Education vs. Social Marketing

Education versus social marketing graphic


A team from Mecklenburg County’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency (LUESA) put Doug McKenzie‐Mohr’s behavior modification theory to the test by developing a “lights out” campaign for County employees. McKenzie‐Mohr’s “Community Based Social Marketing” (CSBM) is considered an attractive alternative to information‐based campaigns.

Rather than simply giving employees information about a desired behavior and expecting them to change their habits, LUESA’s team redefined the social norm at the Hal Marshall Center (HMC). The goal of the project was to determine if CBSM is an effective behavior change strategy. Pilot project steps included:

  • Completing a literature review to identify benefits and barriers to
    turning off lights;
  •  Surveying HMC employees concerning their attitudes about lighting;
  • Conducting two building‐wide audits to capture a pre‐project baseline;
  • Organizing two focus groups to pre‐test the project design;

After 8 months of research and planning, the team rolled out a 6 week campaign consisting of: 1) a “Crab You’re It” game where employees had some fun by catching co‐workers who left their lights on and 2) an adopt‐alight program which targeted lights in common areas that no one felt a responsibility for turning off. After the campaign, follow‐up audits were performed to determine if the campaign was effective at changing behavior.


Before the campaign, only 64% of HMC lights were being turned off building‐wide while 90% of lights were being turned off at the end of the campaign. A follow‐up audit, conducted a month after the campaign ended, showed that the percentage of lights being turned off had decreased to 80%, which is still 25% better than before the campaign. The following “lessons learned” will be useful in future CBSM projects:

  • Make campaigns as personal or grass‐roots as possible: The “Crab, You’re it!” game changed the source of the “turn‐off your light” message from a third‐party to co‐workers.
  • Focus group feedback is essential: The focus group provided valuable information about campaign design that could not have been obtained through survey techniques. The feedback dramatically changed how the campaign was introduced.
  • Management support promotes participation: The campaign received greater recognition and/or acceptance because Director level support was expressed explicitly at the beginning of the
  • Target audience survey refined the literature review: The survey results identified the specific benefits and barriers influencing HMC employee behavior.
  • Process is effective, but lengthy: Future projects should weigh the potential benefits of a CBSM campaign with the investment of staff time and resources.