As we work on environmental behavior change campaigns, we spend a lot of time crafting the perfect look and wording – to get the message right. Choosing the right messenger for that message is essential for its success. The Gigantic team’s presentation at the 2017 California Resource Recovery Association Conference covered several aspects of thinking about the best messenger.
Sometimes a public agency’s message can be strengthened and find traction when delivered in a different voice. The messenger’s “personality” can take several forms and can be delivered live, in print and digitally:
Mascots have the power to attract and engage people and make them care about issues such as recycling, waste or water quality. Creating and implementing a mascot messenger takes planning, patience and creativity. We presented examples of recent environmental mascots and talked about the process for creating, naming, scripting and distributing a mascot.
A message is easier to accept if the viewer identifies with the person delivering the message. Our presentation touched on how to evoke thoughts like “Well, if she can do it, so can I” or “I want to be more like that person” in an environmental campaign, by recruiting community members to deliver the message.
It’s easy to treat social media like another advertising channel for promoting your organization’s events and campaigns. But social media can be so much more than a digital bulletin board. We looked at ways to establish a personality on social media that doesn’t just tell folks what to do, but that interacts, observes, and participates in the broader online community. One excellent example is Baltimore’s Mr. Trash Wheel, who demonstrates best practices for tone and engagement.
Here is the CRRA presentation covering the above topics. Please let us know if you have questions or would like to talk about how the right messenger can work for you.
At Gigantic, we work hard to “get inside the heads” of the audiences we try to reach. How difficult is it to get someone to change behavior, even to be aware of that behavior? I experimented on myself last month, when I joined the #PlasticFreeJuly movement, and tried to avoid buying or accepting anything made of plastic for 31 days.
The first thing I noticed was anxiety, and a tendency to over-compensate. Should I stock up on plastic on June 30 so I could get through the month comfortably? What would I have to give up? Just how uncomfortable is this change going to be?
How can a behavior change specialist address her own fears of change and scarcity?
The Thrill of Failure
My first day was a failure, but also a tremendous success. I went out to lunch and ordered a cocktail (it’s OK, it was a Saturday!) The drink came with a straw – I had forgotten to ask for no straw. Disaster in the first few hours of the experiment! I posted about my personal failure to Facebook and Twitter, tagging the restaurant. I was amazed to see several supportive comments, even from “non-green” people with whom I had not interacted in years, saying they, too, were sick of plastic and that I should keep trying. Then, lo and behold, the restaurant responded to me via Facebook, saying that they, too, loved this particular cocktail and from now on would serve it without a straw. Victory! I took away from this experience that it can be more effective to post about one’s own weakness, to acknowledge error, rather than trying to be a brave and mighty eco-hero.
Challenges kept on coming throughout the month. In some cases there were joyous substitutions – I discovered that bread sliced at the bakery and wrapped in paper did just fine in the freezer, so breakfast was set.
Plastic = Convenience
As the month wore on, I realized that plastic equals convenience, and that I had to re-align my idea of what was convenient. Yes, it takes longer to bring your own containers and use the bulk bins of the market. It takes more effort to go to the cheese shop where the owner was happy to wrap my slices in paper – not an option at the supermarket. On the flip side, I had wonderful conversations with folks behind the counter; some were bemused by my requests, some were delighted. But this was an opportunity to connect with people in my neighborhood whom I had, frankly, barely noticed before. How to translate this greater feeling of community to our work?
When To Give Up
In some cases, going plastic-free meant going without. Tortillas and potato chips, indeed all salty junk food, were not an option, unless ordered in a restaurant. I had to cheat in a couple of instances, choosing less plastic over no plastic for things like toothpaste and olive oil. Luckily I don’t take a lot of medicines, but when I ran out of Vitamin D…I caved and bought more in a plastic bottle. I noticed the feeling of guilt and this time I did not share my “failure.”
It’s August now, and I have relented a bit, but the plastic-free exercise has stuck with me. The main thing I took away from July was a heightened awareness of plastic’s never ending presence in our lives. Entire aisles of the supermarket were off limits – which after a while felt quite restful. Connecting this ubiquity with the fact that of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic ever made, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste, with no end in sight. After this experiment, I am reminded as we plan campaigns that in many cases we are asking people to change, to give up something, to be inconvenienced. These are big asks. While these changes seem essential and even joyful to those of us in the environmental field, I believe it is essential to integrate humility and understanding into our campaigns, so that people feel understood and supported as we travel together on this journey to more sustainable living.
