Marketing Net Zero
This week we wrote three posts stating that new approaches to communicating and responding to climate change are called for. Given the importance of climate change, these new approaches are desperately needed.
The first post is Another Clunky Sentence. Lost in this week’s news was the fact that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released yet another major climate change report. The report’s title is Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. The first paragraph of its Summary for Policy Makers — the Executive Summary — is at the 24th grade reading level. (In the U.S. system high school is completed at the 12th grade.) In other words, the most important paragraph in the whole report is unreadable.
The second post is Climate Scientists: Ready to Strike. It references a New York Times article that talks about the frustration that many climate scientists feel. They work long hours for no pay to come up with authoritative reports. Then no one reads their reports. They are frustrated due to the communications failure just discussed.
The third post is Superbowl Ads. In the United States the most watched sporting event of the year is the Superbowl. The associated television advertisements are often more entertaining than the game itself. This year many automobile companies published creative and successful ads for electric vehicles (EVs).
The key word here is successful. People are buying these vehicles — not because they want to save the planet but because they find the vehicles appealing and attractive, and because the car companies know how to sell.
Why have the scientists failed to communicate? And why have the car companies been so successful? I suggest that there are two basic reasons.
The first reason is to do with motivation. The scientists publish bad news and then say that, if we do not take action, our lives will get worse. Their message is one of fear. The car companies, on the other hand, are appealing to self interest. They make products that people want to buy. (In doing so they improve their own profits and secure a long-term commercial future. So these ads are in their self interest also.)
The second reason for the difference in levels of success is that the car companies are very, very good at marketing and sales. They know how to make people want their product. By contrast, the scientists working for the IPCC and other agencies do a poor job of marketing; they even believe that the facts will speak for themselves.
Willingness To Change
The success of the car companies is not just a matter of marketing. They know that they have to change if they are to survive in a Net Zero world, as can be seen in this clipping from the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper of March 3rd 2022.
I have highlighted two paragraphs from this article, both are quotations from the CEO of the Ford Motor Company. The first highlight says it all,
“Our legacy organization has been holding us back,” Farley said, “We had to change”. <my emphasis>
The second highlight tells us about the motivation of the executive at the Ford Motor Company.
“Is this about winning? One hundred percent,” Farley said. “We want to beat the old players. We want to beat the new players”.
It seems to be almost inconceivable that the IPCC scientists could talk this way.
We are often told that, “We need to listen to the scientists.” This statement means that we need to understand how the climate is changing and what the impacts are likely to be.
It is, of course, essential that the scientists continue with their work — they provide the authoritative foundation that we all need. However, when it comes to communicating the need for urgent action on climate change the scientists have failed. A fresh approach is needed.
I suggest that our response can be built around the following three thoughts.
First, we should listen to the engineers and project managers. We need realistic solutions (if there are any) that can be implemented on a world-wide scale in less than thirty years. There is no shortage of good ideas. What is needed are ideas that will work at scale right now.
Second, we should appeal to people’s self-interest. This is what the car companies have done. They do not say, “Buy this electric vehicle to save the planet”. They say, “Buy this electric vehicle because it’s a great car to drive and it make you look good”. In other words, they have framed climate change as a marketing problem, not a matter of communicating complicated science.
Third, we should recognize that business and industry is already providing badly-needed leadership. Once more, they are not doing so because they want to save the planet. They are developing new products because they want to make money and to avoid their own ‘Kodak Moment’. Their motivation is self-interest. These organizations should be encouraged to provide even more leadership. We should build on their success.
Will the above approaches be effective? That remains to be seen — the hour is late; the hour is very late. But we do know that publishing lengthy reports that few people read, and that governments fail to act upon, is getting us nowhere. Fresh approaches are needed. Maybe business and industry can provide the leadership that is so badly needed.