Your browser is no longer supported. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

The limits of messaging? Loyal Nationals and political actions – case study

By David Powell on January 23, 2023

Hope for the Future event, The Delgano Trust, Kensington
Photo credit: Hope for the Future

Most people in the UK aren’t political about climate. Segments like Loyal Nationals feel particularly strongly that there is no point asking politicians to act on pretty much anything. But does that mean advocates should forget the idea of asking this segment to badger their MPs on climate change? We partnered with democratic engagement charity Hope for the Future to find out if using different language can encourage more Loyal Nationals to attend in-person events. This case study includes a conversation between Climate Outreach and Hope for the Future team members.

Our partnership is a result of our Climate Engagement Lab, which helps charity, community and campaigning organisations in the UK to inspire people to take meaningful climate action. As part of this, the Lab runs ‘innovation partnerships’, working hands-on with groups that want to break new ground in who they engage and how. Innovation partnerships are all about learning from and testing new engagement approaches and drawing lessons for the wider sector. Climate Outreach can help innovation partners in different ways, from conducting new research to advising on the fundamentals of engagement strategy.

This case study is looking at one of the seven British segments: Loyal Nationals. As Climate Outreach explored in our Britain Talks Climate toolkit, Loyal Nationals have high climate concern but are deeply distrustful of elites.

Making political events attractive to Loyal Nationals

“Engaging communities outside of what might constitute your ‘typical’ audience can be a challenge… it is so important that you include everyone in the conversation and you need to be prepared to try new things.” Alex Adams, Hope for the Future

In 2022 the Lab partnered with Hope for the Future (HFTF), a climate charity that helps people communicate the urgency of climate change to their MPs and local politicians. At root this is about encouraging people to join communities that are taking political actions locally – a journey that often starts with them attending an in-person event. HFTF were keen to test how and indeed whether it is able to make these events attractive to segments that don’t usually consider such things ‘for them’, in particular Loyal Nationals. 

In a previous project, HFTF learned how to increase initial interest on Facebook from Loyal Nationals in the principle of MP engagement, but not the practice. There’s something stopping Loyal Nationals taking that next step. This tallies with Climate Outreach’s advice for this segment within the Britain Talks Climate toolkit – in particular around understanding the deep lack of trust that audiences like Loyal Nationals have in the ability of ‘the system’ to deliver for them. While they have the third highest concern about climate change, for a Loyal National (as indeed for most people), climate isn’t a political issue – and doesn’t become one overnight. They also have a high level of distrust in ‘elites’. Actions such as ‘write to your MP’ are therefore not likely to resonate (as HFTF have already found) – but does that also apply to in-person political or community events?   

Our partnership was interested in testing further whether changing how events like these  were described could have any impact on eventual attendance by Loyal Nationals.

Applications open for innovation partnership with our Climate Engagement Lab

Find out more & apply

What we did

We worked together on Facebook advert copy aimed at Loyal Nationals (see here a guide from 2021 for how to target segments on Facebook). We tested different messages to describe four planned in-person political engagement events in the second half of 2023. Each event was in an area expected to have a higher than average proportion of Loyal National residents, and was themed around a climate-adjacent issue of particular relevance to that locality – for example, North Kensington’s event focused on air pollution, and West Bromwich’s on the energy affordability crisis. 

Our partnership combined Climate Outreach’s evidence base and HFTF’s knowledge of each place to test the impact of different frames. We wanted to see which, if any, would not just increase engagement with the advert but crucially increase registration for the event itself. 

Messages were based on the insights in our Britain Talks Climate research project and toolkit, which provides insights into how to effectively engage Loyal Nationals on climate change: 

  • Loyal Nationals are particularly proud of, but worried about, where they live and their communities Advocates should bring climate change to life as a community issue through believable stories of what it means for the local environment, and tangible examples of the local economic and other benefits that might result from acting. 
  • Everyone responds best to authentic messengers – ‘people like me’ – and Loyal Nationals are no exception.
  • As with many right-leaning audiences, ‘re’ words are likely to work well – like ‘restore’, ‘rebuild’, ‘renew’, ‘respect’ – as is cherishing ‘heritage’, appealing to  ‘preserving’, and referring back to our shared ‘industrial history’. 

Watch our short video, ‘Five things you need to know about Loyal Nationals’, for more insights: 

We developed and tested messaging, with rationale. Each event’s messaging ran an A/B test of hypotheses from Climate Outreach’s underlying research as to what might increase engagement with, and ultimately registration for, that particular event.