Effective environmental behavior change—like any behavior change—relies on meeting people where they are. This can mean communicating at the point of action, right where and when the behavior is happening. For instance, a recycling flyer sent to a resident’s home is a fine first touch to raise awareness, but placing recycling information directly on the bins or in the area where trash is being disposed of is an important prompt that is likely to get the best results.
What is the most effective way to display recycling/composting information? While each case is different, there are some general rules that will help increase recycling/composting while reducing contamination:
Use consistent language.
Do you say Carts or Bins? Compost or Organics? Make sure the terms you’ve chosen are used consistently in all your print pieces, including posters and bin labels, and also match the content on your website.
Use pictures and words.
Different people learn and remember differently – some people recall words, others, images. Using both will increase your chances of being clear and memorable. Remember that posters are typically viewed from a some distance away, so make sure images and text are sized large enough.
You probably don’t want to list EVERY single item that can go into the recycling or compost. Choose most common items or those often placed incorrectly. The selection of items also depends on where the poster will be used—items recycled in an office are likely different from those recycled in a restaurant kitchen.
Keep it neat.
A clean and simple layout is most likely to keep the focus on proper sorting. If a poster has too much information it may be perceived as too much effort to understand and get ignored. If you’d like to point to details, include your website URL prominently.
Stay up to date!
Did bin colors change with the new hauler contract, or are you now accepting some items for recycling that you weren’t before? Make sure your print and online collateral match your current program.
For further tips on displaying recycling information, see
A constant challenge in environmental outreach is how to portray an issue in a way that reaches people with varied worldviews. Neuroscientist George Lakoff and the concept of framing has been much in the political news lately, as opposing sides try to create impressions (also known as bias) in their listeners’ minds. Lakoff notes that all communication has frames:
“The elements of the Communication Frame include: A message, an audience, a messenger, a medium, images, a context, and especially, higher-level moral and conceptual frames.”
We know that facts alone don’t change behavior; to succeed, a message needs that emotional element that reaches the deeper parts of our brain. How can environmental outreach frame important issues in a way that reaches, convinces, and persists to make long-term positive change in behavior?
Lakoff gives one example in his blog, suggesting that instead of talking about environmental regulations, we reframe laws as environmental protections.
Framing a concept like food waste should be simple – no one likes “waste,” right?
The message of buying only what you need, using leftovers, and composting what is left is quite straightforward, but we have a long way to go to tackle the huge amount of food that is wasted. Two recent examples show how framing the issue, while acknowledging the facts, can show success.
Activist Selina Juul has worked for years on a multi-touch approach to reducing food waste in her adopted country of Denmark. She recognized that change had to come from all sides: business, government and, most of all, consumers. In this video, she reframes food waste as disrespectful to nature, farmers and to the individual’s own time and money.
Ugly? No, Beautiful!
A more local success story focuses on our friend and colleague Jordan Figueiredo. Jordan’s Ugly Fruit and Veg campaign aims to reframe frequently wasted, less than perfect produce with humor and heart, in order to make what had been rejected, acceptable and even coveted.
Jordan couches his multi-touch campaign work as Funactivism, which counters the view some hold of activists as overly serious or shrill. Jordan successfully uses many of the tools of activism and behavior change: touting simple individual steps, assurance that individual actions make a difference, use of pledges and norming, combined with a top-down approach to companies. He has used charming photos spread via social media to challenge people to change their attitudes about what is “ugly,” reframing ugly fruit and vegetables, and by extension, reframing our view of what is beautiful.
Choosing the most effective way to frame an issue takes research, patience and testing. Most of all, it takes creativity and always remembering that change comes from within, and people act because of what they feel even more than because of what they think.
How will you frame your next campaign?
Are you planning an environmental outreach campaign that includes social media? I hope so! As you probably know, social media is a great way to spread the word about your organization’s activities and to encourage public participation. But “social media” is not a single, uniform bucket. Just as you would plan a different print ad for a publication that reaches high school students than for one that focuses on businesses, so your posts in social media should be guided by who you are trying to reach and why.
How to get started with a channel-specific strategy?
To start, try creating a mission statement for each channel. The mission statements should be based on your organizational goals and the audience you are most likely to reach with each channel. For example, are you trying to reach young people? Snapchat (60% of Snapchat users are under 25) is a good channel to consider. If you’re trying to reach Baby Boomers or businesses, not so much.
Here are some sample mission statements by channel:
We will use Twitter to raise our profile with influencers in the U.S. and beyond.
We will use Facebook to keep our fans updated and informed about our organization’s activities and to provide calls to action to the public.
We will use Instagram to promote the joy of a waste-free lifestyle with the local community.
Our blog provides detail and a personal voice on our organization’s issues and activities for those who already know about us.
