Climate campaigning like the opposition

Picture this: a campaign so powerful that climate-positive attitudes become part of the mainstream. Markets are influenced by new consumer behaviours and politicians shape their policies based on the lifestyle demands of citizens. And just like that, entire systems shift how they operate.

Air in the cities is cleaner, with increased pedestrian and cycle traffic with cars and buses electric and hydrogen-powered thanks to more affordable prices and accessible charging points; local farming is thriving, with seasonal, regional produce being more in demand than ever, leading to improved economies that serve all. We’re consuming what we need and no more with a thriving circular economy, so what used to be landfills, are now green reforested spaces. Clean water is the norm; flora and fauna are thriving, and people of all backgrounds are able to enjoy the outdoors in harmony with nature…

This vision, while ambitious, is not unattainable. All we need is a tipping point of 25% of people to adopt impactful, influential and inclusive behaviours, for these to become the social norm, helping societies abandon detrimental norms, and laying the foundations for wider systemic change.

The challenge is that facilitating a common understanding of the benefits from adopting climate-positive behaviours is not that straightforward. Climate change is a complex and often difficult concept to understand for most audiences and cannot be solved by a single-focus behaviour change alone. If we are to effect climate action at scale, we require new approaches to campaign planning and delivery.

Adopting the strategies from the opposition

Historically, the climate movement has focused on influencing policy development and grassroots activism, paying little attention to reaching out to new audiences who are uninvolved in climate action. As a result, though aware and even concerned about climate change, many people’s habits – from consumption, to transport to their finances – remain the same. And so do the systems that support them.

So what if, instead of climate campaigns that are politically motivated and focus on ground level activism, we thought like corporations and adopted “opposition” strategies to drive widespread cut-through and action on climate?

  1. Focus on new audiences: To have a wider tangible impact, it’s crucial to go beyond preaching to the converted and to reach audiences who are currently unengaged with climate action in their daily lives.

    Deepening support for driving behavioural and voter shifts through known or similar audiences already engaged with the topic of climate is important but will not alone create cultural shifts. Without a groundswell of public action, policy and solution delivery will continue to be sluggish.

  2. Adopt audience-first messages: To reach new inactive but persuadable segments, it is essential to look beyond climate-explicit messaging and focus on driving integrated, collaborative, audience-first campaigns that prioritize engagement and are relevant to people’s daily lives.

    Understanding what motivates people to act is a good first step. The “What’s in It for Me?” (WIIFM) approach is critical, especially in engaging those who may not see the immediate consequences of climate change.

    Campaigns can help overcome the inertia that often prevents people from changing their behaviour by emphasising the tangible benefits of taking action. For instance, your energy bills will be cheaper, you can reduce air pollution and help ensure that the air your family breathes is cleaner and healthier. Or investing in solar panels or wind turbines for your home or business can reduce your dependence on fossil fuels and price fluctuations.

    Better understand your target audiences’ needs and motivations by collecting and analysing data on their preferences, behaviours, and demographics. This enables the creation of more targeted and effective messaging and communication strategies capable of driving real-world behaviour change.

  3. Rethink the funnel: Incorporating marketing and behavioural science techniques and deploying the marketing and sales methods of corporates and for-profit organizations can broaden and deepen engagement. But for your campaign to be successful, it can’t rely on cookie-cutter marketing.

    Many climate action campaigns rely on the AIDA model – an advertising effect model standing for Attention → Interest → Desire → Action that identifies the stages an individual goes through during the process of purchasing a product or service. Once those who have engaged are analysed, more like them are sought to start the process again. In order to be effective, the dissemination channels and messaging must remain consistent and aimed at those who are already engaged.

    One way to rethink the model and break the mold is by adopting data-driven audience development strategies. Effective climate action campaigns tailor messaging to specific audiences by understanding the characteristics and motivations of different segments of the population. This increases the likelihood of engagement and action, ensuring that messaging resonates with diverse audiences.

Overview of channels and positioning that are and could be employed by climate campaigns. Focus mainly remains on deepening engagement through earned and owned media rather than reaching new audiences through paid for campaigns.
  1. Go multi-channel: Taking an integrated multichannel approach to campaigning can significantly widen your audience base and increase your impact. Sole use of a channel for your campaign, for example only using Meta to reach similar audiences, has been proven to be less effective and far more open to misinformation counter campaigns.

    The climate movement has also yet to fully embrace the potential of influencer marketing, particularly in the digital space. Yet, effective influencer programmes can engage a large audience, capitalising on the credibility of trusted voices to drive effective climate action.

    Paid-for digital advertising targeting new audiences is another widely underutilized mechanism. In the USA, fossil fuel companies alone spent nearly $200m lobbying in 2019 to promote their products and services and greenwash their messaging to the general public. When informed by behavioural insights and data, well planned paid-for advertising has the ability to educate audiences,  drive action and change attitudes.

  2. Track progress: Tracking the effectiveness of your campaigns and allocating resources to data-driven decision making will not only increase the impact of your campaigns as they are happening but can optimise your decision making, operations and return on investment in the longer run.

    Using data analytics tools and techniques, monitoring and evaluating your campaigns allows you to understand and report on threats, identify areas for improvement, and can help you make real-time adjustments to improve engagement and drive action.

To conclude…

There is huge potential for driving effective change through campaigns that use the methodologies of the commercial sector, that expand the use of marketing and data strategies, optimised around the economics of increasing public engagement and behavioural change across a larger, previously unengaged population base. By focusing on audience first, you can develop campaigns and messages that go beyond converted audiences, empowering a larger portion of society to take action that reduces emissions and changes systems as we know them.

Even though this type of messaging has the potential to bring about meaningful change, it is not always viewed as a funding or organizational spend opportunity. Therefore, it’s important to recognize and share the value of investing in campaigns that prioritise audience engagement and focus on driving long-term, sustainable change. By doing so, we can not only bring about change in the short term but also ensure that it is sustainable in the long run.

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This post is authored by Carolyn Sims, CMSA Consultancy, based on a 2022 report commissioned by a global climate philanthropic foundation.

Count Us In harnesses the power of popular culture to inspire and engage mainstream audiences to take climate action – driving wider systems change. We reach the moveable middle through their passions and interests. We deliver impactful popular culture campaigns, facilitating unexpected partnerships in sports, music, social media, entertainment and gaming.

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