Warning: Smoking can kill you

The most common examples of trying to change society’s behaviour relate to dealing with “bad” things. These include social stigma such as not wearing seat belts and things that are bad for your health such as smoking.

With cigarettes, the shock tactics have included adverts and pictures on packets depicting some of the terrible health effects of smoking.

It’s difficult to pin down the exact impact of these tactics because things such as education and banning sponsorship advertising have played a part too, but smoking has continued to decline in the UK and is now at an all-time low. And there is no question that the blunt, scary and at times graphic warnings on cigarette packets have had an important role to play. 

Lessons for the pensions industry:

  • Be pervasive;

    One of the reasons that the campaign against cigarettes has had such an impact is its relentlessness. Messages against smoking are everywhere – they are impossible to escape. One-off or very occasional pensions campaigns are not enough. The messages we send need to be regular and constant to have the desired impact.

book  READ: How to Change Workplace Savings Behaviour 
Part Three




If we’re going to change people’s workplace savings behaviour, they need to believe that they can achieve the results we’re promoting.

So while, for example ads featuring yachts and Lamborghinis are fine, most of us know that this will never be part of our reality so we’re unlikely to change our behaviour as a result. 

Sport England understood this perfectly when they attempted to encourage more women to exercise.

Instead of creating a campaign featuring professional athletes or models, they devised a campaign called #ThisGirlCan, showing real women exercising and sweating, running slowly with imperfect bodies.

workplace-savings  WATCH: #ThisGirlCan by Sport England

The focus on “normal” people paid off. About 2.8 million women took action during the first year of the campaign because they could relate to the women on screen and believed that they, too, could start exercising. The number of women playing sports is now increasing faster than men.

But there was another factor in the campaign’s success as well.

Sport England understood that one of the biggest reasons why women don’t exercise is that they are worried that they would be judged by others – for their appearance, for choosing to spend time on themselves instead of their families, or because they’re not “good enough”.

The campaign decided to tackle those fears head-on, and show that: 

"Women come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of ability. It doesn’t matter if you’re a bit rubbish or an expert. The point is you’re a woman and you’re doing something."

By showing that many women share the same fears – and choose to exercise regardless – they neutralised them.

Lessons for the pensions industry:

Important points to consider

The campaigns mentioned here – smoking and sport – might seem a world away from pensions, but there are lessons that can be carried over.

All these examples have involved changing social norms – not simply changing how we think but also changing how we behave.

It’s about getting inside people’s heads, understanding why they do what they do and thinking about what might make them act differently.

Until we make society want something, it’s a struggle to achieve change. But, as these examples show, it can be done, and there’s no reason why this lesson can’t be applied to the world of retirement saving.


Posted by John Buttress

Topics: Workplace Savings


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