Social Marketing for Damage Prevention: The Click or Call Before You Dig Partnership Campaign

No one wakes up expecting to hit a utility line when digging around their yard, but if they do – it could have serious consequences.

In British Columbia, Canadian homeowners contribute to over 30% of incidents related to natural gas line damages. One incident is too many and industry stakeholders are determined to come up with creative solutions to eliminate ground disturbance damages. How do we, as an industry, encourage homeowners to care about utility line damage prevention? Homeowners are a unique audience for damage prevention conversations as, unlike industry professionals, homeowners do not share the same reasons for protecting underground infrastructure. For ground disturbance prevention messaging to work, homeowners need clear messages that link their behavior to prevention efforts that they understand and care about.

Common methods employed by ground-invested industries include holistic interventions blending enforcement and behavior change campaigns. Unfortunately, few interventions focus on the latter. It was for this reason that a group of industry leaders in British Columbia (FortisBC, BC 1 Call, BC Common Ground Alliance, BC Oil and Gas Commission, TC Energy, and WorkSafeBC) came together to rethink the way homeowners engage with ground disturbance information. Through a partnership with the Community Against Preventable Injuries (a not-for-profit social marketing firm focused on injury prevention) a campaign was developed to address the common underlying attitude that contributes to both injury and damage prevention: It won’t happen to me.

The goal of this joint initiative was to educate homeowners, the general public and contractors about the potential dangers associated with damaging underground utility lines when digging during gardening, landscaping, or renovations. Ultimately, we wanted to ensure that British Columbians were aware that before they break ground, they need to contact BC 1 Call. Shifting attitudes requires investment. The month-long campaign ran using a variety of creative elements including 15-second spots aired on TV and digital, website banners to direct people to the BC 1 Call website, and mobile banners leveraging Preventable’s evidence-based strategies to engage adults on their own terms.

Lessons Learned

2020 was unlike any year before, which resulted in major campaign modifications and pivots along the way. The campaign was originally planned for April 2020, squarely in the middle of COVID-19 spring lock-down. The campaign was postponed to October 2020 to ensure that the messages were well-received by British Columbians experiencing COVID-19 messaging fatigue.

As the pandemic unfolded, more British Columbians stayed home, freeing up time to repurpose their outdoor spaces. Fences were built, gardens were dug, and patio decks were laid, all of which require excavations and ground disturbances.

The messaging suggests the importance of planning ahead and taking the time to submit a locate request to BC 1 Call to ensure not only the homeowner’s safety but also the safety of neighbors and first responders in case of a damage. “You do not want to be that neighbor who damages a utility line because you did not place the One Call,” said a spokesperson for the campaign. “This takes the utility crews away from performing important routine maintenance and first responders from responding to other emergencies. These incidents are 100% preventable.”

The campaign was successful owing to the collaboration between mission-aligned partners all committed to injury and ground-disturbance damage prevention. Homeowners are a unique audience requiring carefully crafted messages to raise awareness about the importance of underground utility damage prevention. We are excited to continue our journey to shift the narrative towards injury prevention as a method to connect meaningfully with homeowners.

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