Don’t RAIN on my Social Marketing Parade

Water, Water, Everywhere!

With this month’s focus on behaviour change in the water space, I think it is important to acknowledge that water is a complex topic to tackle. If you were to apply a systems thinking approach, water is linked to food, energy, sanitation, transportation, and climate, without reaching very far.

So if you were to design and execute an effective social marketing campaign changing peoples’ behaviour around water, you could very well be impacting food systems or perhaps energy consumption at the same time. I’d say that’s pretty good bang for your buck.

Over the years, there have been many great campaigns focusing on water. One campaign that I recently discovered is the ‘Save the Drop’ campaign based out of Los Angeles, California. I believe changing the way people think about and consume water is always important, but experiencing a drought will certainly add some urgency to creating that change. If you watch the ‘Save the Drop’ video below, you’ll notice they do a great job following Rule #3 of the 10 Rules of Social Marketing, by recognizing the benefit of having Steve Carell narrate the video.

Social Marketing Meets Water

With that being said, I want this post to act as a call to action for social marketers. I believe the Global North, and its various water management authorities, could benefit from using a social marketing toolkit. Many mass media campaigns consistently target water conservation actions – lawn watering, turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, or running your washing machine less. Yes, we need these campaigns, but these campaigns typically target water. I think we need more campaigns that target waters. This means talking about stormwater or greywater, for example, not just potable drinking water

As it stands now, many of our daily activities that consume water, result in using such that has been treated to drinking water quality standards. Why not use water treated to a lower standard where possible? For example, we use potable water to irrigate our lawns and flush our toilets when we could use stormwater or greywater, respectively. So why bother looking to social marketing for help? Using a social marketing toolkit would help individuals have these type of water management concepts be top of mind. Similarly, a social marketing campaign could have the ability to help support behaviours that improve the quality and quantity of local water resources. Not to mention creating a message that is easy to understand and not bogged down by technical jargon.

One of the challenges to having a successful campaign (social marketing or otherwise) driving change around water, is that every community has its own political context and hydrological setting that must be understood. If not, the campaign runs the risk of falling flat on its face. Therefore it is important to do the necessary research on your target audience and understand what benefits they will seek from adopting new behaviours.

The Rain is Coming

An organization that currently has some great success in the field, is called Green Communities Canada. Their ‘Rain Community Solutions’ program, in particular, uses principles of Community Based Social Marketing to change how homeowners manage their stormwater.

The ‘Rain Community Solutions’ program uses its expertise in the area of Low Impact Development practices to bring their three key messages into communities across Canada: Slow it Down, Soak it Up, and Keep it Clean.

With this type of messaging, the program overcomes the knowledge barrier by making stormwater management easier to understand. Will people be more likely to act, if they understand how their actions contribute to the campaign’s goal? I am going to venture a guess and say, yes they are more likely to act.

With the program’s target market being anyone who lives in a house, Rain has outlined several specific actions homeowners can take to be able to do Slow it down, Soak it up, and Keep it clean. When Rain is called upon to implement a program in a community, they form a partnership with the local municipality and/or environmental groups in the area. They rely on these partners to help support the behaviours of the program participants.

A feature of this program, is that it provides a range of actions for the people it is targeting. With some actions being easier than others, like disconnecting your downspout from the storm sewer being easier than installing a cistern, participants can gradually increase their level of engagement. Rain supports these behaviours by offering step-by-step instructions on how to go about each action, for example. Information on applicable financial rebates and specific environmental benefits are also provided.

There is, however, some room for improvement with ‘Rain Community Solutions’. Considering Rule #5 – Pledge Allegiance, this program does not appear to publicize the commitments of its participants. I believe that for this program to experience increased participation, they will have to re-evaluate how they have their participants ‘pledge their allegiance’ and then share that with the world. Green Communities Canada needs to let the world know its cool to plant rain gardens.

While this is one example of a program that targets something other than potable drinking water (while remaining in the realm of water), there are not many that I have come across. Campaigns like this one will only become more important in the future, as climate variability affects our water resources (more information here). Particularly in countries that suffer from the myth of abundance.

If there is a particular campaign out there that was able to support a change in your water habits, leave a link in the comments below, or tweet @ictrlshift.

Shane Schofield

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