered

To be effective a campaign must have a clear, succinct, memorable and emotionally compelling message. Your message could be a memorable slogan or it might be clever or evocative imagery or film.

One example is the Dumb ways to die animation and song which aimed to reduce the number of avoidable near-misses with trains in the Melbourne area of Australia.

The song is inescapably memorable and at the time of writing it had almost 75 million hits on Youtube having gone viral around the world. Not bad for a train platform safety video! It’s even claimed to have reduced near misses by 20%.

3. Use fun, not fear!

Although fear can be used to grab your audience’s attention it rarely results in a real change in behaviour: Fear-based messaging showing extreme situations are usually quickly dismissed as being unlikely. The NSPCC found that their most hard-hitting campaigns were their least successful.

Far more effective is to approach a difficult or dry issue with a little humour! This is exactly what Brent Quinn did for his campaign to stop the spread of aids in South Africa. The campaign made use of an animation, the Three Amigos,  featuring three talking condoms, Shaft, Dick and Stretch. The campaign became a cult sensation in South Africa and even coincided with a significant decrease in new aids cases according to UNAIDS Statistics.

By injecting a little humour into your campaign not only is it more likely to get noticed (and remembered!), in this age of social media it is also far more likely to get ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ and ‘tweeted’ all over the place, helping to spread your message.

4. Use stories

People remember people and experiences, not numbers. By making the campaign more personal the message can resonate more with the audience. Personal testimonials make the issue more relevant and meaningful and can evoke more emotion and connection with the message.

An example is Patagonia’s Worn Wear video. This was released as a much needed antidote to America’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzies and calls upon people to celebrate the ‘stuff’ you already own. It does this through beautifully capturing the lives and experiences of people across the globe.

5. Make change easy

Rather than just bombarding people with information, offer solutions and achievable steps they can take. Offer suggestions of alternative behaviour that aren’t daunting.

Earth Hour is a hugely successful campaign launched by WWF calling upon people to take part in the annual ‘lights off hour’ at 8.30pm on 29th March. Earth Hour is of course about a rather big issue – the fact that ‘in the UK alone we are consuming three times our fair share of the world’s natural resources’. As an individual it is easy to feel completely powerless with such global issues however the campaign overcomes this by taking an approach that focuses in on one small thing people can do and ensure they have fun doing it. The website contains endless inspiration for ‘things to do in the dark’, such as host a candle-lit dinner, and even has menus from celebrity chefs.


With the human population now over 7 billion there is a real need for us each to minimise our individual impact on the planet so that collectively we work towards a more sustainable future. Whether you’re trying to initiate change for environmental or social good, a carefully thought-out behaviour change campaign can be fantastic tool for making this happen. Make a campaign with a difference by:

  • using a clear, fun and memorable message
  • offering a real and attractive incentive
  • feature stories that people can relate to
  • demonstrate easy, achievable steps people can take to make a difference

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