Facts alone ain't enough

We’re all bombarded with countless messages, all day, every day. All the various media platforms compete, aggressively, for our attention. We’re influenced to think, feel, form opinions and develop values and - most important of all - act according to the narrative.

Marketing communication helps to shape culture and lifestyles. So, if we want people to make people and planet choices, sustainability needs to receive attention in a crowded media landscape and in educational programmes.

Is the sustainability message being heard?

Is the sustainability message being heard?

Facts alone don’t convince individuals to change their lifestyles or form different values.

Achieving behavioural change needs people to change their minds and opinions about an issue, or for them to develop a deepy-held conviction of the need to change. This only happens with the right information, put across in a way that resonates, in order to prompt and justify the change that’s needed.

There are a number of different levers to bring about this behavioural change: communication, education, and campaigning.

Communication differs from information (presenting facts or opinions to others), as it requires the receiver of the information to grasp the intended meaning of the message and respond in a productive way. This is complicated where sustainability is concerned, due to the ambiguity of the term. In the sustainability and business world, the word can offer the flexibility that allows a different approach to business leadership - recognising the context of planetary boundaries and societal purpose (neatly brought together by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs) - beyond simply generating profit.

Personally, I’m not convinced of the value of the word. From the many conversations I’ve had with business leaders, it can be too peripheral or academic to appeal to them and/or their shareholders. To some extent, it’s still seen as an optional extra, as opposed to something that all businesses must embrace as a result of the rapidly-changing world they operate in.

We need to change minds by influencing what people consciously think about; change minds by altering underlying beliefs and motives; and then change the context in which decisions are taken (purpose-driven businesses get this). Nowhere is this more urgently needed than in the conversation about climate change. The Climate Communication Project is working to identify the best strategies to engage people and ensure that the message resonates and leads to effective action.


Instead of relying on guilt to drive behavioural change, many businesses are seeking to create inspirational, aspirational, and fun messaging. Many organisations engage in cause marketing, which can involve joint funding and marketing for a social or environmental benefit, or economic development. Most often, cause marketing involves partnerships between for-profit and not-for-profit organisations.

It’s clearly worth it, given that studies have shown that 91% of consumers said they were likely to switch to a brand that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality. 92% said they would buy a product with a social or environmental benefit given the opportunity, and 67% said they had done so in the past 12 months (Echo Global CSR Study, 2013).

Cause marketing is not new. Over the past 20 years, there have been some great examples:

Innocent collaborated with Age UK in The Big Knit campaign, in which little woollen hats were made to adorn the smoothie bottles. As a campaign, it was very in keeping with the quirky, homemade image of the incredibly successful smoothie brand. However, there is substance as well as style in this partnership. Aside from money raised, the campaign engaged Age UK’s service users in knitting the hats, bringing people together in knitting groups and helping to tackle social isolation. The focus of The Big Knit has been to keep older people warm in winter, and the hats have been a fun way to raise awareness of this often forgotten group. A donation of 25p is made to Age UK for each behatted bottle, and in little over a decade the Big Knit has raised over £1.75M.


The Body Shop ran a campaign with Women’s Aid from 2004 to 2008 and eventually inspired similar partnerships in 16 countries around the world. While other partnerships may have raised more money (this campaign still raised an impressive £600,000 plus), its key aim was to raise awareness of domestic violence. The main cause related marketing product was a mint lip balm which had the slogan ‘Stop Violence in the Home’, an arresting message on such a common household beauty product. Alongside donating £1.50 from this lip balm and other products, The Body Shop also produced a 'Survivors Handbook' for Women’s Aid and carried out research into attitudes to domestic violence, showing their commitment to tackling this cause was more than mere tokenism.

In late 2018, Lush partnered with Orangutans SOS to raise funds to purchase 50 hectares of ex-palm plantation in Cinta Raja, Sumatra, turning it back into a diverse orangutan habitat.To do this, they created a selection of themed, limited-edition soaps.

At the time the campaign went live, there were only 14,600 Sumatran orangutans remaining in the wild.

Therefore, Lush produced exactly 14,600 patchouli and orange orangutan soups to highlight that once they are gone, they are gone for gone forever.


Another great example saw frozen food supermarket, Iceland, pledge to remove palm oil from its own label food, investing millions of pounds to make the change. They are the first UK supermarket to have made this move. Working with Greenpeace, a TV Christmas ad campaign was created to raise awareness on the subject. It was subsequently banned from TV for being too political, which in turn raised a huge backlash and only garnered more recognition.

It was viewed over 65 million times on social media, despite the TV ban, which additionally highlights the power of controversy in marketing. So how did Iceland benefit from investing in this? Greenpeace summarised it well:

Iceland may be small, but it’s created a huge media storm. If companies want to avoid being shunned by their customers in favour of palm oil-free alternatives, and the industry wants to shield itself from more blanket bans, it’s time to reform.

Although it got banned, Iceland’s Christmas advert attracted huge attention, with over 92,000 people signing an online petition to have the TV ban overturned

Although it got banned, Iceland’s Christmas advert attracted huge attention, with over 92,000 people signing an online petition to have the TV ban overturned

In 2018, Fairy made 320,00 Fairy Ocean Plastic bottles made from 100% recycled plastic and ocean plastic in partnership with TerraCycle. The project aimed to drive awareness of the issue of ocean plastic pollution and inspire consumers to get involved in beach clean-ups and household waste recycling.

Tom Szaky, the CEO of TerraCycle stated:

We are proud to be working with an iconic brand like Fairy to launch a fully recyclable bottle made from 100% recycled plastic and ocean plastic. The issue of ocean pollution is a pertinent one, we hope other brands will be inspired to think creatively about waste and make the circular economy a reality.


However, it’s not just major brands that are able to commit to cause marketing values. The social enterprise, Hey Girls, which launched in 2017 to tackle the societal problems caused by the ‘Tampon Tax’ and lack of awareness around period poverty.

Using the pay-it-forward model, Hey Girls created its own organic, environmentally sound sanitary products that, when a box was purchased, guaranteed another was donated to a girl in need. The initiative caused waves in the media and soon the independent brand was picked up by major supermarkets like Waitrose and Asda.


But, you’ve gotta be careful…

When it comes to brands leveraging the cause marketing technique it is essential that they are transparent. They must demonstrate a genuine commitment to the cause they are supporting, and this commitment needs to be observed along the whole production line.

Nowadays, consumers have more information at their fingertips than ever before, and they are not afraid to pull the plug on dishonest brands. “You can’t fool all the people, not even most of the time. And people once unfooled, talk about the experience.” (Seth Godin)

As the title of this blog says, facts alone ain’t enough. You’ve gt to make a genuine connection with your consumer, appeal to their values or shape them, and build trust in your brand.