Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

Nudge

Verb 1. Prod (someone) gently with one’s elbow in order to attract attention
Noun 1. A light touch or push

Recently, we produced some new business cards. When I say ‘Business cards’, I mean ‘BUSINESS cards’. They are very pretty and in our signature orange, with a feel that would make Patrick Bateman drool (niche little joke there). Anyway, when we hand over these cards, the situation plays out the same way each time. The recipient will turn it over a few times between their fingers, noting the subtle embossing, and the contrast logo on the reverse, and then upon closer inspection, will peer at the Hitch logo, eventually getting to the strapline: ‘Behaviour Changed?’

At this point we explain that we’re a social marketing agency, which (simplistically) means that we use marketing principles to achieve a social good. This is invariably met by blank faces, or an ‘Oh Riiiight’, which is far too laboured to be genuine. Depending on whether they seem remotely interested or the light has started to die in their eyes, we might elaborate. But what that situation is gasping for is a decent example, a story that explains it for us, and excitingly, this has arrived in the unlikely shape of a plastic bag charge.

Around the world in six billion bags

On October 5th 2015, the UK introduced a 5p charge on plastic bags. It wouldn’t affect small retailers, only those with 250 or more employees. It wouldn’t apply in airports, on trains, or ships. It wouldn’t apply to bags for unwrapped food, raw meat and fish where safety is an issue, prescriptions, seeds, bulbs, flowers, or uncovered blades. At face value this seemingly innocuous change might elicit an Alan Partridge-esque shrug of the shoulders with a ‘what am I meant to do with that?’ face, and life goes on. But here we are, ten months later, and the results are stark.

At current rate, we will use six billion fewer plastic bags this year. A drop of 83%. Six BILLION. That equates to a covering of about 900,000,000m2, or three Birminghams. Laid end-to-end those bags would go 75 times around the circumference of the globe. The BBC helpfully points out that 6 billion plastic bags weigh approximately the same as 3 million pelicans – if, like me, you were wondering how much 6 billion plastic bags would weigh in pelicans.

That is a pretty big change by anyone’s standard, and from a relatively small action. When you think about it, what is 5p to you? You probably wouldn’t stop to pick up 5p in the street. That’s barely a quarter of a ‘Freddo’ (we can address that outrage another time). And yet it has sparked a reduction of 83%. A projected gain of £780 million to the UK economy. We might describe that as a ‘nudge’. ‘A light touch or push’. A small incentive or disincentive to spark big changes.

Easy + fun + normal = change

Social marketing stands on the premise that people change behaviours when it is easy for them to do (self-efficacy), fun (perceived benefits), and everyone else is doing it (social norms). Other than the fun aspect – there’s nothing particularly fun about spurning plastic bags – this charge fits the bill, putting a small disincentive in place, increasing the prominence of bags for life. A nudge in the right direction.

Where Hitch comes in

And this is a good example of the sort of thing Hitch is passionate about, nudging behaviour change for social good. Whether that’s alleviating strains on A&E, reducing stigma towards refugees, increasing STI testing or encouraging discussion around healthy drinking habits, Hitch loves to use a nudge for behaviour change. So the next time we get that blank face stare at our strapline, we’ll just point to the plastic bag charge. A small nudge in the right direction. Or I might just direct them to this blog post.

Even easier.

Further reading:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36917174

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/30/england-plastic-bag-usage-drops-85-per-cent-since-5p-charged-introduced

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/single-use-plastic-carrier-bags-why-were-introducing-the-charge/carrier-bags-why-theres-a-5p-charge

http://www.cleanup.org.au/PDF/au/cua_plastic_bag_usage_around_world_august-2015.pdf

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