Green is a better sell when it's positive

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: About $70 billion of the new stimulus package will be spent on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other green initiatives. On a micro level, many Americans are already working green ideas into their lives. But there are people that aren't ready or able to dump a car for a bike, or just can't deal with the glare from a compact fluorescent. Ashley Milne-Tyte has this look at how marketers are trying to sell the idea of being green to those not fully converted.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: Scientific evidence may show the planet is in trouble, but dire warnings aren't the way to go.

Haim Mano: Using negative messages can have sometimes a very negative effect on us.

Haim Mano is a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri, St. Louis:

Mano: For example, if we see any message that invokes notions of fear, very often many of us will completely ignore that message.

To get people to pay attention, Hugh Hough says you have to convince them they can benefit by changing their behavior. He is president of advertising agency Greenteam USA.

Hugh Hough: So for example it's not about being green to be green or saving the planet or whatever. If you buy it's gonna save you this much money and this amount of time.

Take this ad from IBM, where a skeptical manager asks an underling why he should accept her so-called "green plan."

Manager: See the folks that I report to, they don't eat granola. So lemme ask you: Why would I sign this?

Woman: This plan could cut our energy costs by 40 percent.

Sure enough, he's instantly converted.

Then there's Don't Mess with Texas. It started as an anti-littering campaign in the mid-80's. The slogan was aimed at young men, who were then the biggest beer-can throwing, cigarette-dropping culprits. Roadside trash fell by 29 percent within a year.

Hank Stewart of Greenteam USA says Don't Mess With Texas worked because it appealed to Texans' pride in their home state.

Hank Stewart: So if you wanted to make a similar success story in the environment, you would have to identify the values that are important to the audience that you want to talk to. Whether it's saving money, whether it's a safer world for your kids.

But what if companies or government framed using less energy as a patriotic act, the way Texas framed cutting down on litter? Marketing professor Haim Mano says that approach could backfire. He says driving everywhere, shopping and cranking up the AC:

Mano: These are parts of Americana, this is part of the American culture.

He says if you imply those activities are unpatriotic, you could alienate the people you're trying to reach. So you need to keep the message as inclusive and upbeat -- even if what's behind the message is pretty depressing.

In New York, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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