Changing behaviour takes a long time

Posted on: May 26, 2007

At the 2005 CIPR Excellence Awards in London, the overall winner was a campaign called “Meal Deal” aimed to change the lunchtime eating habits of school children in the capital’s borough of Greenwich. “Meal Deal”, which gained national attention when it was adopted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, was creatively planned, gained media support and brought a part-solution to childhood obesity to the notice of Government. Oliver not only took a million-strong petition to No.10 Downing Street but he also created recipes and ran cooking lessons for school cooks.

So far, so good – This was an example of celebrity endorsement being actively applied to publicity in support of a good cause. But two years on, the target audience of school children is proving difficult to change to the proferred vegetables, fresh fruit and fish. Many still yearn for greasy, salted burgers with chips and baked beans. In the latest report from the School Meals Trust, there had been a fall in the take-up of meals in some educational institutes, although there had been a generally neutral response. Of those that reported a decrease, two-thirds put it down to a dislike of healthier options in the new menus.

Looking back to the award winning campaign of 2005, it was successful in agenda setting in the media and provided a platform for legislative change, for which it was deservedly acclaimed. But it’s worth recalling from the benchmarking Excellence Study of public relations that the likelihood of public relations activity achieving behavioural change was 0.04% (Dozier & Ehling 1992).

The “Meal Deal” campaign from Greenwich provided the “push” but now greater resources are needed to “pull” through the behavioural changes amongst a resistant audience. To paraphrase, a “single vegetable stir-fry does not a happy student make.”


3 Responses to "Changing behaviour takes a long time"

What is also worth considering here is the target audiences. This issue creates interesting questions as to whom the opinion formers really are.

Certainly there is peer pressure, so the coolest kid in the school eating salad and drinking mineral water isn’t going to do any harm, but what about away from school?

A mate of mine has been a key player in the Schools Meals Trust and in the whole food/school sector long before it was a twinkle in Jamie’s career. In his experience, the biggest challenge is the opinion formers at home. Busy, lazy or chronically junk-fooded parents or siblings tend to dictate eating habits for 2/3rds of mealtimes (unless kids have breakfast at school).

Therefore, not only do the kids have role models that are communicating contrary messages to the school, but they are also being asked to take on the role of opinion formers themselves to change the family habits. A tough task at the best of times and an interesting communication challenge.

This is what PR is all about. I just wonder how the campaign was aimed. The Royal Marsden hospital has Captain Chemo, a communications exampler and targeted to the games playing generation.

As a game or web widget there would be some leverage and can be available on Xbox, Wii and PS2.

Such campaigns can go right into the household to the very point where meals are prepared and consumed.

To change legislations Newspapers and news TV may be an, all be it expensive, media.

But Newspapers and news TV for these ‘hard to reach’ publics? I don’t think so!

As a result, why the award – because they got loads of coverage in an inappropriate media?

Try something better than butter for this cat and then come back for the award.

We do need some more imaginative judges for such awards.

[…] 27, 2007 In an interesting post by Tom Watson on the Dummyspit blog,  he writes about the difficulty of changing behaviour through […]

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