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An Effective Strategy for Encouraging Conservation Behaviour

Research provides a strategy marketers can use to increase conservation behaviour. The key to success? Properly combine the right elements in your message.

How to Write an Effective Conservation Ad

New research, published in Journal of Marketing Research, provides a strategy marketers can use to increase uptake of conservation behaviours, such as recycling. The key to success is using the right combination of elements in your message.

Two Common, Key Elements in Marketing Messages

Most marketing messages contain the following elements:

  • Framing: Messages can be either gain-framed, describing the benefits of an action, or loss-framed, describing the costs of inaction. Both framings are meant to inspire readers toward action.

  • Appeal: After seeding inspiration for action, you can reinforce by describing either how or why readers should act.

Properly pairing your framing and appeal type pays big dividends. Proper pairing increases the likelihood that readers will begin to implement the suggested activity and continue doing it up to six months later.

Researchers Katherine White (University of Calgary), Rhiannon MacDonnell (who was at the University of Calgary at the time) and Darren Dahl (University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business) conducted their field study in the City of Calgary, in partnership with the city’s Waste and Recycling Services Department. They exposed both undergraduate students and home dwellers to different combinations of pro-recycling messages, then measured changes in participants’ recycling patterns.

Chemistry in the Combo: Framing Appeals

Researchers found the following framing-appeal combinations to be highly effective:

  • Loss-framed messages (describing the costs of inaction) with a description of how to execute the desired action.

  • Gain-framed messages (describing the benefits of action) with a description of why the reader ought to act.

Combining message elements in these ways substantially improved

  • reader confidence in their ability to recycle

  • the number of readers who began recycling

  • volume and variety of products that readers recycled

  • how long readers continued to recycle

How to Write an Effective Conservation Ad

To increase the efficacy of your conservation ad, describe either (A) the costs of inaction in conjunction with clear steps for action, or (B) the benefits of the action in conjunction with a strong rationale for why to act.

Tip: If you’re trying to influence readers to act in the near future, loss-framing is more likely to be more effective. If you’re trying to inspire behavioural change in the distant future, try a gain-framed message.

The pamphlets below provide examples of both effective messaging combinations.

Give Audiences the Confidence to Act

Effectively matching your framing and appeal type will lead audiences to feel more confidence in their ability to act, which in turn increases the likelihood of action. These findings are especially critical for marketing departments or environmental organizations, because effective messaging in a public campaign will result in greatest uptake of the action you are trying to promote.

White, K., MacDonnell, R., & Dahl, D.W. 2011. It’s the Mind-Set That Matters: The Role of Construal Level and Message Framing in Influencing Consumer Efficacy and Conservation Behaviors. Journal of Marketing Research. 48, 472-85.

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  • Chelsea Hicks-Webster
    Writer and Editor
    Network for Business Sustainability
    MSc in Biology with Environment and Sustainability, Western University

    Hi, I’m Chelsea. I have a Masters degree in Sustainability, where I studied ecosystem health. I'm also a Certified Life Coach. I used to be the Operations Manager for NBS, but now I just focus on my favourite part of that job – the writing! I also run a social enterprise, called Creating Me, dedicated to strengthening maternal and family well-being. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to balance career goals, impact, and one’s own well-being. When I’m not working on my own impact goals, I offer executive coaching and writing support to help researchers and change-makers grow their impact and well-being. (creatingme.ca/sustainability).

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