To encourage Californians to conserve, a tweak in wording can help

Fighting California's drought is a bit like running a political campaign, complete with carefully calibrated messages crafted with polling data.

Even details like colors are used for maximum impact.

Officials at the state's Save Our Water conservation program recently tweaked their "brown is the new green" message, advising instead that residents let their lawns "fade to gold."

The shift was the result of polling funded by the Assn. of California Water Agencies, which surveyed 800 voters over three days last month to determine the best ways to conserve.

A variety of phrases were tested to see which ones were most appealing. "Brown is the new green" received the most negative response.

Voters best liked "Stay Golden, California," a slogan used to encourage energy efficiency. Other favored phrases included "Let it go" (not related to the song from the hit Disney movie "Frozen") and "Turn it off."

"We felt like it was a good switch," said Brendan Wonnacott, program manager for Save Our Water. After all, he said, "California is the Golden State."

New signs that residents can print and display on their lawns are scheduled to be available on the campaign's website next week.

There are hints that the conservation message is sinking in as the drought continues for a fourth year — including the fact that water use in urban areas fell 29% in May, officials announced this week. Gov. Jerry Brown had set a reduction target of 25%.

A bigger challenge will be cutting back water use throughout the dry summer. New numbers for June, the first month since mandatory restrictions took effect, are not yet available.

The poll also asked voters whom they would most likely listen to on the subject of conservation. Gov. Brown was rated lowest, at 61%, while firefighters led the pack at 84%.

Save Our Water has already started highlighting firefighting in its advertising.

A recent post by the program on Twitter said, "Every water drop saved is an extra drop to help fight dangerous fires."

An attached picture juxtaposed a leaky faucet and a blazing wildfire.

The poll was conducted over the phone by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.8%.

chris.megerian@latimes.com
Twitter: @chrismegerian

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