Rule #1: Lights, Camera, Action

Be action oriented

Focus on changing a behaviour rather than information and awareness

According to Kotler (1971), social marketing is much more than social advertising and communication.   Social marketing campaigns involve traditional marketing tools to  modify undesirable actions into desirable and socially accepted actions (Kotler, 1971). The effectiveness of these campaigns are dependent not only on providing information, but also on having a mechanism that enables the person to transform his or her motivations into action (Kotler, 1971). 

Knowledge alone is not enough to motivate people to action

Awareness campaigns are less effective at promoting change than action-oriented campaigns.  Jacobsen (2011) challenges the long term effectiveness of awareness campaigns in a study on the effect of carbon-offset purchases by the environmental film An Inconvenient Truth. The documentary is intended to prove the existence and importance of global climate change. Jacobsen studied the areas surrounding the theatres showing the movie, and found an immediate increase in carbon credit purchases. However, his research showed that this spike returns to normal after a short period of time.

One of the reasons that this type of awareness campaign is ineffective may be proportional reasoning. People use proportional reasoning when faced with an issue. According to Slovic (2007), the bigger a problem is, the less likely people will help because they will be solving a smaller proportion of the problem.  We do not see the value in this and therefore we ignore the big issues that don’t seem to be affecting us, or that we feel we can do nothing about.

The Thai Health Promotion Board (Ogilvy Asia, 2012) has a video illustrating just how ineffective purely information-based campaigns can be. It shows children approaching people who are smoking, holding a cigarette and asking for a light. All of these smokers are able to list reasons why the children should not be smoking. The adult smokers clearly understand the health implications of smoking, however they do it anyway. Information is not enough; social marketing campaigns need to be focused on action (Ogilvy Asia, 2012).


Remove barriers and provide support

Tip#1: Choose a specific, non-divisible, end-state behaviour

Choosing a specific behaviour will help to combat the problem of proportional reasoning. Rather than focusing on the issue as a whole, focusing on a specific behaviour will be less overwhelming for the individual and their contribution to solving it will seem larger (Slovic, 2007). This is especially important for big problems. You should also focus on non-divisible, end state behaviours (Mohr, 2011). End-state  means that the selected behaviour should produce the desired outcome, such as installing the low flow showerhead rather than just purchasing it. Non-divisible would be having a third party installing insulation in the attic, rather than just generally installing insulation in the home. (McKenzie-Mohr, 2011 pg. 13-15)  Remember to be as specific as possible with actions that have a direct impact.


Tip#2: Be familiar with barriers and provide individuals with support to overcome them

Performing extensive research is vital for identifying the barriers that prevent your audience from engaging in your desired action, as well as the various influential factors that would motivate your audience to change. Once these have been identified, you can design your social marketing campaign to help remove the existing barriers (McKenzie-Mohr, 2012).  If lack of knowledge is found to be a barrier, then pairing information with your campaign is a good idea.  Other tools can be found throughout this document to support the campaign and bring people from awareness to action.


Ex#1: Go Boulder

The Go Boulder program was introduced in Boulder City to promote sustainable transportation. While looking for the best way to support people in this behaviour change, the campaign discovered that a major barrier was reduced flexibility; not being able  to change their schedule without their car. To overcome this challenge, a guaranteed free ride home was provided for people who were working late or in case of emergency. A purely information based campaign would not have been able to adapt to help more individuals participate (Kassirer, 1998).

 Ex#2: Smarter Lunchroom

The Smarter Lunchroom initiative started by Brian Wansink and David Just of Cornell University offers a wonderfully illustrative video of how small changes and recognizing barriers can make a huge difference. The benefits of healthy eating are widely acknowledged and yet people still find it difficult to eat healthy, especially teenagers.  In this case, knowledge is not a barrier and should not be the focus of the campaign.  Instead, the professors focused on making it easier to grab healthy food and more difficult to grab unhealthy food. For example, they put the chips and cookies behind the counter, so teenagers had to ask the cashiers to grab it for them. They found that simply by putting healthier drinks, such as water and milk, in front of the sugary drinks, sales of the sugary drinks went down 17% and milk sales went up 46%. (Wansink, 2013)

 So remember: Be action oriented

Set up behaviour change campaigns rather than information-based campaigns. Focus on finding the barriers to those behaviours, and provide the support needed to help people overcome them.



Costanzo, M., Archer, D., Aronson, E., & Pettigrew, T. (1986). Energy conservation behavior: The difficult path from information to action. American Psychologist, 41(5) 521-528.

Crompton, T., Kasser, T. (n.d.) Meeting environmental challenges: The role of human identity. WWF.Accessed from

Jacobsen, G. (2011). The Al Gore effect: An Inconvenient Truth and voluntary carbon offsets. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 61, 67-78.

Kassirer, J. (1998). Tools of change: Proven methods for promoting environmental stewardship. National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Ottawa, Canada: Renouf Publishing Co. Ltd.

Kotler, P., Zaltman, G. (1971) Social Marketing: An Approach to Social Change. Journal of Marketing, 36, 3-12

Mckenzie-Mohr, D. (2011). Fostering sustainable behavior: An introduction to community-based social marketing. (3rd ed., pp. 21-39). Canada: New Society Publishers.

Lazarus, R., Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal and coping. New York: Springer.

Ogilvy Asia. (2012, June 22).  Thai Health Promotion Board- Smoking Kid [Video File]. Retrieved from

Slovic, P. (2007). If I look at the mass I will never act: Psychic numbing and genocide. Judgment and Decision Making, 2(2) 79-95.

Wansink, B. (2013, July 21). Smarter Lunchroom Makeovers–MTV Style [Video File]. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s