Marketing Strategy

It’s probably Yvette Fielding’s fault*

I don’t make a habit of doing things because the TV told me to. However, there is one exception which has come back to haunt me as a marketer, as I’ve been doing it for nearly 25 years thanks to Blue Peter.

As you’d expect, it’s nothing earth shattering. After all, you can’t tell a five/six year old to split the atom, clean the outside of the upstairs windows using a crane lift or take the car to the mechanic (well, you could, but you’d not get all that far).

It might not be earth shattering, but it’s important.

At least, I thought it was then and still think that it is now.

And it’s this: to cut the little plastic things that hold drinks cans together into small pieces before you put them in the bin.

See, told you it wasn’t earth shattering. It is important though.

And it’s stayed with me for a quarter of a century, modifying my behaviour.

In case you’re wondering, you need to cut the can holders up because otherwise, when they reach the dump, birds and other beasts get them caught around their necks and throttle themselves.
(You can either pull them apart or get an adult to help you with the scissors)

I even remember the story about how poor seagulls die a slow death as the plastic tightens around their necks. It wasn’t overdone, hyped to the hilt. It was just factual and it made a lasting impression.

But that’s not surprising.

At the time of viewing, I was living on the UK’s South Coast, surrounded by seagulls. I was familiar with them. I didn’t want them to die (although equally I didn’t want one as a pet).

I could also relate to the little plastic things because they seemed to be everywhere at the time.

And what I was being asked to do was simple. Get a pair of scissors and cut the plastic rings apart. Snip, snip, snip and it’s done (it’s sort of fun too).

So why’s this important today?

I’m no seagull loving hippy. In fact, I wish they’d procreate off in an opposing direction (especially at 7am – it’s just not decent to have that going on atop the chimney. Plus it drives the cat mental).

However, the story has resonance for me as a marketer:

  • Blue Peter was talking about things that I personally could understand and relate to
  • The story was told in a way that I could grasp, in a manner which held my attention
  • The action required to avoid an unpleasant outcome was so simple that even a five/six year old could do it – meaning that the behavioural change required didn’t have to pass through any cognitive barriers to become ingrained
  • To not complete the action now is actually more difficult than to complete it (even if I can’t find the scissors and have to rip the thing apart) because I’m habitually conditioned to do it and to break that conditioning requires effort.
  • In other words:

    I could relate
    I could understand
    I could act.

    That’s powerful stuff right there.

    And we, as behavioural change specialists – because that’s what marketing is at the core – need to create the conditions for our consumers to go through those three stages:

  • They need to relate to what you’re showing them (or to where it fits in their lives)
  • They need to understand what you’re asking them to do (or why it will benefit them)
  • They need to be able to act on what you’re asking of them.
  • Get it right, and 25 years later the consumer will still be saving seagulls (or buying your product).

    Get it wrong, and you might as well be throttling seagulls by hand.

    *Disclaimer: I can’t remember exactly which Blue Peter presenter it was. It could have been Yvette Fielding. Or Caron Keating. Or Mark Curry. It’s certainly one of the three so my apologies to Yvette if I’ve taken her name in vain!


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