Warwick for Ecosia
In contemporary culture there are an abundance of pressing concerns ranging from sexual harassment to racial profiling, and everything in between (matters that should have, and should be, addressed more directly). Whilst these issues are of undeniable significance, the issue of climate change should not be pushed under the rug. It is a pivotal issue in current times, and is a major threat to everyone sharing this planet. Despite its prevalence, and potentially disastrous consequences it remains an frequently understated issue, with cognitive biases often leading to climate change being ignored, or downgraded in its urgency. In fact, only 32% of American voters rated global warming as a ‘very important’ factor in their candidate’s stance, and 39% for protecting the environment (Leiserowitz et al, 2014). Despite less than half of American voters prioritizing the prevention of climate change, the threat is growing exponentially.
The need to restore more than two billion hectares of lan (Wri.org, 2018) highlights the issues that climate change, particularly deforestation, can cause. Most obviously, deforestation removes a major source of absorption of greenhouse gases (Nationalgeographic.com, 2018). Other effects are wide ranging: loss of habitat for both humans and non-human animals; soil erosion; change in vapor flows. Deforestation for commercial reasons creates a threat to the 1.6 billion people who rely on forest habitats for their jobs and homes (Fao.org, 2018).
This is where Ecosia can be introduced. Ecosia is a free browser extension which takes (from personal timed experience) less than 15 seconds to install. This organisation donates 80% of its profits to non-profit conservation organisations. Along with many commendable qualities such as financial transparency, the most attributed work of the organisation is focused on trees. Tree planting programmes are the predominant focus of Ecosia; a tree is planted every 30 seconds through programmes funded by their ad-revenue. Environmental and social benefits are intrinsically linked to the tree-planting programmes.Therefore, the use of this search engine has all-pervasive effects.
With the internet being so easily accessible to Warwick students, and our collective scope for reaching a wide number of Warwick students, we decided Ecosia would our project focus. In 2017, 46.8% of the global population accessed the internet, with 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide on Google (Smart Insights, 2018). On average, 45 searches on Ecosia equates to the planting of a tree. Theoretically, if these searches were all made on Ecosia, this would have meant the planting of around 26, 666, 666, 700 trees! The difficulty in competing against such a strong market leader as Google is not ideal, but we hope our campaign will help change enough people’s behaviour to make a considerable difference. If we were able to persuade 100 people to change their default browser to Ecosia, say they make 10 searches a day, that would equate to the planting of roughly 8111 trees.
What We Did
We also set up a stall outside the library where we handed out tote bags with the Ecosia logo on. While handing out these bags we gave people a flyer explaining in detail what Ecosia is and why they should use it.
Our campaign made use of the foot-in-the-door technique, which works by asking a small request initially, with the aim of securing a larger favour later (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). Respondents are unwittingly changing their behavioural direction by agreeing to smaller requests, characterised by the term “successive approximations”, or “shaping. (Skinner, 1953). Freedman and Fraser (1966) explain the phenomena by linking it to self-perception and interpreting their actions (Bem, 1972). The bond created in the first small request gives way to a likelihood to agree to a larger request to keep their behaviour consister. As a result of shifting attitudes (forming the conclusion they like the requester) they justify why they undertook the first request and so agree to the second request for the same reason.
Freedman and Fraser (1966) demonstrated foot-in-the-door in their study, where they induced compliance to a larger request by preceding it with a smaller one. Participants were approached initially and asked if they would display a small sign promoting safe driving- nearly everyone agreed to it. Later, they were asked to allow a large billboard to be installed in their front garden, reading ‘Drive Carefully’. 76% of participants agreed to have this sign in front of their house, while 83% of people who hadn’t been asked the small request refused. This illustrates how by getting your foot in the door, you can persuade people to agree to a much larger request. An example of this technique within the environmental field, similar to our project, is Meineri and Guéguen’s (2008) naturalistic application, promoting the Econ’Home project. Participants were either given a questionnaire over the phone and then a flyer asking them to take part in the campaign, or just the flyer. Those in the experimental condition were 31% more likely to agree to take part in the campaign.
We implemented foot-in-the-door through our Facebook page (‘Warwick for Ecosia’). We initially asked people to just ‘like’ the page in support of Ecosia. This action shows commitment from the user who is ‘liking’ the Facebook page, which results in compliance to a larger request – asking people to change their default search engine to Ecosia. This is because people like to be consistent in their views and beliefs (Cialdini, 2007). When we ask people to change their default search engine to Ecosia, they will remember that they previously supported this cause, and so will be more likely to agree to the request to appear consistent in their self-image. Additionally, this technique was implemented through our tote bags, as we first asked people if they would take a bag, and then went on to to ask them to change their default search engine.
Social proof in advertising is the idea that people refer to social norms when making decisions about their own behaviour in order to be liked and accepted (Cialdini, 2007). Social proof has routes in the social learning theory which is where an observer imitates a model’s behaviour. We were able to implement this process within our Ecosia campaign. By advertising through the social media platform Facebook individuals were able to see their friends liking and reviewing the page. There were a total of 91 likes and 9 5-star reviews; peers demonstrating a positive attribution towards the company is likely to be influential to others within the ‘in-group’.
Furthermore, we distributed tote bags on campus. Seeing other students engaging with, and promoting Ecosia, suggests Ecosia to be a socially acceptable company. It is also likely for people to attend more to something that is part of a social norm- this taps into conformity where one seeks to be like the ingroup they are a part of.
