I’ve started to study marketing in my old age. Part of me feels like a sell-out. (This is the part of me that hears the word “marketing” and immediately pictures a sleazy salesman with gleaming white teeth and perfectly gelled hair.) Part of me is excited to be learning something new. And the other part appreciates that on some basic level, nearly every form of communication we do is marketing. Marketing is attempting to transmit a message, to sell your view (if not your product).
Standard product advertisements have pretty straightforward messages. Drink this beer and you’ll be sexy. Buy this car and keep your family safe. There are even subtle (or not-so-subtle) messages about what happens if you don’t buy the product: You’ll never find true love, your children will die horrible deaths, and the Jones will find out what a pathetic loser you are.
But how do you effectively market something as abstract as environmentalism? You can try the same techniques but it’s a little harder to convince people that changing compact fluorescent light bulbs is sexy or that recycling will give your house the sparkly clean shine that bleach does. You certainly can play up the idea of keeping your family safe and preserving your personal health, but it’s still hard to make it concrete. There’s also the problem of overstimulating people and getting them so worked up they choose to stop listening like the boy who cried wolf. Even if everything you say is true, it’s easy to overwhelm people and then they’ll tune you out.
There’s been some discussion of the topic over at No Impact Man’s blog and he advocates knowing your audience and tailoring your message to them. Tell the people interested in their health about ways to preserve their health. Talk to the people with kids about protecting their future. I totally agree with the philosophy but instead of helping, it only seems to make it harder! How do you get to know your audience so you can design a message to reach them?
Luckily, there are lots of people promoting green living, environmentalism, sustainability, social equity, locally grown food, peace, and all kinds of other great ideas in all kinds of different ways. I don’t have to figure out how to sell the idea of green living to the world, which is a tremendous relief. I think I’d probably have better luck selling cars; at least they’re tangible.
What sells you on environmentalism?