How marketing puts up the stop sign

In a world full of marketing messages designed to make us do things, how are governments influencing our behaviour to stop us doing things?

There are two different ways marketers think about influencing consumers. The first is the approach of influencing attitudes, after which behaviour should follow. The second is to try to directly influence behaviours, and then attitudes should change.

Changing behaviours

When it comes to government marketing efforts, the focus is increasingly on behavioural interventions. Four approaches taken by government seek to encourage citizens to

  • Start or adapt to a new behaviour
  • Stop something damaging occurring
  • Prevent harmful behaviour
  • Change an existing behaviour

This is clearly a different focus to other product- or service-focused advertisers. For example, many government initiatives are about encouraging you not to do something. Additionally, while many non-government ads are focused on specific brand choices within a category, government tries to address significant behaviours – not just which pack you choose in one aisle of one supermarket.

Multi-faceted approaches to behavioural change

A recent Australian & US study of mass media’s impact on health behaviours concluded that there is a significant and proven role for mass media such as newspaper media to play – in areas like driving, sexual health, cancer prevention, and smoking. Mass media work well as part of a holistic approach involving other key behavioural enablers, such as making access to health services themselves easy. They also noted greater results when there was a consistent spend in media over time, not just a short term campaign.

The development of a greater understanding of how to change behaviour can be seen in the work of the so-called Nudge Unit in the UK, and its work on “choice architecture”. The UK Government’s paper on communications and behaviour change lays out a comprehensive framework for identifying key behaviours and their influences – plus the marketing framework required to effect change.

The wave of energy behind these behavioural approaches is being led by governments, and allows us to more finely pinpoint the effect of newspaper media within a broader marketing framework.

Five reasons to use newspaper media to change behaviour

Analysing the best practice approach for behavioural marketing, we can identify five ways in which newspaper media can play a critical role.

Trusted information. Newspaper media are the number 1 most trusted medium. When you need to impart important information, you need a credible medium – newspapers and their websites lead the way.

Social norms. Behavioural change strategies often rely on showing consumers what others are, or are not doing. Newspaper media play an important role in helping us understand what’s going on in the world outside our immediate social circle.

Start conversations. In an Australian research study, 63 percent reported having started a conversation about a newspaper article they’d read. Providing thought-starters and social fuel is an important role of newspaper advertising.

Create urgency. There is a reason it’s called the News – people turn to newspapers for the latest information. This in turn creates a sense of urgency. In the area of health behaviour in particular, research shows the behavioural impact of mass media, such as news, is greatest for one-off interventions like promoting vaccinations and screenings.

Give more detail. Within the broader marketing mix, newspaper media are one of the most highly engaging. They can be used effectively to provide more detail – and they can be used to pull people to specific websites.

Five important behaviours covered by emma

If you’re planning a behaviour change campaign for a government department, it’s often easy to get lulled into targeting “everyone aged 14+”. However, in order to drive efficiency and effectiveness it’s better to target the people where you can make the biggest difference.eEmma allows you to do this. For example:-

Driving. Driving to work is a big part of how much time people spend in their car. Emma measures people’s commuting distance. It shows 25 percent of the population commutes more than 15km each way. If you want to target these “heavy drivers”, note that they over index on being medium or heavy newspaper readers.

Drinking. Again, we can look at frequency of alcohol consumption. We see those who drink alcohol weekly or more, index 118 on heavy newspaper consumption.

Smoking. Here emma allows us to look at smoking status and methods used to quit. It turns out that newspaper readers are more likely to have successfully quit, and they over index on doing this via going cold turkey.

Diet. In emma we can see attitudes towards obesity. Focusing on newspaper readers, we see that heavy readers are less likely to see obesity as a problem – hence, it would be an important audience to address as newspaper readers are influential in their social circles.

Gambling. This is extensively covered, looking at frequency of different types of gambling. For the top frequency (“once a week or more”), heavy newspaper readers index 164 on placing a bet at a TAB, 134 on buying scratchie tickets, 145 on online betting and 140 on playing a pokie machine.

Case studies

Government consistently invests in newspaper media advertising. Here are three examples of successful campaigns using the principles above. All are featured in the comprehensive Government Advertising Report from The Newspaper Works.

This campaign to stop young people using Ice details the side effects and has a strong call to action. It recorded strong results with 80 percent of 16-24s saying it was memorable, 89 percent comprehending the key message, and 66 percent agreeing it increased their concern about the drug.


Some 87 percent said this ad about knife violence was memorable, and 60 percent agreed it was persuasive. It clearly enunciates the lifelong consequences of knife violence.


This partnership between Duracell and government on smoke alarms showed good results. Some 72 percent said it was memorable, and 55 percent found it persuasive.




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