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Save our streams: how Revolt London helped Affinity Water save 5m liters of water a day

'Tubitha' was part of a live activation that toured 8 town centers, a giant bath 125 times the regular size.

Revolt London won ‘Best Integrated Campaign - Offline and Online’ at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose, with its campaign for Affinity Water. Seeking to change wasteful water use habits, ‘SOS – Save our Streams’ became a movement to protect cherished local chalk streams. Here, the team behind this winning idea explains how it came to life.

Affinity Water, a water-only supply company covering a sprawling area around South-East England, had set themselves an ambitious water-saving target of 21 million liters per day, which had never been achieved in the UK before - equivalent to 140 million cups of tea daily from our 1.8 million households.

Water stress is a UK-wide problem caused by a combination of climate change and population growth; every utility provider must commit to a savings target. But what set Affinity Water apart was that their supply area was home to some of the highest water-usage towns in the country, peaking at a whopping 20-30 liters more water PCC (per capita consumption).

To stand a chance of hitting our target, we’d need to change people’s water usage at home, a famously entrenched behavior that utility providers have been struggling to change for decades.

The mountain we had to climb became steeper still when we factored in how low a concern water waste was in the minds of consumers, compared with other environmental issues like plastic waste.

Added to this was the brand’s meagre starting point. In a notoriously low engagement category where people have no choice of supplier, only 65% of Affinity Water customers are able to name Affinity Water as their provider. So not only was our message low priority for them, our mouthpiece to drive the behavior change wasn’t one they were engaged with. To top everything off, we had just six weeks to create and launch the campaign against the backdrop of Covid-19.

As behavior change challenges go, it didn’t come much tougher than this. One thing was for sure: whatever we did, it had to be bold and unlike anything the water utility industry had ever seen before.

Strategy

An early observation we made was that UK water utility companies had been banging the drum for people to use less water for years now without giving a compelling reason why, beyond the fact that water is a scarce resource. So searching for our ‘why’, we began by asking the obvious question: “what sets Affinity Water apart from every other water utility company?”

This one was really a no-brainer. With their significant investment in protecting 26 of the world’s remaining 240 chalk streams native to the area, this was clearly a company with a genuine environmental conscience and commitment to keeping these precious, globally rare ecosystems alive. Crucially, the aquifers that supply these streams are also the primary source of tap water, unbeknownst to a large section of our customer base who, research shows, rarely stop to think about where their water comes from.

With environmental consciousness well and truly in the mainstream, and a newfound appreciation of our local environment due to lockdown, we had found our compelling reason ‘why’: “SOS. Save Our Streams” was born. Simply by wasting less water at home, our customers could make a valuable contribution to saving cherished local chalk streams. So often the macro picture of the environmental crisis can be overwhelming for people. We hoped to relieve this by giving customers a tangible action they could take and see the subsequent impact of.

But the world didn’t need another environmental campaign to shame or scare people into change. Nor did we think this tactic would be effective given how deep-rooted water-wasting behaviors were. To cut through and convince Brits to change their ways, we had to do something disruptive to ensure our ‘ask’ wouldn’t fade into the background of the many environmental pleas people are bombarded with. So creatively we decided to appeal to the nation’s famous sense of humor, holding a mirror up to the extravagant ways we tend to waste water at home.

Revolt kicked things off with an OOH campaign across local high streets featuring characters relaxing in their extravagant baths, surreally staged in a chalk stream to make the link between water source and supply unequivocal. To further underscore this we added the CTA “Waste Less Water. Save Our Streams”, deciding to highlight ‘waste’ over ‘save’ as we were specifically targeting those unnecessary wasting behaviors like topping up the bath. The 7Stars devised a regional media plan that localized and personalized the issue, for instance with press ads and door drops mentioning threatened streams and rivers by name.

That Lot created radio ads, written and directed by comedy writer David Schneider, where a duck came to people’s houses to plead for them to waste less water. And on social, Revolt created targeted ads depicting other extravagant water wasting behaviors, using illustration to ramp up the humor.

Continuing the comedy theme, Pier Marketing and Hopper helped Affinity Water put on the world's first ever comedy event set in a stream, “Stand Up for our Streams”, where comedians Sandi Toksvig, Mark Watson, Eshaan Akbar and Helen Arney performed original material, literally while standing in a stream. The jokes were themed around water wastage and stream conservation, and distributed on social to convey our serious message in an entertaining way.

The final piece of experiential was a giant bathtub from Hopper, christened Tubitha, which was 125 times the size of a regular bath. Touring 8 major town centers, this was intended to stop locals in their tracks so they could learn about the issue and sign up to get a water saving kit. It also garnered attention from local MPs and community leaders who couldn’t resist the photo op.

The awareness built from these engaging elements of the program all led to the hub of the campaign, the SaveOurStreams.co.uk microsite.

Novacom built a campaign site that held the platform for customers to sign up to be part of the movement. GetWaterFit, the water saving delivery partner to Affinity Water, managed the customer journey to share individuals’ personal water use data collection - to select and deliver the personalized water-saving devices (from shower heads, to tap fittings; cistern bags to leaky loo detector strips). Novacom developed and continue to run the eCRM program for the campaign, to reach customers directly, offering immediate links to the site and offers of the free devices.

Results

The results that came back were nothing short of remarkable. We have so far seen over 170,000 sign-ups to join the movement (our target was 120,000) and half of those have ordered free water-saving devices, translating to a saving of 5 million liters of water every day. This makes SOS the UK’s biggest water-saving campaign ever.

Our giant roadshow tub was seen by over 390k people, with 17% of those who recalled seeing it saying it had “made them do something different” as a result. The website has received over 400k visitors and almost 30% then go on to sign up - and of those 50% have ordered free devices.

And much to our surprise given the brand’s prior low awareness, our post-campaign evaluation survey found that 50% of customers were aware of the campaign. 73% said that being aware of the campaign "has caused them to take some form of action".

SOS was picked up by local and national press 90 times, with a potential reach of 4.8 million people. Most notably in The Observer’s double spread, the Daily Star and the BBC Wildlife Magazine.

And because of the unprecedented success we’ve seen so far, other water companies around the UK are keen to take learnings from SOS to encourage customers in their respective regions to waste less water too.

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose. To find out more, including which competitions are currently open for entry, visit The Drum Awards website.

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