Tuesday’s Edie Sustainability Communications Conference provided much food for thought on how brands can use their influence to create positive change. What piqued me most though was a session not by a big brand, but by a communications agency called Creative Concern. It was about values, and how we can train them.
First off, they talked about the difference between intrinsic values and extrinsic values. Intrinsic values are things of value ‘in themselves’ like community, identity, togetherness, creativity, forgiveness, love, and so on. Research has found that these values are related to each other – if you think one is important, you’re more like to think others are too. Someone who is more motivated by intrinsic values is also more likely to be concerned about protecting the environment and the future of the planet.
In contrast, extrinsic values are more concerned with status, wealth, power, security, sex appeal, etc. These values are also often found together.
Makes sense so far? Good. The next bit is that values are like muscles. Repeatedly engaging intrinsic values will strengthen them, and lessen the space in the brain for extrinsic values – and vice versa.
According to Creative Concern, this means that advertising sustainable products that appeal to extrinsic values won’t create sustainable behaviour change in the long term, because it’ll decrease the space we have in our brains for planet-friendly values to grow.
Conversely, businesses that root their communications in intrinsic values are more likely to stimulate concern for the environment, and create lasting sustainable behaviour change among their customers.
So what does this mean for businesses and charities that use gamification to promote sustainable behaviour – or that sell ‘aspirational’ sustainable products that tap into our desire for status or approval from others?
Something for many of us to consider as we seek to inspire others to take more care of our planet.
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Head of Communications and Policy