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14 - 18 June

Hear me out: the future of creative is sound

Imogen Watson

senior reporter, creative

Dr. Rupy Aujla


Jack Preston

director of Acast creative, UK+ & US

Changing behaviour by doing: Why we all need an injection of urgency

‘Procrastination is the thief of time’ wrote Edward Young in his 1742 poem, Night Thoughts. I doubt back then that he was thinking about its application to life in 2015, but never has it been so true.

We live in a time where we might never get around to doing anything, because distraction is so readily available.

If we don’t do things right now, we won’t do them at all. We all need a big injection of urgency. The idea that we can change how we think and feel by doing something is well evidenced. Smile, and you will feel happier (it’s well documented in academia but perhaps best evidenced by trying it now – go on).

Arguably, the approach for all of us as marketeers is to get people to do things, somewhere down the line. And therein lies the problem with a lot of marketing activities – they are based on strategies that persuade, convince or coerce at arm’s length, over time.

But by asking people to engage with a brand or cause straight away, giving them a small step to take, an easily achieved action, we start to change their relationship with that brand or cause immediately. Even just getting a consumer to ‘like’ your brand on Facebook is a sign of commitment.

This is not to say that long-term brand building doesn’t work – in fact quite the opposite. Strong brands can be built, and consumer behaviours changed for good, by giving consumers an active role in all communications. We are all short-termist now, from consumers that demand instant gratification, to marketeers that scrutinise the bottom line looking for immediate impact.

An even longer-term change must be sparked with a clear and evidenced action from the start. We want to see that things are working as soon as they are released into the world. This is a build on what used to be called ‘theme and scheme’ and chimes with hypothesis shared by Field and Binet in The Long and Short of It, for the IPA. But the build is an important one, the short of it can and should be really short for best impact on behaviour and the bottom line.

This works for brand and causes alike, for example McDonalds Branded Wifi campaign from last year had an immediate and incentivised call to action. Meanwhile, at 23red we helped hundreds of thousands of people stop smoking by getting them to commit to calling it quits on 1 October during Stoptober for Public Health England, bringing about a significant change in behaviour.

The notion of urgency and immediacy is not uncomfortable territory for us as humans, let alone as consumers. We actually respond well to being given a timescale – we have evolved to be deadline driven and many of us won’t take action until that deadline is upon us.

Turning that behavioural truth to our favour has been used to astounding effect – think Ice Bucket Challenge where 24 hours to comply was a consumer condition that meant millions did. Would we have seen such a gathering of pace had it been ‘at some time in the future’?

Action plus urgency is a powerful combination and together have effective application across all behaviour change challenges. That’s not to say that we think behaviour can be changed in an instant, but it is a timely reminder that we have lots of tools in our kits that can encourage, cajole, nudge or gently shove people into taking that all important first step a bit sooner than we perhaps would have thought.

Jo Arden is head of strategy at 23red