December 27, 2017

The Role of Theory in Behavior Change Marketing

Behavior change marketing, also known as social marketing, is a term used by public health professionals to describe a marketing effort that aims to increase awareness of a social issue and change a behavior that is unhealthy.

For example: Use sunscreen. Recycle. Be physically active. Wear a seat belt. Don’t smoke.

But how exactly can marketing and advertising not only change one’s mind, but also influence one’s behavior? It’s not an easy task, and can be even more difficult than selling a product. To some, it may seem unrealistic to expect a billboard or a TV commercial to have such a positive impact.

In order to implement an effective behavior change campaign, health behavior theory must be integrated from the very beginning. Evidence-based behavior change theories provide powerful tools when attempting to identify certain beliefs that need to be addressed to successfully change and maintain behavior.

While there are innumerable health behavior theories to reference, my favorite theory to apply is the Health Belief Model. The theory you apply should depend on your target audience and the behavior you’re attempting to modify.

The Health Belief Model (HBM), one of the most versatile and widely known, is a psychological health behavior change model developed to explain and predict people’s health behaviors. This model states that in order for a person to change his or her behavior, that person must have the perceived severity, perceived susceptibility, perceived benefit and the self-efficacy to do so.  These are just a few of the constructs within this model, and will help determine one’s “readiness to act.” Sounds simple, right?

In plain English, it means exactly what you think it means. For someone to be motivated enough to change his or her behavior, we must work to influence:

  1. One’s opinion of his or her chances of getting a condition (perceived susceptibility)
  2. One’s perception of how serious a condition is and what its consequences are (perceived severity)
  3. One’s understanding of the benefits of changing his or her behavior (perceived benefits)
  4. One’s confidence in the ability to change his or her behavior (self-efficacy)

Enough technical talk about models and constructs. Let’s see these bad boys in real-life, behavior-changing action.

Take our Delaware Office of Highway Safety (OHS) campaign as an example. Since lack of occupant protection (i.e., seat belt use) and speed are two main contributors to crash injuries and fatalities in Delaware, according to Delaware Office of Highway Safety, OHS enlisted AB&C to help raise awareness about the dangers of not buckling up and speeding, and to correct those risky behaviors among Delaware drivers.

First, we took a hard look at our target audience. For speed- and seat-belt-related crashes and deaths, young adult males (YAMs) ranging from ages 18 to 34 were the most disproportionately affected. This is where Stu came in.

We positioned Stu as a relatable character to help get the attention of our target audience. Complete with radio spots, print ads, social media promoted posts, gas-pump toppers and digital banner ads placed where YAMs typically frequent, our campaign was sure to get Stu’s safe-driving message across.

To reach our target’s perceived susceptibility, we portrayed Stu as an engaging and relatable character.  Our message throughout the campaign was action-oriented and motivational, to increase the self-efficacy and confidence of our target to change their risky behaviors while on the road. Our animated tactics showed Stu not only aggressively driving down the road, but also getting into a crash, as a direct result of his speeding. This was intended to help increase one’s perceived severity of reckless driving and show the potential benefits of slowing down and buckling up.

Last year, this campaign received more than 8 million impressions statewide. With the goal of increasing statewide seat belt use to 93 percent and decreasing the overall number of speed-related crashes, this campaign will have three more flights in 2018.