Back in 1990, when I worked for Mayor Bradley on environmental issues, I attended a Sierra Club press conference where several celebrities introduced public-service announcements in which they would be featured talking about global warming. It was the first TV campaign around the issue, so it was significant — even though I never actually saw any of the PSAs run on the air.
One of the performers was Daniel J. Travanti, star of one of my favorite TV shows, “Hill Street Blues.” He wore a heavy beard, and looked more like Grizzly Adams than Capt. Furillo. He decried the public’s seeming lack of concern about a problem that threatens to make heavily populated parts of the earth uninhabitable. “Maybe we should call it ‘global frying,'” Travanti suggested.
Sixteen years on, here’s out-of-the-box marketing thinker Seth Godin elaborating on the same point:
Global is good.
Warm is good.
Even greenhouses are good places.
How can “global warming” be bad?
I’m not being facetious. If the problem were called “Atmosphere cancer” or “Pollution death” the entire conversation would be framed in a different way.
Environmental educators, scientists and activists have so far failed to overcome the invisibility of the global warming issue to people who “don’t see your coal being burned…(and) don’t live near a glacier,” Godin said. There are universal principles for marketing new ideas that the environmental community should deploy:
Human beings want:
totems and icons
meters (put a real-time mpg or co2 meter in every car and watch what happens)
95% of the new ideas that don’t spread–even though their founders and fans believe they should–fail because of the list above.
Does this mean future generations will let us off the hook for doing so little about global warming? I’m not sure the lack of persuasive totems and icons will exonerate us.
Great marketing minds and designers ought to pick up Godin’s challenge. Maybe one of the major schools of design could team up with an environmental foundation to sponsor a design competition to make the invisible more visible. Not just more ads; constant reminders designed into our products. Meanwhile, PR people who supposedly know how to tell an arresting story should dig into the scientific literature and find ways to make more vivid the kind of world that global warming will bring us.
But remember: Be credible. No more “Day After Tomorrow” horror shows that only cause backlash. If you can only sell the global warming story through exaggeration, you discredit the whole idea.