Learning nuggets: social marketing

January 2013

We’ve compiled some pointers on how to use social marketing to support behavioural change that reduces the risk of childhood accidents, along with links to case studies that illustrate a range of social marketing approaches.

Social marketing involves developing an understanding of people, the situations they’re in and the way they behave, and developing targeted interventions that reflect these often complex realities. Our Advocating Child Safety resource includes an overview of the six principles of social marketing.

Changes in public health commissioning

With responsibility for public health transferring to local authorities, professionals involved in child accident prevention may be able to build on their frontline community experience to create a broader understanding of the local population and behaviours, and to integrate child safety into existing interventions across the local authority. For the under 5s, effective promotion of health and behavioural change is embedded in the NHS Commissioning Board’s service specification for children’s public health services.

For an example of how child safety can add value to other social marketing campaigns, see our case study on Safety Central in West Yorkshire. The case study explains how the Safety Central team has integrated fire safety messages into the Cook and Eat after-school programme for children and their parents.

National research and campaigns

Research has an important role to play in gaining insight into people’s lives, their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, as well as their current behaviour and what influences it. Understanding these factors will help you to design targeted interventions that your audience will find relevant and engaging. The Public Health White Paper stated: “the latest insights from behavioural science need to be harnessed to help enable and guide people’s everyday decisions, particularly at the key transition points in their lives.”

At a national level, CAPT’s annual Child Safety Week campaign provides a regular insight into parents’ understanding of childhood accidents and the barriers that can get in the way of taking action on safety. For example, consumer insight research for Child Safety Week 2012 found that:

  • 4 in 10 parents (41%) say they don’t have time to even think about preventing their children having serious accidents
  • 7 in 10 parents (69%) are exhausted by the end of the day
  • 6 in 10 parents (60%) say work pressures mean they have less time to spend with their families.1

You can build on these insights such as these to develop interventions that help parents to understand that they can take small and simple steps to protect their children from preventable accidents, and that these steps can easily fit into busy lives. The Child Safety Week 2012 ideas booklet includes lots of ideas for activities on this theme, while CAPT’s year planner highlights opportunities to ‘drip feed’ safety tips throughout the year. Other national examples of behavioural insight research can be found in the fields of parenthood, home safety and transport.2

Local insights

Research conducted at a local level will provide you with a more accurate picture of the situation in your area. In Salford, a ‘rapid review’ of child injury prevention included a consultation with local parents, to gather views on topics such as how they define risk, what kinds of accident they see as preventable, and what accident prevention methods they currently use. The team also conducted a review of local newspapers, to gain insight into the messages that parents pick up from reading stories about child safety issues. Read our case study on Salford’s rapid review process.

In Wakefield, members of a working group on accident prevention used Google Maps to investigate why so many 5–11 year olds in a particular street were having serious falls from playground equipment. They found that nearly every home had a trampoline in the garden and went on to develop a campaign to promote the safe use of garden trampolines. Read our case study on NHS Wakefield.

Low literacy rates are common in deprived areas. CAPT used evidence on what types of communication work well for people with low literacy to develop the Picture of Safety series of booklets, which feature illustrations along with short, simple text. The information in the booklets is presented from a child's point of view and takes a non-judgemental approach.

Teachable moments

Changing Behaviour, Improving Outcomes: A new social marketing strategy for public health describes ‘teachable moments’ that take place throughout people’s lives, when major lifestyle events leave them more open to change and actively looking for new information.

The arrival of a new baby is one of these times, so accident prevention practitioners should make the most of opportunities to engage expectant and new parents in child safety issues. Midwives, health visitors and children’s centres can all play a part in providing targeted information and advice. Our case study on the South West Regional Trading Standards Partnership describes how the partners developed a safety toolkit containing a DVD and booklet to be shown to parents during pregnancy.

In Cornwall, sexual health services and advice charity Brook set up a support group for young fathers, after local research showed that they rarely make use of family services. The support group enables young dads to develop their parenting skills in an environment that’s tailored to their needs and circumstances, and learning about how to keep babies and children safe around the home is an important part of the programme. Read more in our Brook Young Fathers case study.

Key points to remember

  • Social marketing is about using insight into people’s lives and circumstances to help them achieve change.

  • Take inspiration from CAPT’s year planner and Child Safety Week resources to find ways to show parents that they can take small, simple steps to keeping their children safe from serious childhood accidents.

  • Local audience research can help you to gain insight into people’s lives and develop targeted interventions that support behavioural change.

  • Make the most of ‘teachable moments’ such as the arrival of a new baby, as at these times people are more open to change and actively looking for new information.

Useful resources

Notes for this feature

  1. CAPT survey for Child Safety Week 2012. The ‘Parents Under Pressure’ survey was of 2,000 parents with children aged 0-16 years. It was conducted by OnePoll and ran from 7-8 June 2012.
  2. See for example:
Updated June 2013