How to Market Climate Change?

Governments give, governments take away. On one hand President Obama has finally put his full political weight behind the US’ climate change targets. On the other hand David Cameron has just presided over twelve months of disastrous actions, guaranteed to help the nation miss its legally-binding targets. 

Overturning Britain’s ‘green annus horribilis’

Things are so bad that climate change scientists are calling the past year Britain’s ‘green annus horribilis’. And the same organisation that successfully sued the UK government for not tackling air pollution, ClientEarth, is preparing to sue our leaders again for ignoring legally-binding global warming targets.
At the same time millions of ordinary people have done everything they can on a personal, domestic basis to slow global warming. Energy-efficient light bulbs, extra insulation, solar panels and – for a fortunate few – big tech like domestic wind turbines, MVHR and ground-source heat pumps help us cut our CO2 emissions. But we’ve run out of steam. What do we do next?
The result of all this is a horrible Catch 22. Plenty of consumers are demanding greener lifestyles, but the government isn’t delivering the means. Green tech developers are finding it extremely tough to survive in a market-driven economy without subsidies and government support. And the economic supply and demand engine is rusting somewhere in the middle. We are fiddling while Rome burns.
That’s the problem with a consumer-driven market economy. It’s a landscape where Green tech must deliver a profit to survive, and a greener lifestyle has to be affordable or people won’t ‘demand’ it. Luckily, in a western economy, we consumers hold an awful lot of power in our hands.

Can consumer-power turn the tide?

A million people demonstrated against Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq. The government didn’t listen. It’s reasonable to assume it’ll going to take a lot more to turn the tide and get Cameron back on track, with millions of us applying consumer pressure. It’s beginning to look a lot like an enormous marketing job.
So how, exactly, do you market the fight against climate change and persuade the population as a whole to start demanding better of the government?

Marketing climate change – Selling the benefits

Successful marketing campaigns sell on benefits. What are the benefits of curbing climate change before it’s too late?
It’s a tricky one, simply because while scientists know it’s happening and human activity is responsible, nobody can predict climate change’s exact outcomes on a continental or national level, never mind locally. The benefits of avoiding the worst excesses of global warming are tough to put across because they mostly concern things NOT happening:

  • The weather will not get as bad as it will if we let planetary warming run away with us
  • There won’t be as many ‘100 year’ storms
  • Life will stay more or less as it is rather than changing dramatically
  • We maybe won’t have millions of climate refugees desperate to escape climate-driven poverty, disease and war
  • Perhaps we’ll avoid international and civil water wars driven by chronic global water shortages

Appealing to the emotions – It’s a love thing

How about appealing to people’s finer emotions, for example our love for our children and grandchildren? Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone decided to work for the common good of their offspring, inspired to use consumer power and the right to protest to force governments to act.
Sadly, if that was going to happen it would have happened by now. This is no place for despair, but if the chance to give our kids a decent future doesn’t motivate us to demand a greener nation, you have to wonder what, if anything, will.

Marketing through fear

There’s a lot of head-in-the-sand behaviour going on. No surprise really, when the very thought of your entire home planet turning against you is absolutely terrifying, like something from a sci-fi nightmare.
Can marketers break the risks down into bearable messages people will digest without recoiling in horror, an unhelpful reaction when you’re trying to win hearts and minds? It’s an interesting question and a serious marketing challenge, maybe the most important we’ll ever face.

Taking the moral high ground

It can be intensely irritating when someone takes the moral high ground and does it clumsily, making you feel like an idiot. Can strong moral imperatives be used to drive better consumer engagement with the battle against climate change? This one would take very careful handling, with a real risk of alienating the audience. Nobody likes a telling-off.

Nudge marketing

Nudge marketing compels consumers to behave in a certain way by gently, subtly nudging them with a delicately-balanced marketing message that’s not too hard or soft – it’s just right. The government already uses nudge messaging to drive minor changes in the public’s behaviour, and it can be remarkably effective. Can we nudge our government to behave better?
Small is beautiful
Grass roots, local initiatives seem to attract plenty of local support. When we see ways to bring about positive change in our own areas, close to home, it means more. You can see your actions bearing fruit, which is inspirational. You’re engaging in human-size issues you can solve together rather than this massive, confusing global mess you don’t know where to start with.
There’s a good chance that marketing climate change awareness to drive political change means making elephant sandwiches instead of trying to eat the whole elephant at once.

Telling the truth, plainly

One of the biggest challenges, for a very long time, was knowing what the climate change truth was. It’s still difficult, and scientists are still computer-modelling endless and increasingly complex variations on the theme. But there are some very powerful and painful truths around. Perhaps if everyone in the nation knew them, more of us might demand action.
Plain English is the bunny. It’s no good feeding us pure science. We need a set of simple statements we can all relate to, ideally bullet points. The government isn’t doing it. So it’s up to the scientists.

Keeping things positive

Positive marketing messages invariably work harder than negative, and it’s always easier to campaign for something than battle against it. Marketers know this, but how do you put a positive slant on what could be a catastrophe for the human race, and not too good for our fellow creatures either?
There’s always a way, and every action a marketer can take to chip away at the consumer consciousness and conscience and nudge us into applying pressure on our leaders is worth pursuing.

Marketing actual action

If there was something we could all do to help, a whole lot of us would go ahead and do it. But what action can we currently take to support a climate that’ll sustain us in the future? There isn’t a whole lot available. If you’ve insulated your home to the nth degree, fitted solar panels, cut down flying to the bone, got your bicycle out and done all the other small yet vital domestic things consumers are capable of, what’s your next step?
The only action we can all take is direct action – actual protest. We can do it in more ways than ever. Some knock the internet for making it ‘too easy’ to lodge an opinion, sign a petition and make our feelings clear to those in power. But what’s wrong with easy?
Nice thought, but again we’re back at the start of the argument. People won’t protest unless they’re moved to do so. And, as we’ve discussed, moving consumers to act on climate change en masse is easier said than done.
What do you think? How would you market climate change mitigation to the nation?

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