Next, tailor your content by channel. Some organizations, looking to save time, make all of their Facebook posts automatically post to Twitter. This may undermine your efforts when your audience and mission are different for each channel.
This doesn’t mean you should not cross-post the same topic in different channels. But it is a good idea to structure the content for your target audience: customize the language and images to achieve your mission.
Measure, Measure, Measure
How do you know if your channel strategy is working? Measure the results and compare your progress to your goals. For instance, your Twitter feed may be focused on reaching influencers. You can then evaluate your Twitter efforts by the number of key influencers who follow or retweet you. (In other words, it may be that the quality of your followers is more important than the number of them.) If your goal is to raise awareness of an issue, then the metric of reach/impressions is key. If your goal is to have users respond to a call to action, you will want to look at both click-through rate and number of clicks.
There is so much more to say about social media strategy, but starting with a channel mission statement is a useful guide when you are creating and customizing your communications. Happy posting!
It’s easy to fall into a rut with environmental outreach tools (websites, brochures, bill inserts, how-to-recycle guides, etc.) But even the smallest touch-up can really help make a piece become more effective. In preparation for the recent California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) annual conference, the Gigantic team put out a call to our email list, asking for samples of outreach materials that were ready for a makeover. We selected two submissions – the City of Fremont’s multi-family recycling guide and the Conservation Corps North Bay’s services flyer, and got to work.
See the results in the presentation below. In doing these makeovers, a few key takeaways emerged that we’d like to share:
1) Tailor by Audience – Often agencies and organizations don’t have the resources to make separate pieces for each audience (for example, multi-family building residents and property managers), but you can use visual cues and wording to clarify to whom you are speaking within a piece.
2) Give a Clear Call to Action – Laundry lists of do’s and don’t’s can make people’s eyes glaze over. Single, clear action steps are more likely to get results.
3) Use Clear Instructions – There are some best practices for information such as waste sorting guides: use color coding, group images by type, and don’t overlap images – the brain takes in the shape of an uncluttered image and retains it better.
4) Tell Your Story – Stories stick. Make your messages come alive with vivid words and images, and beware of jargon and “internal speak.” Investing in custom photography with “real” community members pays off, as people see themselves in your outreach and are more likely to respond.
5) Be Consistent and Multi-Touch – No single brochure, no matter how well designed, can do all the work. Your message will go farther when all communication pieces work together visually and verbally, reinforcing your message across channels.
If your organization needs an outreach makeover, feel free to contact us and let’s see what we can do together!
It is with great pleasure and pride that I announce my new position as Principal at Gigantic Idea Studio! I am now co-leading the company with founder Lisa Duba. I feel I have truly landed in my professional home, as we collaborate with our clients to create positive environmental change.
It’s been a wonderful journey. As many of you know, I’ve been a regular contributor to Gigantic projects since 2009. What you might not know is that in 2009, I found myself at a point of personal reinvention: I was finishing my Green MBA degree; ending 14 years with a previous employer (the recession “eliminated” my position) and mourning the passing of my mom from cancer. All occurred within weeks of one another. After all that I realized I did not want to work full-time for anyone again …unless I was an owner.
I’ve been preparing to be an entrepreneur for a long time. I grew up with a family business—John Neteler Auto Sales and Service—and I went to grad school to learn triple bottom line business management. So when I found myself at a crossroads, I was prepared to strike out on my own as a freelancer. Within six months of launching my independent business I was working with an extensive list of clients across several industries: sustainability, tech, healthcare, education and more.
Gigantic Idea Studio was one of my first, and proved to be one of my best, clients. Over the years, Gigantic allowed me to fully exercise so many of skills: creative brainstorming, strategizing, designing, photographing, facilitating, and engaging communities.
Fast forward to fall 2015, when Lisa Duba and I began a conversation about co-ownership of Gigantic. We took our time and thoroughly discussed the opportunities and challenges of partnership and how best to co-create a successful path forward for Gigantic. Now it is official! I look forward to many years of collaboration with Gigantic’s fabulous team and our amazing clients to make the world a better place. Please contact me if you would have questions.
Food waste prevention gained mainstream traction this past year, and deservedly so. Different from the effort to recycle food scraps, eliminating food waste before it happens is an issue that that most people—even those across stark ideological divides—can agree makes sense to tackle.
Approximately 25% to 40% of food grown and processed in the U.S. is wasted. That statistic alone is staggering, but considering that over 20% of all children in the county live in food-insecure households, it becomes even more astounding that this waste exists.
Fortunately, thanks to inspired individuals, nonprofits and private companies, there is new effort to combat the problem.
