News / Vancouver

B.C., feds spend millions on reward points for Canadians who use new healthy living app

The B.C. and federal governments are spending millions of dollars to buy reward points for Canadians who engage with a new app that encourages healthy lifestyles.

Called “Carrot Rewards,” the $7.5-million smartphone app was created in partnership with company Social Change Rewards with $5 million from Ottawa and $2.5 million from the province as an innovative way to send Canadians mass messages about public health and nudge people to make better choices.

People who sign up for the free app will get reward points of their choice – be it for flights, groceries or movie tickets – in exchange for completing small actions such as using the B.C. Shopping Sense tool to make healthy grocery choices or completing a Heart and Stroke Foundation risk assessment.

The idea is to get people to make small changes in a way that’s much cheaper than traditional advertising campaigns, Social Change Rewards CEO Andreas Souvaliotis said Wednesday.

“It’s replacing advertising with something smarter,” he said.

He’s convinced Canadians will flock to the app because the first two million users are promised extra points for signing up and referring friends.

He’s convinced Canadians will flock to the app because the first two million users are promised extra points for signing up and referring friends.

“Canada is such a points happy society – Canadians love points – incentives in our country work very well,” Souvaliotis said.

Indeed, a 2015 Yahoo study found that 90 per cent of Canadians have at least one loyalty card, with the average person participating in four rewards points programs.

The app itself cost less than a million bucks, with the remainder of the cash going towards project development and buying the rewards, he said. It may seem pricy, but it’s a fraction of the hundreds of millions the government spends on traditional advertising annually. (Preventative health care is also far less expensive than treating someone with diabetes or lung cancer.)

Should Canadians embrace the app, Souvaliotis said it will be a “world first” to have such a large national audience engaged on one platform. It will also be an incredibly powerful data collection tool. The government will not have access to personal information, but it will be able to use aggregated data to analyze trends.

In order to prevent the tool from becoming political, health charities will be able to vet messages and veto notifications that could be seen as an abuse of the system, Souvaliotis said. The Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Diabetes Association and YMCA Canada are in this role.

The app will launch in B.C. this fall as a pilot before a countrywide launch in early 2016.

[polldaddy poll=9003363]Simon Fraser University marketing professor Lindsay Meredith said the strategy is a “hot idea” that will “absolutely” be cheaper and more effective than traditional advertising.

“It’s amazing what people will do for some lousy air miles points,” he said.

The average consumer is bombarded by about 5,000 ads per day, he said, so it’s incredibly hard to get a person’s attention through the clutter.

Rewarding people for small actions can also convince them to actually change their behaviour, he added.

“I hate to give governments credit… but is this a good strategy? Damn right it is.”

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