I've continued to dive down the rabbit hole of old work. Being 10 years since we started Behaviour Change Partners, it's probably an outcome of reflection!
When we first started the agency, we won a huge piece of public health work via the WA Government. It was the perfect big to our bang that saw us get started with a huge amount of momentum.
Two out of three West Australians are overweight or obese, dramatically increasing their risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The cost of obesity to the WA community is immense, both in public health funding and social impact. The causes of Australia’s obesity epidemic are many and complex, though, on one level, the required behaviour change is simple: eat more healthily and be more active.
A WA Government initiative called the Healthy Lifestyle Promotion Plan provided funding to try to shift the dial on this huge and growing problem. Heart Foundation WA and Cancer Council WA were to manage the campaign and Behaviour Change Partners was appointed as their strategic and creative agency partner.
Much as we’d love to think a marketing intervention could lead to an immediate, measurable reduction in average weight with simultaneous increase in hours spent being active, this would be unrealistic. The short term KPIs (essential to show early traction of the campaign to stakeholders) were primarily linked to increasing the saliency of the issue. They included visits to the LiveLighter web site, sign ups for the online program, measuring community ‘noise’ and behaviours and plans in respect of diet and activity habits.
Our model suggested that our key audience, WA’s moderately overweight, saw the problem as a bit like having your car boot full of junk. You know it shouldn’t be there, you know you should do something about it and plan to ... but it can wait ‘til next weekend.
Looking at the challenge with a behavioural lens, a near perfect storm of behavioural science principles was creating high barriers to change. They included social proof – when most people you know are overweight it feels normal and OK; the power of now (hyperbolic discounting) – when that pizza in front of you becomes more important than avoiding a stroke later in life; procrastination – I will lose weight ... but after the holidays; status quo bias, confirmation bias and more.
In addition, we would also have to overcome the hard-wired instincts of our early ancestors to eat as much sugar, salt and fat as possible (in a world where they were scarce) and to conserve energy wherever you can (because you might need it later to escape a predator). To change people’s diet and activity behaviour using the blunt instruments of marketing would be no small challenge.
Many behavioural science principles underpinned our proposal, with two worthy of specific mention: the power of disgust and the use of reference points.
Disgust is an effective influencer of behaviour hard-wired into humans millions of years ago to prevent us violating our bodies. It’s why we find it impossible to eat when we smell vomit, notice a cockroach on our food or see an open wound. Previous campaigns in tobacco and cancer control and the work in road safety and drugs gave us confidence in the power of disgust as a valuable tool in our obesity campaign.
The second key behavioural principle in our thinking was the concept of reference points. We find it hard to judge the seriousness of unfamiliar issues in isolation so we use their similarity to more familiar issues as a short cut to help us evaluate them. Making our obesity campaign feel like an anti-smoking or road safety campaign would help position being overweight from ‘probably not that bad to ‘’OMG, it’s as bad as smoking’.
To limit against self-exemption (ie ‘I don’t need to worry, this message is only for Biggest Loser size people’) we coined the term ‘grabbable gut’ and framed the campaign around it: ‘if you’ve got a grabbable gut on the outside, you’ve got toxic fat on the inside’.
However, it is well documented that creating behaviour change is not just about scaring people about the problem; you also need to point the way to a solution. So not only did LiveLighter encompass graphic ‘push’ phases, we also developed a number of ‘pull’ executions, each modeling the signature image of the campaign (the toxic fat) coming to mind in relatable situations and positively influencing everyday health choices.
A website provided the opportunity to build a customised LiveLighter diet and activity program and a range of print, digital and radio assets ensured conversations about ‘toxic fat’ were happening over dinner tables across WA. Among them, some deliberately provocative outdoor located right outside fast food outlets.
Initial results: In the first 12 months, 8% of the WA population has visited the LiveLighter web site. Since launch, 19,000 had started a LiveLighter Meal and Activity Planner and the brand secured over 300 brand partnerships. Papers published in the same year (Dixon H, Scully M, Cotter T, Maloney S, Wakefield M, 2015) evaluated 99 health related campaigns and concluded the LiveLighter campaign was the ‘top performing execution on all four outcome measures’ and that it employed the key theoretical determinants of behaviour change as identified by the ‘Big Five Principles’. The WA campaign evolved and eventually also ran in Victoria and ACT.