In the fall of 2014, our colleague Jordan Figueiredo launched the Bay Area’s first Food Waste Forum and helped sponsor a local Feeding the 5000 event in Oakland. It was at the Forum that many of us saw “Just Eat It,” a documentary made by a Canadian couple, which vividly shows just how much food is wasted by farms, supermarkets, and restaurants.
The food waste issue went viral in 2015, with Jordan Figueiredo’s @UglyFruitAndVeg, a clever social media campaign using amusing, shareable images of funny-looking produce—perfectly good to eat, yet discarded by most farms and supermarkets as unsellable. @UglyFruitAndVeg even garnered coverage on Fab Life with Tyra Banks!
But more than just an awareness effort, private companies and nonprofits are working on hands-on, innovative solutions to the food waste problem. Our client StopWaste is working with private company LeanPath to help reduce avoidable, pre-consumer food waste from commercial and institutional kitchens in Alameda County as part of the Smart Kitchen Initiative. Lean Path’s technology helps track pre-consumer food waste as it occurs, giving management and kitchen staff the information they need to make better buying and planning decisions.
The EPA had already taken note of the issue and in 2012 launched the “Food Too Good To Waste Campaign,“ which provides a ready-to-go campaign toolkit, to reach out to residents on the local level about wasted food.
This movement has even inspired start-up businesses such as Imperfect Produce and Hungry Harvest that market unsellable fruit and vegetables by providing delivery of “ugly” produce boxes, similar to CSA subscriptions. Trendy chefs in New York are creating entire menus from excess food waste at pop-ups. All, in all, 2015 has been a “tipping point” for this important issue.
We applaud everyone involved in the food waste reduction effort, and look forward to continuing our support of this important work in years to come.
Last Thursday, October 8, we opened our Gigantic doors to host a diverse group of visitors interested in learning more about us and our work as part of the NewCo Festival. NewCo engages companies with an innovative mission to share their vision and ideas with festival attendees. This year, the event expanded from San Francisco to include Oakland for the first time, and we are so proud to have been selected to participate as a host company. Host businesses include small, specialized groups like us, along with big players like Twitter, Pandora, Uber, and everything in between. NewCo is an inspiring event, and a great way to share ideas across business disciplines, as our attendees were from well-known tech companies, a university, an online retailer and more.
Surprisingly, preparing this presentation became a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. I realized the history of Gigantic’s founding and early development is intertwined with the advent of recycling, the tipping point of green as mainstream, and the rise of social science research on how to change behaviors related to environment and sustainability—and this made a cool story. It was great to meet people interested in taking the latest ideas and techniques back to their workplaces to inspire change. Here is the presentation:
This post is the third in a three-part series summarizing our presentation on messaging at this year’s California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA) conference: “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting Your Message to Matter.”
By vivid communication, we mean communication that forms distinct and striking mental images. Vivid communication works because it gets attention and aids recall. Without attention, there is no recall. Without recall, there is no action.
Consider these five techniques to incorporate vivid communication to your projects.
1) Make the Invisible, Visible.
Take a look at this ad campaign from Georgia’s Clean Air Program. This is a clever way to depict the positive impact of public transit and carpool options on Atlanta’s freeways.
2) Relate to what people know.
PG&E learned how to weave vivid communications into scripts. PG&E noticed when they sent auditors to visit homeowners to talk about weather stripping, caulking and attic insulation alone – they did not see homeowners take action to correct issues.
However, once auditors were trained to incorporate vivid communication into their discussions with homeowners, they noticed a significant increase in repairs being made. For example, if an auditor found a lack of insulation in the attic they would say “We call that a ‘naked attic’ – it’s as if your home is facing winter not just without a coat, but without any clothing at all.
3) Illustrate your data.
Yes, facts are important! However, facts with visuals can really get your point across. It’s one thing to say a glacier receded eight miles in 100 years and another eight miles in the last 10 years; we hit another level of comprehension when those facts are illustrated visually.
4) Create an infographic.
This technique is perfect for grabbing someone’s attention and keeping it.
5) Engage the senses.
We created a three-cart game for Oakland Recycles to promote composting and recycling behaviors. The game begins with a noisy and attention-getting prize wheel. The prize wheel lands on a photo of a common discard and the player must find the game piece and walk over and determine which is the proper cart to use. The booth team coaches players as needed and we encourage them to look for clues under the lids. The player is engaged kinetically by taking the item, recognizing what it is and physically placing it in the right cart. This aids recall when they are back home and encountering the same item.
No matter the budget dollars behind your campaign, you can weave vivid communications into all your existing outreach efforts including newsletters, bill inserts, presentations, social media posts, event tabling and more! You can change the script, add imagery feature community members, even add a game or activity.