Brands bring behaviour change home

Sensemaking / Brands bring behaviour change home

07 Feb 2011

Marketing teams track our behaviour to encourage sustainable change

We see our skin as a sort of clock. "Fifty?" exclaims a flattering new friend. "You can't be!" Wrinkles may be the most striking indicator of years, but all our organs tick away at a rate of their own, depending on how we treat them. "My skin might be doing alright," you counter modestly, "but my heart's going on for 60…"

Now you can prove it. A new online tool has been developed to help you work out the 'age' of your heart. Not literally in years – you probably know that already: but in terms of its relative vitality. You enter details of your diet, weight and exercise routine, and the number of candles on the cake fades into insignificance... If you think your heart could do with losing a few years, you can use the tool to create a three-month lifestyle plan.

It's all part of a campaign by spreads brand Flora to encourage healthy living, while promoting products like Flora Pro•activ, which claims to help reduce cholesterol levels by up to 10%. Over 3 million people used the Heart Age tool in the year following its launch, and the campaign aims to draw in 100 million users globally by 2020.

It's one example of the way in which brands are expressing an interest in the everyday lives of consumers. For many, it's simply good marketing: interacting with consumers on a personal level inspires loyalty. You're much more likely to pick up a product by a brand you already have some kind of friendly feelings towards. But it's also a way to assume responsibility for their environmental and social impacts.

Take the multinational house of brands, Unilever. It's bullish, with the ambition to double the size of its business. But recognising that growth at any cost isn't viable, it has set ambitious targets to halve the environmental footprint of its products, sourcing 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably and help more than a billion people improve their health and wellbeing – all by 2020.

But there's only so much it can achieve on its own. A full life cycle analysis of 1,600 products in its 14 biggest markets found that the majority of its environmental and social impacts are beyond its direct control, with 70% related to consumer use. As many as 2 billion people buy a Unilever product in any given day: so if the company is serious about meeting its targets, it needs their help.

This gives it a chance to get creative. Toilet bleach Domestos, a Unilever brand, has launched an online app inviting people to track what happens when you flush: how far and fast the wastewater travels and where it ends up. If this doesn't prompt you to think twice about when you pull the handle and what you wash away, perhaps nothing will. There's even the option to track the flush from celebrity locations, such as Buckingham Palace and the Kremlin.

Some brands are looking to get even closer to their shoppers. Persil has been running a pilot with a group of consumers, who have agreed to let it monitor the way they wash at home. A series of small chips or 'loggers' placed in the machine and water pipes, feed Unilever information on how much detergent you use, the temperature you wash your clothes, and the length of the cycle. The data helps Persil understand real behaviour in the home, which in turn inspires product development for ranges such as the Small & Mighty liquid concentrate.

"There's a difference between what consumers say they do and what they actually do," says Amanda Sourry, Chair of Unilever UK and Ireland. "To get them to change their habits, we need to know why they wash the way they do – not just what they tell us."

The concentrated formula cuts packaging, CO2 emissions from transport and shelf space for retailers by as much as two-thirds. For Sourry, it's a no-brainer: "If everyone used concentrated variants, we would save over 4 million tonnes of CO2 per year – the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road". And it goes to show that small actions can add up to significant change.

"Overall consumers have a growing awareness of the issues we're facing around health and the environment", Sourry explains. "But many people feel helpless at an individual level. Switching from one brand to another and making small changes to the way you use a product does make a difference in the scheme of things."

- Anna Simpson

Unilever UK is a Forum for the Future partner.

Image credits: Webphotographeer / istock

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