How to influence behaviour: Make specific claims which relate to what people care about

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011 | Our Philosophy | 1 Comment

Crack cocaine: a problem. Addiction (and the consequent theft it often draws people to) will probably cost you your relationships, your liberty, your job, your home, maybe custody of your children. But it turns out that “threatening” addicts (and people at risk of addiction) with all that doesn’t achieve much. Better to point out that it’s bad for your teeth!

“OMG – my teeth?!”

You see, people can imagine having bad teeth, and they can imagine the effect that it would have on how they’re perceived and liked by people they know. It’s a specific threat. They can’t imagine losing their home, job and everything. And if people can’t imagine something, it’s not relevant to them as they don’t act on it.

Similarly, young girls drinking. It’s terrible for their lives, makes them fall under buses, get into unlicensed minicabs, and so on. Turns out that they don’t care about any of that. What they care about is their skin – so appeals to that are much more effective at reducing their drinking. For example this one…
"If you drink like a man you'll look like one" poster
Learning from these, Global Cool’s campaign to reduce energy, Turn Up The Style, Turn Down The Heat, promotes how using less heating is better for your skin. Sure, it also saves you money – although we know that isn’t a great motivator – but specific appeals to what  people care about and can imagine are better.

Another reason that the skin and teeth “threats” are so powerful is because they’re unequivocal. It’s easy to dismiss the “crack will ruin your life” threat, thinking that “well it won’t ruin MY life because I’m more organised/together than that the people to whom that happens”. But teeth – well, we’ve all seen smokers have bad teeth, so we know that how “together” you are just isn’t relevant – so it’s harder to hide. The bad consequence may well happen to you.

Find out more about Global Cool’s theory of change here

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We create content about music, fashion, celebrity and lifestyle trends. We use this content to inspire people normally turned off by climate change to lead greener lives. We reached more than 200,000 people in 2011 and we don't preach to the converted. In fact, 93% of our audience say we are the only green organisation they engage with.

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