What we learned

For a few reasons, unfortunately we were only able to test the messaging on two of the four events. The two that were tested were: 

  • North Kensington. This tested a local economic benefits frame against a nature frame. The economic benefits frame, which talked about specific types of ‘green jobs’ that might reasonably manifest in the area, attracted much higher engagement than the nature frame. This is an interesting finding: nature messaging is consistently popular across all segments at the headline level, but may be trumped here by the tangibility of specific local economic benefit. Particularly for more distrustful audiences, Climate Outreach always recommends avoiding abstract promises of broad economic gain or job creation, and being as specific as possible about what this might look like for people’s towns and communities. 
  • West Bromwich. This tested messaging asking the local authority to do more, vs the same messaging asking the government to do more. The local government frame was much more popular. This bears out the Britain Talks Climate findings that while there is considerable distrust from Loyal Nationals to all politicians, cynicism about whether it is even worth engaging them is lower for politicians closer to home. 

North Kensington (31 August – 25 September 2022)

Ad Set Name Clicks (FB)  Impressions   Reach Total attendees from Loyal National tailored Eventbrite
Economic benefits (c) 302 64,626 35,129 0
Nature and health (b) 93 19,098 8582 0

 

West Bromwich (4 November – 25 November 2022)

Ad Set Name Clicks (FB)   Impressions   Reach   Total attendees from Loyal National tailored Eventbrite
Local councils (b) 183 64,104 26,848 4
The government (c) 74 35,973 17,572 2

 

The tests showed that varying messages as shown above can significantly affect overall engagement with the event adverts. Importantly however, no message triggered significant numbers of sign-ups for the events themselves – none at all, for North Kensington. One caveat here is that in general on-the-day attendance was higher than those who registered beforehand – perhaps there is something about signing up for an event in itself which is off-putting to many people.   

Where does this leave us? We showed that being mindful and tailored about messaging for this segment can increase initial engagement – that’s the good news. But that alone still doesn’t get Loyal Nationals to actually take part in events. It might be that we have reached the limit of what messaging can do. Climate Outreach’s Theory of change is built on the understanding from social science that while frames and messaging are a crucial part of engagement and help connect to people’s values and identities, they’re only part of the picture. The ‘so what’ has to be right too – the ‘ask’ has to be congruent with the kind of thing that ‘people like me’ do. It’s too early to give up on this type of in-person event for segments like Loyal Nationals, but a useful next testing step might be to keep the (most popular) messages constant, while changing the ask itself. 

Reflecting on the partnership

“It isn’t that the messaging doesn’t work, but perhaps the ask itself was a bit too strong for this audience.” Lucy Jeczalik, Hope for the Future 

Climate Outreach’s Engagement Lab tries new things in partnership with organisations that  are prepared to push the boat out, and to challenge themselves to engage new (for them) audiences in new ways. Groups like Hope for the Future are taking head on the challenge of testing what it might mean for the fundamental offer of their organisation to effectively engage people with a more cynical view of political change and a greater distance from the language and norms of activism. Our work together underlines that to do this effectively, it’s not just messaging and messenger strategies that might need to change – but perhaps the underlying ‘offer’ itself, of how people can get involved. 

Climate Outreach would like to thank Hope for the Future for this inspiring partnership, and their commitment to testing, learning and reflecting. 

Read more

We are grateful to the Samworth Foundation and the John Ellerman Foundation for their support for the Climate Engagement Lab, including this partnership.

Leave a reply or comment

By David Powell

David leads our Climate Engagement Lab, which helps UK climate advocacy and campaigning organisations deliver innovative and evidence-based engagement plans. He has 15 years experience as a campaigner, communicator, researcher and strategist on environment and climate change. He’s worked as senior campaigner on economics and resources at Friends of the Earth and most recently as Head of Environment and Green Transition at the New Economics Foundation.  He has a MA in English Literature, an MSc in Environmental Strategy, and a Graduate Diploma in Economics.  He’s particularly interested in the intersection between systems change and individual psychology, and how to build campaigns that harness the deeply held concerns we all have about the climate crisis.

Outside of work he plays jazz saxophone and clarinet, and is the co-host of two podcasts, Sustainababble and Your Brain on Climate. He is also the chair of Somerset Wildlands.

Sign up to our newsletter