A behavioural comms plan for 12 UK water companies using TV, Print, Digital


We need a full comms channel strategy for half of the UK’s water companies.


Waterwise is a not-for-profit funded by water companies focusing on water efficiency. Chaired by DEFRA, a steering group populated by the Consumer Council for Water, The Environment Agency, Sutton and East Surrey Water, Affinity Water (formerly Veolia Water), Thames Water, South East Water, WWF (World Wildlife Fund), Waterwise, Energy Saving Trust, and Kent County Council, asked Oliver to write a comms plan for 2013-2014 (and on to deregulation in 2015) that would reduce the amount of water consumed by domestic customers.

Primary research

None commissioned as part of this brief.

Secondary research

The person

This plan recommended the primary target as the ‘manager’ of high-use households: women, with family and children over the age of three, in metered or unmetered areas. They generally manage behaviour in the home, and can affect water usage for the whole family – the bill payer (perhaps the father) will be motivated by money messages but there aren’t any significant money messages around water use. Indeed, discussions of customer efficiency and demand management used to be seen very much as an extension of economic pricing. Not so any more.

Additionally, this plan recommended a substitute target: Older people, or empty nesters, either in single- or dual-occupancy households (the high-use individual water users, if not high-use households). They are habitual users, and as a consequence hard to influence behaviourally (more on habit here).

The situation

In terms of execution the plan recommended a variety of approaches, such as targeting the manager of high-use households (mums with kids over the age of three) with ‘Fun stickers’ for the home to go on appliances informing of how much water they use and how to minimise water used, based on a very successful 2005 study by Kurz, Donaghue and Walker. And for the substitute target – Older people, or empty nesters – a “This washing machine might be FREE” approach with Kingfisher/supermarket/retailers. Using the ‘power of free’ is very pervasive, and based on the psychology of the ‘lottery’ approach used in China to increase tax-take, Taiwan to improve dog fouling, and Sweden to curtail speeding.

More broadly, the plan recommends communication efforts that are overt, proactive, pre-emptive, incautious, and collaborative, with a discussion of how messages for resource-use differ from those of consumer goods. There’s a discussion of the psychology of message construction (and diagram, see images). And an extensive plan for collaboration in both message an execution, how that works across lots of media, including but not limited to, TV, direct mail (exisiting bills, extra messages), online (paid-for messages, sites/SEO, social).


There is no communication aspect to this challenge.

Download full report here: Water for All Communications Plan_Objective 3_FINAL_March 2013


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