Another persuasive technique we used in our campaign is mere exposure. This is the concept that by repeatedly exposing individuals to something, their attitudes towards it will be enhanced (Zajonc, 1968). Through our posters, flyers, tote bags, and Facebook page, we have repeatedly exposed the Ecosia logo and name to individuals in the hope that their attitudes towards it will be enhanced. This should eventually lead to more people changing their default search engine to Ecosia.
One study providing evidence of the success of the mere exposure effect was conducted by Pliner (1982). Subjects were exposed to different fruit juices either 20, 10, 5 or 0 times. It was found that the juices that had been tasted the most frequently were rated as the most liked.
Fang, Singh, and Ahluwalia (2007) suggest that the mere exposure effect is related to fluency. Repeatedly exposing individuals to something increases its fluency, and research has shown that we prefer things which are fluent (Reber, Winkielman, & Schwarz, 1998). Therefore, we hope that our repeated exposure of Ecosia will cause it to become more fluent and so will result in enhanced attitudes towards it. This should lead to more people using Ecosia and setting it as their default search engine.
It has been found that the simple concept of just asking for help is surprisingly successful (Bohns & Flynn, 2010). Think back to the times where someone has come up to you for some change, or to fill out a survey. You have no obligations to them, yet find yourself wanting to fulfill their request and feel bad if you do not. This has been found consistently despite people underestimating how much others would be willing to help by up to 50% (Flynn & Lake, 2008) .
The classic study referred to when talking about this concept is Clarke and Hatfield’s (1989) campus study. They found 56% of women were willing to go to dinner with a stranger, and 75% of men were willing to go to bed with a stranger! In our campaign we utilised the just ask policy throughout. We asked people to like our page; we asked the Ecosia Country Manager for resources and to do a talk at the uni (both requests being fulfilled); and, most importantly, we asked people to use Ecosia. We asked people in our posters, our flyers, on our social media page, and in person.
Cialdini (1984) identified commitment as one of his 6 major principles of persuasion. This essentially claims once someone has made a public commitment to a cause, they are more likely to follow through on the commitment, as a function of wanting to be consistent. People adjust their attitudes so as to justify their behaviour and reduce cognitive dissonance, such as the liking of a Facebook page would lead to them believing in the cause the page is promoting (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959). Public commitment as identified by the term itself, is letting the world know what you believe in. One of the most well known examples of the commitment principle is in Knox and Inkster’s (1968) observations of people at racetracks. People were more confident in a horse after they had placed a bet on it, despite odds being the same. They were acting more consistently with their behaviour by believing the horse is more likely to win.
This principle links to others we used, such as just ask and foot in the door- it is fairly easy to get people to take a tote bag or like a page, so attaining a small piece of commitment from people will greatly aid people to actually switching their browser to Ecosia.
The social media is a good example of public commitment- it is on their profile and people can see the likes on the Ecosia page.
We got people committed by liking the page or stopping to look at the posters or tote bags at our stall, and then used this commitment to get them to change their browser.
People often cannot devote their full attention to each message that they are exposed to, which is where the peripheral route comes in. The peripheral route is the idea that people base the strength of an argument on cues other than the content i.e. attractiveness/similarity of the messenger, and production quality (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986).
One heuristic is similarity of messenger, students are more likely to be influenced due to a sense of belonging and similarity to a student run campaign i.e. if we stand for it, and we are part of the in-group, then it may seem sensible for them to follow this pattern of behaviour. Furthermore, we distributed tote bags provided for us by Ecosia themselves, credibility can also be used as a heuristic in the peripheral route as it gives gravitas to an argument, and with authority being another heuristic, Ecosia as a source of messenger is likely to increase the influence of the campaign to the audience even further.
Another aspect of the peripheral route is the production quality of the campaign, having a Facebook page, posters, flyers, and tote bags, represents a campaign that is pro-active, efficient, and engaging, traits audience members use the peripheral route will go on to assign to Ecosia itself.
The campaign had a theme of nature throughout with the posters, flyers, and Facebook cover photo all containing images of trees, animals, and greenery. This depiction of nature thriving alongside the search engine Ecosia connects the two, potentially leading people to attribute Ecosia with a thriving natural environment. This is particularly exemplified with the poster, where tree branches are coming out of the ‘o’ in Ecosia, highlighting the fact that Ecosia is the source of a blossoming and growing process for the environment.
Attitude changes through the central route tend to last longer and are more predictive of behaviour then the peripheral route (McNeil & Brien, 1989), so it was important for us to target this route as well. The central route is used when the recipient has enough motivation and the ability to process the content of the message (Petty and Cacioppo, 1986), with environmental concerns becoming increasingly prevalent (Reynolds, Bostrom, Read & Morgan, 2010) , it is likely many recipients will be using this route. The central route relies on facts and so we included statistics in the flyers and posters such as “80% of profits from search ad-revenue supports tree planting programs” and “22,000,000+ trees already planted”.
Attempting to change people’s behaviour regarding climate change is a challenge. Human’s cognitive biases may not identify the issue as salient due to lack of obvious exposure to climate change, other phenomena such as a fire for example, may be deemed more salient due to the obvious danger it can pose. By eliciting so much public engagement with the issue via the platform Ecosia, our project demonstrates that even issues that may be initially less salient, can be influenced using persuasive techniques, by engaging the peripheral and central routes, using social influence, foot in the door techniques and so on. The importance of raising awareness, and encouraging positive engagement in the prevention of climate change is undeniable. It is a concrete, indisputable issue that our project has helped to raise awareness of. Although our project found successful results, the tackling of climate change is an ongoing process. For this reason, we intend to give this project some future investment- the Country Manager from Ecosia has agreed to give a talk at the Uni, an exciting prospect we hope we will be able to achieve.
Sarah Snow, Katy Males, and Hannah Long
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