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South West Water

Using behavioural change to save water

Do you remember the balmy summer of 2022? In the south-west of England, exceptionally dry weather combined with high demand from holidaymakers led to water shortages. Hose-pipe bans were put in place in some areas for the first time in 25 years.

South West Water came to us asking for help. They needed to reduce the demand for water, fast.






OOH impacts

Bus stop with Stop the Drop South West Water advert

The impact of water shortages

Reservoirs were at the levels you’d expect at the beginning of 2022. But by the end of a busy summer, resources were really stretched across the whole region.

Cornwall and North Devon were the worst-affected areas. Many households were in danger of having no water at all. Thousands more had restrictions in place and were threatened with further action if things didn’t improve.

The situation was urgent. South West Water asked us to come up with a high-impact marketing campaign to reduce the demand for water. They also wanted to reassure customers that the company was doing everything it could to manage the situation.

Instigating behavioural change

We knew that we needed to persuade, encourage and motivate people to reduce their water usage and prevent future drought. But it’s a big ask to get people to change their habits and lifestyles. Especially when it comes to water – we take it for granted that clean drinking water is always available.

This campaign required a proven approach to behavioural change.

That’s why we opted for the Japanese method of Kaizen, or ‘good change’. By getting people to make small, incremental changes, you can change habits and achieve big results.

Stop The Drop campaign

We devised a water-saving campaign called Stop The Drop. The campaign encouraged people to make small changes to reduce their water consumption. These included:

  • Turning off the tap while brushing your teeth
  • Choosing short showers rather than baths
  • Only using the washing machine with a full load.

We designed a set of creative assets communicating these messages and deployed them using our carefully crafted media plan. Designed to echo the Kaizen approach, the campaign ran across a huge range of channels and platforms, both online and offline. These included Google search and Google display ads, programmatic ads, Facebook, Instagram, local press and radio, out-of-home (OOH) advertising and Spotify.

We also wrote a letter on behalf of senior staff to customers in Cornwall, asking for their help.

This meant that South West Water customers were exposed to the messaging at different times and places, encouraging constant baby steps.

The campaign messaging and creative were straightforward and direct to ensure they resonated with a wide audience and gave easy-to-follow actions.

Targeted messaging to hit home

We worked with South West Water to deliver an incentive as further motivation for Cornish households in the most water-stressed areas. To communicate this, we created a targeted campaign and messaging for customers relying on a particularly low reservoir.

If Cornish residents could save enough water to restore reservoir levels back to 30%, they’d get £30 off their first bill of 2023.

We created water-saving tips alongside a weekly infographic for social media, charting the water levels in the reservoir.

The campaign was a success as water levels doubled from 15% to 30% in advance of the December deadline.

Evolving the messaging and marketing activity

The campaign has now evolved into a long-term behavioural change program, rather than the original, urgent appeal. Stop The Drop messaging has been replaced by Save Every Drop. Gradually we’re encouraging customers to appreciate water and use it mindfully. A key part of this work will be demonstrating to individuals the big ‘why’ behind water-saving – why it matters, and specifically why it matters to them.

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