Are brands the antidote to ineffective information campaigns?
That is largely the proposition proffered in the article Nudging the Nudgers. Lucy Shea makes the case that while public information campaigns have worked well for fear-oriented initiatives (eg, don’t drink and drive), they tend toward ‘nagging’ when applied to the sustainability arena.
The problem in this line of thinking is that no effective campaigns have ever been purely ‘information campaigns’. Behaviour experts agree that information alone does not change behaviour. Any success in the drinking and driving arena, for example, is due to a full suite of approaches to the problem, from fear-based marketing campaigns to severe enforcement and punishment of offenders.
As such, the problem isn’t so much that information campaigns don’t work in the sustainability sphere - it’s that they don’t work anywhere. Information alone would indeed be simply nagging. More likely it is simply ignored, lost in the deluge of information that rains down on us daily.
In this context, the push to emphasize brands as an alternative seems to fight the wrong battle - primarily because it’s not an either/or issue. Brands clearly have a role to play, and should be part of the mix. Effective brands make people feel comfortable, and brand managers can use this attribute to get people to try new behaviours (eg, I trust Tide to clean my clothes, so I will try Tide’s Cold Water detergent).
Behaviour design for sustainability must move well beyond information. Successful interventions will target specific human behaviours (eg, use cold water for washing each week) and design to trigger these behaviours. You can design to make the behaviour easy for people to do, and utilize triggers to prompt the behaviour at just the right place and time.