|"This is a different approach than any of us in the coastal management field have ever really taken."|
Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program Manager
According to polls, the number of people who say they are concerned about the environment continues to rise, but their everyday behavior that could influence the environment is not changing. Coastal resource managers around the Chesapeake Bay are embracing commercial marketing techniques as a way to go beyond just raising public awareness about water-quality issues to getting people to act to improve the problem.
"The assumption has always been that if we present the problem to people, they will take it upon themselves to become part of the solution," says Gary Waugh, public relations manager with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. "With social marketing, you find the catalyst that makes that person take that step."
For the past two years, the Chesapeake Bay Program has sponsored an extensive media campaign in the metro Washington, D.C., area to prevent spring fertilizer use, which is particularly harmful to bay water quality.
The effort has been so successful that Virginia's Coastal Zone Management program is using its coastal nonpoint source funding to help bring the campaign to two of the state's largest coastal urban areas.
"This is a different approach than any of us in the coastal management field have ever really taken," acknowledges Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program manager.
"Most of us in the field," McKay says, "are trained in science, government, and policy. Even the way we are trained to write and communicate is formal, academic, and for a bureaucratic style that does not translate well to the general public. That could be one of the major roots of our environmental problems today is that we simply don't communicate issues in clear and compelling ways to the general public."
She adds, "I believe what we really need to do is reconnect with the rest of society and use common language that everyone can understand, and beyond that be savvy about using effective commercial marketing techniques."
Finding the Humor
The $300,000-a-year D.C. campaign asked homeowners to hold off on fertilizing their lawns until the fall to prevent the runoff from damaging the Chesapeake Bay, where crabs and oysters are already at risk.
With the slogan "Save the Crabs . . . Then Eat ‘Em," the intent of the campaign, says Waugh, who helped lead the effort for the Chesapeake Bay Program as a former chair of its communication and education subcommittee, was to trade a message of guilt for a humorous appeal to the taste buds.
"The lunch you save may be your own," reads a newspaper ad that ran in the Washington Post and Express, a free publication handed out to commuters using the subway. This and similar messages also appeared on billboards in Union Station, which is heavily used by commuters from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania—all partners in the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Television advertising also was employed. One ad shows an unhappy diner biting into a sandwich of grass clippings instead of a crab cake.
The campaign also incorporated brochures, restaurant coasters, and a Web site, and enlisted a number of lawn care companies and chefs to promote the campaign.
Join the Club
To the public, the spring campaigns were sponsored by the Chesapeake Club, rather than the Chesapeake Bay Program or a listing of all the participating government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
"This does not look like a government campaign," notes Waugh. "The Chesapeake Club is its own brand."
He adds, "We came up with the concept of the Chesapeake Club as something you would want to join, to give people a sense of ownership when they participated."
The whole campaign has a "Southern Living or regional lifestyle feel," Waugh says. The Web site, for instance, is lifestyle-oriented with information on "home," "places to go on the bay," and listings of the participating restaurants and lawn services.
The environmental education and campaign messages, Waugh says, are "sprinkled throughout" rather than being the focus of the message.
Discovering Social Marketing
Waugh had never heard of social marketing when the Chesapeake Bay Program decided to do a marketing campaign in 2001, but "we basically knew we wanted to target the audience that we'd had a hard time reaching before. We were looking for that audience that's not already engaged—the average suburban homeowner."
After several years of developing support and funding for a marketing campaign, four advertising agencies were interviewed for the job. One of the companies was the nonprofit Academy for Educational Development (AED).
"They were the only ones who talked about the concept of social marketing—of reaching the public with a message using the same types of techniques folks in the private sector use when marketing a product," Waugh says. "More than just using the media, this was selling behavior change rather than a product."
He says AED explained that people will change their behavior when they believe the benefit they will receive is greater than the "cost." To do this, you must understand the target audience's perceptions and responses, and develop a campaign that focuses on the benefits of their actions while minimizing the "price." You have to place the message where your audience is most likely to see it, and you must use a variety of marketing tools to reach them, using simple, consistent messages. Evaluation is a critical part of the campaign.
AED was hired for the job.
Focusing on Behavior
Changing when people fertilize their lawns was chosen as the behavior to address because nutrient reduction is one of the primary goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program, and lawn care is a large contributor to nitrogen loading in the bay.
Waugh says informal focus groups were used to determine what people value most about the bay—seafood.
The D.C. market was targeted because it was the biggest suburban market in the bay area. "We could reach roughly four million people in the market and hit all of our partner jurisdictions," Waugh explains.
A survey taken after the first year of the campaign found 72 percent of those contacted had seen the campaign, and 44 percent remembered its key message. Of respondents exposed to the campaign, 40 percent said they would use fertilizer in the spring, while 46 percent of respondents who were not exposed to the campaign said they would fertilize in the spring.
These results suggest the campaign was successfully raising people's awareness, says Laura McKay. "This was very dramatic. It's not the end point of behavior change, but it's a very important first step."
Getting on Board
McKay hopes to tap into this success by bringing the campaign to Richmond and Hampton Roads, the two largest media markets along the bay in Virginia. The coastal program is investing $110,000 of its coastal nonpoint funding toward the $200,000 media campaign for the two cities.
Waugh says the campaigns will be similar to the one that ran in D.C. "Frankly, we're not changing the message that much. We think it will resonate just as well and maybe even better than in D.C."
One difference is the contract with AED has expired, so the communities are being asked to step in as partners to develop the support of local restaurants and lawn care businesses.
"This will be a new approach for us," says McKay. "We've always tried to get our message out, but we've never thought about getting it out in this particular way. I hope that this will be a breakthrough."
"My feeling is," McKay says, "given the state we are in today, we need to look at how much money we invest in science and research versus how much we invest in trying to change people's behavior. It's terribly lopsided right now."She adds, "We don't have the luxury of time to invest huge amounts in understanding precisely how much nitrogen is coming from precisely where. We know there is too much coming from too many sources. We need to act on what we already do know."
For more information on the "Save the Crabs . . . Then Eat ‘Em" social marketing campaign, point your browser to www.chesapeakeclub.org/media.htm. You may also contact Laura McKay at (804) 698-4323, or email@example.com—or Virginia Witmer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Gary Waugh at (804) 786-5045, or email@example.com.
Additional Information on Social Marketing
www.deq.virginia.gov/coastal/neczmpps.htm – Virginia's Coastal Zone Management Program Web site provides an Academy for Educational Development presentation on social marketing, a public relations mini-workshop, a social marketing plan starter, and suggested social marketing reading and Web sites.
www.deq.virginia.gov/coastal/documents/magss06-72.pdf – A Virginia Coastal Zone Management magazine article on social marketing.
http://aed.org/ – The Academy for Educational Development's Web site provides numerous social marketing case studies.
www.cbsm.com – The Web site of Environmental Psychologist Doug McKenzie-Mohr focuses on environmental community-based social marketing. Features include an on-line guide on community-based social marketing, searchable databases of articles, downloadable reports, case studies, and an e-mail list.
www.social-marketing.org – The Web site for the Social Marketing Institute provides background on social marketing, as well as case studies and information on conferences.http://hsc.usf.edu/medicine/ntcsm/TLM/index.htm – The National Training Collaborative for Social Marketing on-line mini-course from the University of South Florida.