Frighten the kids, or encourage the grown-ups?

Have you seen the Act On CO2 ’bedtime stories’ advertisement that our dear government has spent £6M on? Although it’s a cartoon, the words are real enough. Fundamentally, it tells children that they’re victims of grown-ups’ actions and, if the grown-ups change their ways, they may (note: only ’may’) be saved. According to the advertisement, over forty percent of the emissions of CO2 are caused by ’ordinary things’ that grown-ups do, like warming homes and driving cars.

The Advertising Standards Authority has received hundreds of complaints which it plans to investigate. Good luck to it. According to a BBC report, “An ASA spokeswoman said the watchdog would be investigating whether the claims about climate change could be substantiated and whether the ad complied with taste and decency rules.”

The ASA hasn’t a hope in hell of validating the climate change science. It should concentrate instead on the taste and decency angle. When Sky News wrote about the ASA complaints, it received masses of contradictory comments (I ploughed through 94 of them). Goodness knows who Lisa is, but she made a good point when she said, “Upsetting children can never be right … Why worry them so young when they can’t do anything right now?!” Quite.

What is clear (if you didn’t know already) is that climate change has become a religious debate and, if the Sky News commenters are representative of the population at large, the non-believers greatly outweigh the believers. And the powers-that-be are at their wits’ end to turn us into believers.

The stupid thing is that the more rabid they become, the more they will turn off even the most reasonable citizen. Somehow the debate needs to become less accusatory and more inclusive. It might want to take into account that not everyone is the same or driven by the same values.

The latest EcoPinion Survey Report from strategic marketing agency EcoAlign parsed the attitudes of 1250 USA citizens and, in the process, identified five different categories of consumer. In terms of motivation to use new technologies and participate in new energy programs, they were: Cost-Conscious Saver (41%), Value Buyer (20%), Environmentalist/Green Consumer (19%), Traditional Consumer (10%) and Tech Enthusiast (10%).

The same messaging can’t work with such a disparate set of people. Judging from that list, only 19 percent look as if they might fit in the ’believer’ category in the USA. In Europe it may be different, but you can bet that the different categories exist. And it’s therefore clear that a single message is going to fall on largely deaf ears, unless it happens to focus on the needs of the Cost-Conscious Saver.

And maybe this is a clue to the answer. Forget global warming, climate change, CO2 or any of that ’big-brotherish’ terminology. Talk about simple financial and environmental sustainability through energy and fuel savings, through the avoidance of waste and other pollution and through the minimisation of raw materials.

In this way, instead of negative, frightening stories from those in power, the environmental tale can become a  positive one put out by everyone who is making an effort to improve our collective lot.

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