No If’s, ands or Butts – The American Approach to Social Marketing

Thornely & Hill is delighted to welcome Dr M. Elizabeth Bennett as a guest social marketing blogger (please call her Betsy!).  She is a psychologist who addresses industry challenges through the strategic application of behavioral theory and research. For over a decade, she has been a corporate problem-solver analysing and driving marketing initiatives for a wide variety of clients including corporations, advertising agencies, and market research firms. Betsy helps her clients step back from the challenges they face, step into the mindset of the customer, and address strategic challenges in new and creative ways. In short, Betsy helps her clients think like psychologists. Her core belief? That dynamic business needs can best be met by understanding the principles of human behavior.

Betsy holds a PhD in clinical psychology from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She has held academic positions at leading research universities including a current faculty appointment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has over twenty peer-reviewed publications and extensive experience teaching health professionals. Years of clinical experience with adult and pediatric patients suffering from a wide range of illnesses gives her an intimate perspective on the issues facing patients as well as those confronting providers.

At Thornely & Hill we’re always keen to see different perspectives on solving a problem.  Social marketing has been a major sector in America for decades – it’s home to some of the greatest thinkers on the subject (Kotler, Lee, Lefebvre et al) so it’s always good to keep abreast of what’s happening over the pond!

As a psychologist and mother of two teenagers, I have probably put too much thought into the behaviors that go into achieving and maintaining a state of tidiness. That might seem like a sorry statement to some, but at least this unintended use of my education illustrates the all-around usefulness of psychology as a science. Behavioral analysis can be applied just about anywhere – much to my teens’ chagrin!

At any rate, when I was asked to work with my daughter’s 8th grade class on a campaign to reduce cigarette butt litter, it seemed right up my alley (being in the general realm of tidiness). Besides, I suspected the topic would be amenable to behavioral analysis, so I was eager to jump right in. What follows is pretty much my behavioral/psychological take on the problem. I can’t claim to have studied butt litter specifically, but upon reading accounts of anti-butt litter campaigns at home and elsewhere, I felt the area could use a behavioral touch, so to speak.

The first thing that strikes me about butt litter is that each butt is small. Way smaller than a crisp packet, or a chocolate-bar wrapper , for instance. So my ongoing hypothesis is that the smallness of the butt itself may contribute to an attitude that butt litter is somehow not litter…that it doesn’t “count” as litter. Another thing that is somewhat unique about butt litter is that it’s on fire. How often do we deal with litter that’s on fire? Could that contribute to a preference for “stomping it out”? Hard to say, but research by Keep Britain Tidy suggests that smokers report inhibiting this “stomping-littering impulse” when others are watching, so even if the behavior is somewhat “instinctual”, it appears to be responsive to social pressures. (

I’m also going to hypothesize that it will be hard to get smokers to admit to littering butts. (A small, informal survey conducted by my daughter’s class supports this contention.) I am guessing that smokers have heard quite a lot about the dirtiness of their habit, and any suggestion that they’re littering on top of polluting the air probably evokes a natural defensiveness. It can’t help matters that smokers are addicted to nicotine, so stopping smoking altogether is not quick or easy. It seems to me that there’s a lot of guilt and defensiveness in this sphere which will make surveys and self-report measures a challenge.

Last but not least, smoking itself occupies one hand (once you’ve lit up). So using an ashtray shouldn’t be a problem, as long as the ashtray is fixed in place. (Although as mentioned earlier, we need to investigate if there is an inherent preference for using the foot for this task.) But portable ashtrays – depending on where you’re using one – can pose another problem. The smoker needs to use one hand to open the portable ashtray, then use that same hand to hold it in place while using the other hand to put out the butt. I tried to role play this maneuver with a portable ashtray I had been given by my daughter’s class, and it was quite a challenge. Maybe I’m just uncoordinated, but I’m pretty sure I would have dropped something by the time I extracted the portable ashtray from my purse, opened it, secured it, and then used it.  It also takes a whole lot longer to use a portable ashtray that it does to litter, so perceived time pressures could also play a role. I’d love to know if studies have demonstrated how to overcome these barriers to portable ashtray use. I know that Tesco carries the Ashcan ( as a partner in Keep Britain Tidy’s efforts to reduce cigarette butt litter. It would be great to know if that partnership has resulted in increased use of portable ashtrays.

I don’t doubt that there are many social marketers engaged in solid research regarding what messages are effective in reducing butt litter, what combination of fines and incentives effectively reduce litter, and what environmental changes (such as increased ashtrays) are best. Keep Britain Tidy certainly got off to a great start in their 2006 studies. I only hope that as their work moves forward, an analysis of the problem doesn’t stop with attitude change and environmental contingencies, but also includes all aspects of the behavior, from attitudes to the actual “user experience” of lighting up and butt disposal. Maybe if we really understand the core attitudes and behaviors central to littering cigarette butts, we can develop effective ways to reduce the behavior. In the meantime, kudos to these 8th graders  -  our next generation of social marketers.  Whether or not they keep their bedrooms tidy, they are cleaning up a far bigger mess – a mess they didn’t create. So if cleanliness is a virtue, these kids are not only virtuous, they’re inspiring.

The videos embedded are Public Service Announcements that will be aired on TV in the greater Raleigh area as part of the “No Ifs, ands, or Butts” campaign. Similar concepts have been posted on Raleigh city buses.

Thornely & Hill would like to thank Dr Betsy Bennett and hope the campaign is a success!

Feel free to ‘butt in’ with your own thoughts on the subject – we love a good conversation.

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Lisa Mighton

09 February 2012, 05:07 PM

I read some recent research though that in one study anyway, while women may feel some of the guilt, social pressure etc. that you refer to, the men did not. In fact, they felt that it they felt proud of it, and that it was connected to their masculinity. I wonder how that would change anti-butt-littering campaigns.


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Lisa Mighton

09 February 2012, 05:08 PM

Hm that had quite a few typos, wish there was an ‘edit’ function on comments!


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    09 February 2012, 05:29 PM

    Hey Lisa – you have to be a registered user to edit posts!
    Have you got a link to the research you were reading?


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