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3.7: Social Marketing Campaigns

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    How do you get people to change? It’s a good question and one with which numerous governmental agencies struggle, particularly those in the health and healthcare fields, where there are the most social marketing campaigns of any field.

    As you have seen, there are major water infrastructure projects that can be relied on to a certain extent to bring water to the thirsty parts of California. But how can you decrease the amount of water that is needed in the first place? This is called managing demand. You’ve learned a variety of tools from regulation to restrict water use or limit waste, to building codes that require more efficient devices to water loss detection to conservation programs. Decreasing demand is both an art and a science. One additional way to reduce demand is to engage in a social marketing campaign with residents.

    Learning Objectives

    In this section, you will:

    • Differentiate between awareness campaigns and social marketing campaigns
    • Identify behaviors that most water utilities target
    • Design a social marketing campaign

    Typically, public outreach campaigns in the water industry have focused on awareness. That is to say, the campaign wants you to be aware of the importance of water or the amount of water that you use. In the Santa Clarita Valley, a campaign in 2010 focused on residents knowing their "water number," the amount of water that they used in one day. This campaign relied on the jarring realization that the amount of water that people used was much more than they expected.

    An awareness campaign might also focus on a rebate program by promoting toilet or washing machine rebates. The goal of an awareness campaign is to make more people aware of something, but it isn’t necessarily to make people change their behavior. There isn’t a clear call to action.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): of Castaic Lake Water Agency

    In the image above, the viewer is made aware that funds are still available for a Cash for Grass Program (called Lawn Replacement). This ad assumes that most people do not know that there is still money available, and is attempting to raise awareness of this. In Southern California, water agencies, such as Castaic Lake Water Agency, frequently have challenges with messaging that contradicts the messaging from Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which is a much larger wholesale agency. In this case, Castaic Lake Water Agency has funds available for a cash for grass program, while Metropolitan Water District has run out of funds. Customers who do not know who their water wholesaler was were confused about the availability of funds.

    Success or failure of the campaign could be measured in a change of awareness in rebates with a phone or email survey of a representative sample of residents. Awareness of the rebate could be measured before the campaign launches to establish a baseline (e.g., 20% of residents surveyed in the Santa Clarita Valley are aware there are funds available for the Lawn Replacement Program) and then a follow-up phone survey after the campaign runs for 3-12 months to see if there is any increase in awareness (e.g., 3 months later, 30% of residents surveyed in the Santa Clarita Valley are aware there are funds available for the Lawn Replacement Program).

    Another awareness campaign that you may have seen is a drought awareness campaign. Most water agencies had to launch some sort of drought awareness campaign that combined with efforts from the State of California to make people aware of the severity of the drought. San Diego County Water Authority has an effective ad to make people aware of state-mandated conservation. Using a modified image from the Drought Monitor of the state of California, the campaign make some suggestions for conservation, but is mostly focused on awareness of the drought and restrictions in place.

    ( of San Diego County Water Authority)
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): of San Diego County Water Authority

    A similar awareness campaign from the Family of Water Suppliers in Santa Clarita, including Castaic Lake Water Agency, focuses slightly differently on a common misconception: when it rains, the drought is over. This awareness campaign reminds people that just because it rains, the drought is not over.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): of Castaic Lake Water Agency

    A social marketing campaign differs from an awareness campaign significantly. A social marketing campaign is a campaign that tries to change behavior. By presenting images that motivate people to do the “right” thing (or that poke fun of people doing the “wrong” thing), public agencies can gently move people to better practices that are good for the residents and good for the public agency. However, most of the time, you can’t just tell people to do the right thing. It generally doesn't work. People have too much going on in their lives to listen, unless you make it extremely relevant. You need to have a campaign that refines your message.

    These are the sorts of questions that are used in campaign planning:

    • Who are we targeting?
    • What is our message?
    • What partnerships will help with our message?
    • What are the barriers to being understood (or listened to)?

    During the last drought, many water agencies in California had to tackle how to let people know it was okay to let their lawn get less water and go dormant (yellow). Because green lawns are one way that people tend to rate their status (i.e., I have a green lawn, so I must be financially secure), this is a particularly challenging task. San Diego County Water Authority has a social marketing campaign that tackles this in a unique way.

     of San Diego County Water Authority
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): of San Diego County Water Authority

    In the image from San Diego County Water Authority, the Authority has chosen to reframe brown grass as “tan” grass, most likely hoping that this will make it seem more appealing. This is a variation of “Brown is the new green,” a phrase made popular by Governor Brown in the same drought, but working with language that may be more appealing (i.e., tan rather than brown).

    Castaic Lake Water Agency has a similar goal of reducing water use for turf grass, but has taken a different tactic by focusing on the appealing aspects of replacing a lawn (more color, more fun, more time):

    less lawn more time_Inside SCV web.png
    Less Lawn, More Fun
    less lawn more color_Inside SCV web3.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Images used with permission of Castaic Lake Water Agency

    Many social marketing campaigns have concentrated on the behavior that was prohibited initially during the drought in California, including stopping irrigation run-off, but also refraining from watering sidewalks or washing cars without shut-off nozzles, or using even non-recirculating fountains. While raising awareness of the drought is important, these were all behaviors that were targeted by many water companies in social marketing efforts to behavior change.

    Try It!

    1. Do a quick scan through a newspaper or click through a few websites starting with an online newspaper. Give an example of an awareness campaign and an example of a social marketing campaign. Examples do not need to be from the water industry.
    2. Design a social marketing campaign and present your results. Answer these questions:
      1. Who are you trying to target?
      2. What is the message?
      3. What are the hurdles?

    Key Terms

    Awareness campaign⁠—A campaign to make more people aware of something, but it isn’t necessarily to make people change their behavior

    Social marketing campaign⁠—A campaign that tries to change behavior

    This page titled 3.7: Social Marketing Campaigns is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stephanie Anagnoson (ZTC Textbooks) .

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