HomeBehaviour changeFour top communications campaigns that DECC could learn from

Four top communications campaigns that DECC could learn from

Tucked away at the back of Green Alliance’s recent report Neither sermons nor silence are some great examples of how government communication can be done well.

The report argues that to get quick, widespread take up of consumer-facing energy policies such as the Green Deal, government needs to tell people about them. Otherwise its ambitious target for one UK home to upgrade its energy efficiency every minute for the next 40 years seems, well, a bit hopeful. This doesn’t mean preaching, but it does mean developing some strong messages and partnerships.

Here are four examples of how government-backed communications campaigns have played a vital role in encouraging the public to change their behaviour, from installing smoke alarms to binning fewer leftovers. DECC, take note.

1. Flex Your Power

What is it?

Flex Your Power is California’s household energy efficiency communications scheme. Started in 2001, it is still the biggest programme of its kind in the United States, partnering with utilities, businesses, charities and government agencies.

The campaign’s original aim was to reduce power cuts – which the state was experiencing due to excess demand – by encouraging energy efficiency.

What did it achieve?
It reduced power cuts by reducing peak demand by 8.9 per cent, and reducing overall energy consumption by 6.7 per cent in its first year, even though it was a hot summer (when air conditioning would be used more than normal). It did this through retail promotions, educational materials, TV, radio, outdoor and online advertising, along with practical help and incentives.

What can we learn?

  • A strong umbrella brand such as Flex Your Power lends credibility to partners (e.g. utilities, government), unites disparate activities and helps people to connect to a campaign emotionally
  • Test your message first – in this case they found that upbeat, encouraging messaging gained more traction
  • Pair communications with incentives and practical help for businesses and householders. In California this has included discounts on efficient appliances, and changes in the pricing structure to reward efficiency.

2. Fire Kills: you can prevent it

What is it?

A campaign started by the UK’s Department for Communities and Local Government  in 1988 after it discovered that only nine per cent of homes had a smoke alarm. It initially focused on encouraging people to get smoke alarms but evolved into a wider campaign that sought to reduce house fire injuries by raising awareness of various safety issues.

What did it achieve?
In 1987, only nine per cent of homes had a smoke alarm. This figure now stands at 86 per cent. An independent evaluation of the Fire Kills television advertising campaign in 2009 suggested that it was one of the main contributors to people getting and checking smoke alarms. Fire Kills partnered with local fire services, NGOs and businesses, and the logo was put on fire alarms. It also had a local media component, including adverts on the radio at times when people were likely to be at home.

What can we learn?

  • A clear call to action aimed at changing specific behaviour(s) is important.
  • Local support and knowledge are critical in making a campaign a success: fire and rescue services were able to build on the national campaign’s advertising, merchandise and public relations activity to better target the vulnerable groups in their communities
  • A good campaign aims to change behaviour in the long term, in this case evolving from one action (get a smoke alarm) to much broader behaviours.

3. Love Food Hate Waste

What is it?

Love Food Hate Waste (LFHW) is run by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a government funded not-for-profit private sector company. LFHW was launched in 2007 to raise awareness about food waste and encourage action to address it, such as better storage of food, and the use of leftovers in cooking

What did it achieve?
Every pound spent by WRAP on LFHW has prevented around £150 of food being wasted. More than 300 local authorities in England have set up their own LFHW initiatives to help residents reduce food waste and according to WRAP’s evaluation, the campaign has saved 670,000 tonnes of food from being wasted. They estimate that more than two million people have made positive changes to the way they shop for, prepare, store and use food. It has saved local authorities at least £22 million in avoided waste facility gate fees and landfill charges.

What can we learn?

  • Combine communications with other policy efforts. Love Food Hate Waste was launched alongside the roll-out of local authority food waste prevention activities across the country and food waste collections.
  • The importance of a strong versatile brand, based on evidence – in this case research showing that people don’t like the idea of wasting food. The Greater London Authority dropped their own campaign on food waste and moved to LFHW, and businesses adopted and adapted it – for example Sainsbury’s ‘LoveYour Leftovers’and Morrisons’ ‘GreatTasteLessWaste’ campaigns

4. Change4Life

What is it?

The Change4Life campaign started in 2009 and aims to reduce obesity by promoting healthier diets and more exercise, particularly amongst families. It’s managed by the Department of health in association with other government departments, businesses and charities.

What has it achieved?
Positive differences have been observed among families engaged with Change4Life relative to a control group. In particular, families signed up to Change4Life favour low fat milks and low sugar drinks. It also had the fastest build in awareness of any government campaign. However, the scheme has faced criticisms over issues such as its self-policed format and whether vouchers offered by businesses provided genuine savings.

What can we learn?

  • Central government funding and brand control are important for earning trust: many of the criticisms of the campaign arose after the budget and brand control of this campaign had been significantly reduced, making it more reliant on major food and drink brands who have been perceived as using it more as a marketing opportunity.
  • Use sub-brands within a larger brand works well – in this case cook4life, breakfast4life etc. In one initiative to increase the amount of fruit and veg being bought in local convenience shops, the greatest change was among participants who knew how the sub-initiative fit into the broader Change4Life programme.

These examples show that communications can play a crucial role in changing behaviour, when combined with other practical steps and incentives. A clear message and a compelling brand are important. A successful national campaign is spread through as many different channels as possible and supported at a local levels and by civil society groups and businesses, who can tailor the messages for their own audiences. In the case of energy use, strong national brand that covers all policies to do with saving energy at home, with sub-brands for different activities, could unite different players and policies, and build public trust.

For full references and more information on these case studies and the arguments for national communications on energy use, see Neither sermons nor silence

Written by

Sylvia was the editor of Green Alliance's blog from 2010 to April 2013. She is an assistant producer on Al Jazeera English's flagship environmental show, earthrise, and an award-winning print journalist who writes for publications including the Guardian, the Evening Standard and New Scientist. She was previously a policy adviser at Green Alliance.