Communications and behaviour change – insights from the COI

The COI launched a report yesterday, entitled ‘Communications and Behaviour Change’, outlining their approach to making large scale changes in public behaviour using communication campaigns and tools. Drawing on theoretical work from social psychology, economics and behavioural economics the report outlines some of the most successful approaches and examples of their implementation.

O.K., I know it’s Government, and the preamble sounds a little on the dry side, but trust me there’s some really interesting stuff in there, though you do have to wade through a fair amount of policy speak to get to it.

I was particularly struck by the section on the recent drink-driving campaign, specifically targeted at young men between the ages of 17 and 29, who research showed were becoming inured to more ‘traditional’ anti drink-driving messages.

In the past, drink-driving campaign messages have been based on a risk/reward model, contrasting
the pleasure of drinking with the risk of causing injury or death by driving under the influence. While
the number of people killed has fallen from 1,600 in 1979, it has stayed relatively stable at above
500 a year since 2000.

Working with the COI, the communications agency, Leo Burnett, set out to re­-evaluate the assumptions behind the campaign. Attitudinal research found that a small but growing number of people, particularly men aged 17– 29, refused to acknowledge the risk of having a crash when driving after drinking, while qualitative research suggested that trying to shock viewers with the most extreme consequences was becoming less effective for this group, who did not see drink drive-related crashes as relevant to them.

Applying insights from some of the theoretical approaches outlined in the COI model the team at Leo Burnett focussed on the specific moment when a drinker decides to have a second drink that he knows will probably take them over the limit, making a clear connection between the decision and specific personal consequences, i.e. not abstract people dying unpleasantly, but the very real possibility of getting a criminal record or being banned from driving, losing a job, etc.

Specifically speaking, the team looked to create cognitive dissonance (see page 16 of the COI report) at the point of decision, highlighting specific negative outcomes (knowing that most of us are loss-averse, i.e. we are more keenly aware of what we might lose than what we might gain) as well as placing emphasis on the individual’s self-efficacy or agency, thereby not allowing them to defer to peer pressure and ‘transfer’ responsibility for the decision whether or not to have another pint to the group.

The COI reports that six months after campaign launch, young men’s perception that they would be caught by the police had risen from 58 to 75 per cent and the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by drink driving fell for the first time in six years, from 560 in 2006 to 410 in 2007.

And while it may be hard to draw a specific between this particular campaign, previous experience with seatbelts, etc, shows they clearly work.

Leave your comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *