News In Brief

Promoting Climate Change: Hits and Misses

Adriene Hill Feb 7, 2011

If you heard my story today on Marketplace, you know there’s some debate over exactly what sort of messaging is best suited to climate change. Coming up with a message that resonates with people and makes them care about our warming planet can be tough.

One of the environmental movements biggest ad failures comes from the climate group 10:10UK. It produced a video in which kids who don’t want to participate in a plan to reduce pollution get blown up.

I emailed back and forth with a spokesperson at 10:10UK to ask about future climate messaging and why they think this ad didn’t work. Here’s our exchange:

Adriene H: What do you all at 10:10UK see as the challenges around climate change messaging?

10:10UK: Most people in the UK understand that climate change represents a big problem, but because it’s so big people don’t feel empowered to do anything about it.

10:10UK: If you speak to people here they say they want to tackle climate change, but then they’ll ask why business or government isn’t doing more because they don’t feel their personal contribution will be enough. If you speak to business they’ll say they want to do more to stop climate change but they need support from consumers and government, then when you speak to government they’ll say they want to do more but they need the support of people and business.

Climate change messaging needs to be better at encouraging people to work collaboratively, to show that their collective efforts do have an impact and to help them envision what a desirable lower carbon world looks like and motivate them to get there.

AH: What sorts of messages seem to resonate?

10:10UK: For 10:10 the message we find resonates is “everyone’s at it”, which is entirely true. All over the UK, people are cutting carbon in their personal and professional lives, and our approach has been to celebrate the good work that’s already going on and to inspire people to go further.

This works because it makes people who are already cutting their carbon feel appreciated, so they want to continue rather than feeling that they’ve “done their bit”. Sharing their experience helps those who are new to the issue understand that reducing your carbon footprint is not only possible, but maybe even enjoyable.

AH: What sorts of messages don’t resonate?

10:10UK: There are no penguins in my garden. It’s tragic that climate change threatens incredible animals like penguins and polar bears, but this can feel like a rather remote concern when you’re juggling lots of day-to-day pressures.

The majority of people working on preventing climate change are motivated by the fact that they care about other people and want everyone to be able to flourish in a world un-threatened by climate change. They give up their weekends to go on marches and spend their evenings writing to politicians because they want their grandkids to have the same, if not a better quality of life, than they had.

Yet the conversation around climate change tends to focus on places most people will never go to, like the Arctic or the Amazon rainforest, and animals you’ll almost certainly never see in the wild. As much as you might theoretically care about penguins, when you’ve got a job to do, a house to run and kids to take care of making sure penguins are ok will not be top of your priority list.

Climate change messaging needs to talk to people about their lives and the things they value. It needs to talk about the positives – saving money in a recession and the pleasures of living in an unpolluted, uncongested neighbourhood.

We also need to communicate through the right channels. We could write another op-ed piece in a left-wing paper which will only be read by people who agree with it already, or we could suggest to the producers of Glee that their characters switch off the light when the leave the room.

AH: Why do you think people responded so negatively to the ad you put out last year?

10:10UK: For us the major lesson from the ad was to stay positive. People responded negatively to a negative message. It’s unfortunate that even though we’re not an American organisation, the film got the most views in the US, an audience who were unaware that before and since then we’ve been a purely positive campaign. Positivity is why we’ve been so successful and that’s certainly what we’ll be sticking to from now on!
When you consider creating a new campaign or ad or message, who is your target audience?

10:10’s supporters are a pretty broad spectrum and we like to be able to get as many people involved as possible. Our target audiences are people who would like to do something about their carbon emissions but don’t know where to start, and people who would be interested in reducing their carbon if the outcomes were a little more appealing.

AH: How do you think climate change messaging will change this year?

10:10UK: For the UK the climate message is now about opportunity.

Let’s talk about saving money as individuals and business by ensuring we’re not wasting energy. Let’s talk about being energy independent, not helpless victims of an oil price which yo yos up and down day to day. Let’s talk about that next big innovation, that new product or idea that will save some energy, create some jobs and give our economy a boost.

Climate change is a challenge, no question. But our civilization has a long history of overcoming such challenges, and there is no reason to believe we won’t succeed now.

More ad hits and misses
Here for your viewing pleasure, a few more climate ads that caught our eye.

  1. You might have missed it during the Super Bowl, it wasn’t the flashiest ad that aired; but, Chevy ran a clean energy commercial:

2.Nissan’s polar bear commercial is worth the time.

3.Looking for the sexed-up version of the “climate change” message? Here’s Supermodels take it off for climate change

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