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Advertising campaign could be the key to saving our precious wildlife, experts say

Experts from Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens believe a marketing campaign could protect the natural world.

Executive director of science Professor David Cantrill says people are increasingly more disconnected from nature, but if they can identify with it, they’re more likely to act to protect it. 

“A social marketing campaign is something that could achieve this,” he says. 

Marketing experts say a campaign like this would cost in the millions, but if pulled off correctly, could be a piece of the puzzle in protecting Victoria’s fragile biodiversity.

This sentiment that those who value nature will act for it is reflected in the Victorians Value Nature Survey,conducted by the State Government. 

The report says people with a “stronger connection to nature are more likely to take action for it”, but the current state of decline in Victoria’s ecosystems indicates that the connection isn’t there for most people.  

The Victorian Government has taken notice of the need for Victorians to care about the environment, with the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning outlining in their 2037 Biodiversity Plan, a goal for all Victorians to value nature.  

Cantrill and Royal Botanic Garden CEO Tim Entwisle first considered the idea of using a social marketing campaign when they recommended it in a submission to Victoria’s Inquiry into Ecosystems Decline earlier this year.

Advertising campaign could be the key to saving our precious wildlife, experts say

The Victorians Value Nature Survey reveals that those who connect with nature take actions to protect it. Credit: DELWP

“[We must] consider how social marketing and behavioural modification approaches such as [campaigns to] reduce smoking or alcohol consumption, might be adapted to the environment to modify behaviours toward nature,” their submission says.

Cantrill says if actions aren’t taken towards reversing ecosystem decline in Victoria, trends in extinctions will increase.

“Alternative funding models for the conservation of biodiversity are needed urgently,” Cantrill and Entwisle say in their submission. “This should [include] programs designed to change behaviours.”

RMIT marketing lecturer Dr Amanda Spry says social marketing campaigns are at their best when they combine rational and emotional appeals.

“[They’re] a tried-and-true advertising trick in … motivating action,” Spry says.

“The ‘rational’ appeal is passing information and ’emotional’ tries to stir up feelings.”

The blending of the rational and emotional takes a certain amount of tact to pull off and Australians needn’t look further than the Federal Government’s vaccination campaign to see how an imbalance of these marketing staples can make an ad ineffective.

Spry and her colleagues criticised this Federal Government vaccination ad for relying too much on rational appeal, in an article they wrote for The Conversation.

First the Government rolled out an ad with medical professionals, which leant too hard on the rational appeal, before following it up with a purely fear inducing emotional ad featuring a woman inhospital on a ventilator.

“Research shows over-emphasising one is less effective than using them well together,” says Spry.

Spry thinks that an environmental ad campaign should use facts to reinforce an emotional appeal.

“I’d suggest highlighting the positive emotions and what could be lost on that front and blending it with credible and digestible facts and information.”

Techniques such as humour, environmental imagery and music are all popular approaches as is the controversial tactic of using fear.

Fear seems like an appropriate motivator from how Cantrill describes the future of Victoria with continued ecosystem decline, with extinctions and habitat loss seemingly imminent.

Advertising campaign could be the key to saving our precious wildlife, experts say

David Cantrill believes a social marketing campaign can help save Victoria’s ecosystems. 

However, Professor Sean Sands – director of the customer experience research group in the Department of Management and Marketing at Swinburne University – says an over-reliance on fear is not effective.

“A balance of fear and hope is better than fear alone,” Sands says.

Spry supports this analysis, saying the research indicates fear is effective in the short term but doesn’t demonstrate long term success.

A good campaign requires more than just the right mix of the rational and emotional but needs to understand its audience, Spry says. “You need to meet consumers where they are.”

“Most people will encounter nature or suffer the effects of climate change in their day-to-day life.”

“Think about how it impacts them in their lives, what do they gain from acting and what they have to lose.”

Cantrill says that when people learn of an endangered species in their local area, it becomes special to them, and that can lead to a greater connection with nature.

The Victorians Value Nature survey also reflects this idea that localising the issue can form deeper connections, saying people “feel strongly connected to their own gardens”.

Of course, this strategy isn’t without its problems and Sands says the long-term nature of a campaign like this could limit it.

“The problem is that the costs and benefits [of the program] is often not immediate – the cost is likely passed on to the next generation, so there is a balance in making people see an immediacy to their actions.”

Running a comprehensive social marketing campaign like the government and anti-smoking and vaccination programs aren’t cheap, and Cantrill and Entwisle say in their parliamentary submission that political leaders have shown hesitation when it comes to investing heavily in the conserving the natural world.

“Historical under-investment in the environment overall has led to significant and long-term degradation for Victoria’s biodiversity,” the pair say in their submission.

The federal government’s initial vaccine campaign in January which featured medical professionals cost almost $24 million, a sum which feels unlikely to be committed to environmentalist causes.

Australians remember the spectacularly cringeworthy milkshake consent ad which cost over $3.5 million in taxpayer money, before it was removed after public backlash.

A social marketing campaign will be costly and cannot afford to fail like this infamous $3.5 million consent ad failure. 

A social marketing campaign for ecosystem conservation will take significant investment from the government, but Cantrill and Entwisle believe Australia’s wildlife is more than worth it.

“[It will require a] reasonable level of investment, but nothing compared to the impact of a complete loss of our state’s greatest, most treasured assets: our flora, fauna and landscapes,” they say.

Although the idea for an environmental social marketing campaign faces issues like financing and using the right blend of rational and emotional, the wheels for a project like this could soon be in motion.

Cantrill says there is reason for environmentalists to remain hopeful that the state government will use creative methods to combat ecosystem decline, as the 2037 Biodiversity plan indicates a desire to make more Victorian’s value and therefore act for nature.

“There’s a mandate there within that plan for the government … and maybe that creates a cycle,” says Cantrill.

No matter what action is taken, with extinctions accelerating, climate change looming and ecosystems declining, Cantrill says Victoria can’t wait any longer before acting.

“I’d say yesterday, we should have been doing a lot more.”


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