Sustainability Brand Strategy Behavioural Sciences

Our ‘selfish’ interests are the key to sustainable behavior change

By Jamie Hamill | Consulting Director

Ogilvy UK


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July 12, 2023 | 4 min read

Fresh from the agency’s festival of behavioral science Nudgestock last week, Ogilvy UK’s Jamie Hamill looks at how brands can appeal to our self-interest in the fight against climate collapse.

A small green sapling growing out of a glass tumbler filled with coins

Can behavioral change be the key to sustainability step-change? / Micheile Henderson via Unsplash

Monday, July 3rd, 2023 was the hottest day on record for global average temperatures.

You’ve almost certainly felt that heat yourself recently, and no doubt cranked up the air conditioning, fired up the BBQ, or booked a flight to the beach in response.

Unfortunately, however, those seemingly insignificant behaviors contribute further to climate change and extreme weather.

That said, this makes them an easy place to start to address these issues – while of course recognizing that businesses and governments have their part to play in overcoming them, and that climate impact is not universally equal among people.

Behavioral science: the answer to climate change?

We believe behavior change has the power to solve climate change. After all, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recognized, 40-70% of emissions cuts will come from people changing their habits, like cutting back on flying or eating less meat.

Climate change is the biggest behavioral change brief on the planet right now. But convincing people to act sustainably is no simple matter.

Research suggests that sustainable alternatives are often seen as having trade-offs not worth making, like price, efficacy, or taste. Worse still, brands can unintentionally reinforce these trade-offs by misdirecting their sustainability communications.

Brands need to appeal to consumers’ ‘selfish sides’

Helpfully, our new research, presented at Nudgestock last week, presents a psychological solution to this problem: brands’ sustainability communications must appeal to peoples’ ‘selfish’ interests to help negate perceived trade-offs.

This means that anything I buy must benefit both me and the planet: I need to think that a BBQ plant-based burger tastes good and that its brand’s sustainability efforts make it taste even better.

A perfect example is Hellmann’s, the mayonnaise brand which has perfectly grasped this approach. The business has identified that 60% of all food waste happens in the home. As a brand present in nearly half of fridges globally, it’s perfectly suited to dealing with this challenge. However, rather than talking about the issue, the business focuses on taste – the key benefit to customers – inspiring and enabling them to turn their leftovers into dinner.

If marketers get can get this messaging right, it will benefit both their brands and the planet, with Hellmann’s experiencing significant growth since the launch of their global campaign.

In our own research, we’ve also found that ‘selfish’ sustainability features or initiatives can help brands to make price increases without decreasing demand.

So, with the proof in the pudding – or the jar of mayonnaise – and with our planet’s best intentions at heart, it won’t hurt marketers to appeal to our ‘selfish’ side a little more over the years to come.

Sustainability Brand Strategy Behavioural Sciences

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Ogilvy UK

Ogilvy is all about depth and breadth - we have London's broadest and deepest skillset in communications our award-winning teams work fluidly across our core capabilities Advertising Brand & Content, Experience, PR and Influence. And we have the UK's largest dedicated team of award-winning behavioural scientists in-house.

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