After Live Earth: A National Campaign to Change American Attitudes on Green

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David Wigder
Vice President / Director, Digitas

One of the most vexing challenges today is changing and shaping American attitudes toward the environment. Campaigns such as the Live Earth concert last weekend are making headway in building awareness and educating the masses. But,
much more work needs to be done – by governments, environmental
organizations and even businesses – to change consumer attitudes toward
green and to translate this shift into action.
 

Marketing Green believes now is the time for a national campaign to do just that. This campaign should preferably use a single communications platform that leverages a core route of persuasion (see Marketing Green’s “Shaping Attitudes on Green”, June 21, 2007) and that resonates across a wide spectrum of Americans. It is hard to dispute the need for such a campaign: “North
Americans consistently ranked [the] least aware and least concerned
about global warming” relative to people across any other continent,
with 13% of US respondents saying that they have never heard of global
warming (ACNielsen survey, January 2007).
 

Some marketers may advocate focusing on individual consumer segments that are perhaps more predisposed to the message. There is indeed merit in this approach as it focuses resources where the incremental impact in the near term is the greatest. However, these individual campaigns are arguably not sufficient to drive broad societal change by themselves. A
national campaign (or at least a unifying platform across individual
efforts) is more likely to build momentum toward a tipping point where
attitudes across a broad spectrum of Americans are transformed; such a
campaign can also create sufficient momentum to translate this attitude
change into action.
 

Learning from Past Campaigns: Rare Conservation’s PRIDE Campaign

When thinking about a model for a national campaign, it is important to draw upon learnings from past market campaigns.

One benchmark, for example, is the successful PRIDE campaigns developed and launched by non-profit group Rare Conservation (RC) to motivate land and resource conservation in underdeveloped nations. During a recent interview Marketing Green
conducted with RC, CEO Brett Jenks identified three key market and
campaign attributes that are critical to his organization’s success: 1)
they focus on homogeneous populations that are 2) in isolated media
markets, and 3) they involve a population that is fundamentally tied to
nature for its substance.
 

What
is interesting about how RC shapes attitudes is that it relies on
conditions that are for the most part absent within the US. For
example, Americans are a heterogeneous people – one of our core
strengths but a hindrance in shaping attitudes, as building consensus
may take more time. Moreover, Americans live in a
saturated media market where it is difficult and costly to breakthrough
with messaging when consumers are continuously inundated.
 

Finally,
Americans tend to be disconnected with the natural environment in large
part because they are no longer directly involved in activities that
provide for their sustenance. Without this connection, it
is more difficult for consumers to appreciate how the choices they make
impact the environment as well as to motivate them to rethink their
attitudes and their actions.
 

Tailoring the Campaign to the US 

Although
RC’s successes have come from attributes that do not necessarily
translate to the US, there are lessons to be learned from their
approach. Here are a few suggestions for marketers attempting to
develop a national campaign within the US:
 

Don’t build a brand from scratch. Unlike
in underdeveloped media markets where RC focuses it efforts, it is an
expensive proposition to launch a national campaign in the US, especially when building a brand from scratch. As
such, marketers should seek to leverage an existing brand – perhaps the
brand of a well-known and charismatic spokesperson – that can deliver a
credible message on green. Ideally, that individual (or
individuals) will already have the credibility to connect heterogeneous
groups and the media star power to shine in a crowded media market
(helping to overcome considerations #1 and 2). Politicians
such as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Michael Bloomberg or rock musician
Bono or actor Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, have become early leaders
in this field.
 

Make global warming relevant to the American experience. A national campaign must motivate Americans to change their attitudes toward global warming. While
this is a difficult task – as Americans have become largely
disconnected from nature as the source of their subsistence – it is
hardly an impossible one.
 

Take Australia as one example. Over
the past year, politics have been upended in Australia due to drought,
one that many scientists think is the worst that this island-continent
has seen in 1,000 years. The result: a dramatic turnabout
in the country’s embracing of global warming as an issue and
willingness to take action to reduce its impact.  Today, in fact, Australians rank global warming as their #1 concern (The Guardian, November 2006;
International Herald Tribune, November 6, 2006; ACNielsen, July 4, 2007)   

Can
drought – or more broadly, the impact of scarce water resources on the
American experience – be a motivating force that moves Americans to
reconsider their views on global warming? It is possible.

