Behaviour Change. Expecting the unexpected.

Mat crompton headshot

This article was originally posted in B&T.

In this guest post, Icon Agency’s strategy director Mat Crompton (lead image) talks about the importance of behaviour change and why it’s so much trickier to get the message out for advertisers talking to audiences in their millions…

Changing human behaviour is crucial to meeting the challenges facing society today. The climate emergency, on-going and re-emerging pandemics and epidemics, the rise in addictive behaviours (something close to my heart) and political polarisation are just a few of the broad and complex issues we face. It is therefore no surprise that the term ‘Behaviour Change’ is now ubiquitous both in government and social change circles.

Many brilliant practitioners operate in this space – BehaviourWorks and Behavioural Insights Team to name just two – and there are now very advanced models for analysing why we behave the way we do and developing interventions. However, when it comes to Behaviour Change Communications, far more work needs to be done in anticipating and mitigating potential unintended consequences. With such nuanced and personal topics, what is a helpful message for one person might have a negative effect on another – or even exacerbate the very issue they are trying to address.

Around twenty years ago a government broadcast campaign led with the line “Think about what you’re really gambling with”. It was meant to encourage individuals with severe gambling issues to seek help by highlighting the fact that, by gambling to excess, they ‘risk losing the love and support of family and friends and, in the end, your own sense of self-worth’ – that is an actual line from their case study. This language, and the campaign it underpinned, has always stuck with me as an example of good intentions that led to unintended consequences.

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