Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

Which is the better conservation messaging strategy: raising fears or relying on trust?

The San Diego County Water Authority’s “Save it or Lose it” campaign takes an aggressive approach to promoting water conservation, as you can see.

The campaign’s dry sand and sun-bleached skull are certainly attention-getters, and that’s a good thing. Commanding attention is a considerable challenge in this era of information overload.

But as with most everything, there are two schools of thought on conservation messaging, and those on the other side may fear so dramatic a campaign. The issue was raised recently at a meeting of water communications pros hosted by the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), and the viewpoints were mixed. Some loved the campaign, believing it would succeed because it captured eyeballs and raised public awareness, but others were not comfortable with what they thought was an overstatement of the state’s actual water situation.

So, how do you decide which campaign would be best for your district? Here are some questions to ask:

Ask of a campaign that employs dramatic overstatement to capture attention:

  • Is it obvious that you’re overstating for dramatic effect? Ask someone who’s not a “water person” for their opinion on this. You want it to be obvious you’re overstating to make a point.
  • Are there political reasons that might suggest toning down the campaign? For example, could it raise questions about your current Urban Management Plan or Water Supply Assessment?
  • Does it effectively encourage the target audience to take the next step – or is that step lost in all the drama of the imagery?

Ask of a more traditionally themed campaign:

  • Will it break through the “clutter” that saturates the media? How so? Again, ask someone who’s not a “water person” for their opinion.
  • Is the message forceful and clear enough to drive the target audience to action?
  • Could you make the message stronger and more impactful while still staying within a messaging strategy you feel is appropriate for your agency?

Whichever approach you take, years of communications experience has taught me that if you want to change behavior, you do it by building trust. And with conservation messaging, you do this by helping people to identify with the drought by making it real to them, then by empowering them by giving them the opportunity to be a part of both the local and state-wide solution. Without identification, the drought is not their issue. Without empowerment, they will take no action.

Until my next “Laer’s Latest,” I look forward to your comments – please email me at laer@laer.com, or call me at 949/599-1212.

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