A
case can be made in the US: Not only is drought persistent across much
of the US Southeast, Southwest and West this summer, but drier
conditions are expected to continue in the years to come (and in the
Southwest, models predict for the next 90 years). (NOAA Seasonal Drought Outlook, 2007; USA Today, June 7, 2007;
MSNBC, April 5, 2007)

us-seasonal-drought_v2.jpg

Moreover,
warmer weather has resulted in other, perhaps less intuitive,
consequences: Shipping vessels in the Great Lakes must set sail with
reduced cargo in their holds as water levels have fallen in the lakes
due to higher-than-usual water evaporation, early snow melt in the
Rockies has reduced available runoff in rivers for irrigation and
recreation, and warmer, drier conditions are fueling forest and brush
fires across the West. (
Chicago Tribune, June 21, 2007; Rocky Mountain News, June 26, 2007)  

This
information should not, however, be positioned as a scare tactic, as
such scaremongering runs the risk of backfiring with Americans.
 

Instead,
marketers should focus on how climate change impacts the American
experience, namely, the opportunity that this nation provides for a
better life for us and our children and our children’s children.  Images of Americans struggling to succeed despite adversity generate powerful emotions.  Americans have almost a visceral response when this American experience seems compromised or threatened.
 

Green
marketers should tap into this emotion with messaging and images that
connect global warming with the fight to preserve this American
experience: The struggling farmer, burdened by debt from
failed crops over the past few years, plants seeds in the spring in the
hopes of a bountiful harvest this year.  The
firefighter that overcomes exhaustion to save another home while
battling brush fires that come with more frequency and intensity. The ski resort owner struggling to stay afloat as the ski season shortens. 
 

Such
a campaign should honor each of these Americans for the good fight that
they are fighting to preserve their way of life, but message that it is
an uphill battle for each without action on global warming.
 

Learning from Past Campaigns: Live 8 Concert 

Once
Americans make the connection between global warming and the
preservation of the American experience, marketers need to motivate
Americans to take action to mitigate global warming’s impact. Understanding how to motivate Americans to take action is critical. For
example, Warren Buffett once gave advice to rock singer Bono on how to
promote the Live 8 concert (intended to pressure G-8 leaders to forgive
debt and increase aid to Africa) in the US.
Buffett said, “Don’t appeal to the conscience of America. Appeal to the greatness of America, and you’ll get the job done.” (Time Magazine, June 19, 2005)  

The case of global warming is no different. To appeal to America’s sense of greatness requires marketers to create a platform that incorporates three key dimensions: 

Set a clear direction and purpose:
As vanguards of freedom and liberty, Americans want to be reassured
that they are moving in the right direction and operating on the right
side of history. Today, many Americans are frustrated by inaction and concerned that our stance on climate change may be on wrong side. Americans want a leader to be bold and advocate for action on issues like climate change simply because it is the right thing to do.
 

Leverage an aspirational message: We want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. If Marketing Green is critical of anything about the Live Earth
concert, it is that its producers urged concertgoers and viewers to
think small; the concert’s anthem seemed to say that through small acts
we will all make a difference. While this is true and a
necessary starting point, it is simply hard to capture people’s
imagination when focused on something as mundane as changing light
bulbs.
 

Alternatively, what is needed is to set a higher bar for your target audience. Every
American generation has faced adversity and risen to the occasion when
challenged to do so, whether it be war or a space race. Americans respond to leaders that set extraordinary goals. They are up to the challenge.
 

Exploit our fascination with industrial and technological achievement:
Americans believe, perhaps some what incorrectly, that technology will
fix or mitigate our global warming issue without a major change in our
lifestyle. Marketers should capitalize on this by providing examples of what we should be striving for.
 

How
about a new transmission ‘highway’ that brings windpower from the
Plains states to cities like Chicago so that electric cars that plug
into the grid can be powered (carbon free) at night? Or, how about a
‘hydrogen highway’ that provides fueling stations for cars powered by
fuel cells from Baha to Alaska? What about paper-thin solar cells that can be affixed to anything for cheap? Or perhaps geothermal energy that taps the natural heating and cooling power of the earth under your house? Provide a grand vision and Americans will reach to achieve it.
 

So,
green marketers, it is time to launch a national campaign to change
American attitudes toward global warming and to translate this
sentiment into substantive action. Help Americans make a
connection to global warming, not out of fear, but rather by
associating it with those living the American experience, struggling to
preserve what they have as climate change takes its toll. Think big and expect great things from Americans. They will put their hearts and minds and collective spirit together to realize them.

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