Bay Journal

Social marketing will help us get others to buy into Bay cleanup

  • By Lou Etgen on July 04, 2013
Students from Roland Park Middle School dig a hole for a tree during one of three riparian buffer plantings in Baltimore City. In all, more than 600 students from three city schools planted more than 450 trees on nearly 5 acres of land.

Have you ever wanted to "buy the world a Coke" or do you remember the ingredients of a Big Mac sandwich, "two all-beef patties, special sauce…" or more recently, wanted to "jump on that lightning bolt" when working out? If so, then you have succumbed to marketing at the grandest scale. Corporations, and more recently, political campaigns are excelling at this highly focused, behavior-changing marketing technique to gain supporters for their cause and new consumers of their products.

We don't usually think of the environment as a subject for this high-intensity approach. But the Chesapeake Bay environmental community is starting to recognize the value of broad-scale, locally focused marketing and has begun to embrace the technique. While we will never compete with the budgets of political campaigns and corporate product marketing, we can compete for people's attitudes and behaviors by being more strategic and focusing our resources through social marketing.

You may remember the slogans popular in the Virginia and DC areas a decade ago when we were encouraged to "save the crabs, then eat them." Some of those who are a generation older will remember "Iron Eyes" Cody, who portrayed the tearful American Indian trying to stop pollution in the 1970s. Those from Baltimore will recall being asked by then-Mayor Schaeffer to "hook one in."

All of these are examples of social marketing: the systematic application of marketing, along with other concepts and techniques, to achieve specific behavioral goals toward a social good.

Healthy living advocates and more precisely, anti-tobacco campaigns were the early users of social marketing techniques with arguably, fantastic success. Either way, marketing aims to motivate or change behavior.

There are several key differences between social marketing and the marketing that made Budweiser beer so prominent. Both types work to answer the "Four Ps": product, price, placement and promotion to achieve their goals. Social marketing redefines these and adds several more.

The product in social marketing can be a physical item but it can also be a service, practice or action. Price is not always defined as the actual cost of an item but as the perceived value of the time and effort it takes to act, or the perceived negative impact of disapproval from others if an action does not take place. Place is more about how a message is received than how a product is delivered to a consumer. Promotion establishes how a product is presented.

Additional Ps in social marketing are: policy — engaging in the political process to sustain an individual behavior change; purse strings — the source of funding because it not based on the sale of a product; and partnerships — a way to address an issue from many different angles.

This is where the Alliance and its partners come in. Reaching out to organizations with similar goals and identifying ways to work together is the key tenet in our view of restoring and preserving the Chesapeake and its rivers. We are undertaking several social marketing efforts across the region in our work to change behaviors for the health of the Bay and its rivers.

Specifically, in Baltimore, the Alliance is working with the TreeBaltimore working group, consisting of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Department, Parks & People Foundation and Blue Water Baltimore along with several other organizational and funding partners to institute a social marketing program that will help the city increase tree canopy to meet its goal of 40 percent coverage by 2037.

With support from the U.S. Forest Service's Urban and Community Forestry Program, we have hired a private marketing firm to build a campaign that can be implemented with local, on-the-ground partners to increase city residents' interest in planting trees. Using this approach, we hope to help Baltimore meet its tree canopy goals and establish a supportive citizenry that will maintain those trees in the future.

The Alliance sees social marketing as a promising tool for improving the effectiveness of our environmental restoration and stewardship efforts in the future and has been working to implement more social marketing strategies in the region.

In addition to gaining more experience to gauge the value of these techniques, we are happy to be working with local experts, like those at Virginia Tech, who are at the forefront of social marketing research.

How do we get people's attention and commitment to take action to plant a tree or clean up a stream in their neighborhood? Harnessing the power of social marketing might be an important tool.

Clearly the greatest power to change the course we are on is to engage each of the 17 million people in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Collectively, millions of individual decisions to make a difference may well be the greatest nutrient reduction strategy yet.

Lou Etgen is the Maryland State Director for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

2013 Chesapeake Forest Champion contest seeks nominations

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, with support from the U.S. Forest Service, is soliciting nominations for their annual Chesapeake Forest Champions contest.

The contest recognizes the outstanding efforts of groups and individuals from around the watershed who have conserved, restored and celebrated Chesapeake forests in 2013. It is open to landowners, organizations, forestry and natural resource professionals, schools, youth groups, businesses and public agencies. Basically, if you know any group or individual who is doing outstanding work for forests, either voluntarily or professionally, nominate them.

Forests provide clean water and air, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and a host of other benefits to people. In rural and urban areas, trees are a great ally in reducing the pollution that flows off the land into local waterways and, ultimately, the Bay. With 100 acres of the region's forest lost to development each day, the need for local champions of trees and forests has never been greater.

Nominations must be submitted by Aug. 6. For details, or a nomination form, e-mail Chesapeake.IYOF@gmail.com. Winners will be recognized at the annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum Sept. 28–30 in Shepherdstown, WV. Registration, food and lodging expenses will be covered for award recipients.

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About Lou Etgen

Lou Etgen is program director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Read more articles by Lou Etgen

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