Thursday, December 10, 2009

Climate Change Marketing

You may or may not be aware of Greenpeace's "tck tck tck" international campaign aimed to shame world leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, but if you work in downtown Ottawa you've seen the Harper version.

Here's a close-up:

(Strangely, unlike the other leaders, he doesn't seem to have aged a day.)

I loved this campaign's basic concept of looking back from the future with regret. I think that the anticipation of regret is a great emotional trigger.

If there's anything about this campaign that bugs me a little, it's the simplification of the issue. But that's a challenge with any cause marketing campaign. Scientific and social issues like climate change are complex ones that require a lot of mental work to even try to understand beyond the black-and-white thinking that activists and deniers alike exhibit when trying to rally supporters.

But imagine this ad with the headline:

"I'm sorry. We could have tried to agree to make painful efforts to reduce human-influenced greenhouse gas emissions that are affecting natural cycles of global climate change in measurable (yet ultimately unpredictable) ways, but I had to admit to myself that politics simply don't work like that — especially in this economy — and China won't have any of it anyway."

Of course it doesn't work. tl;dnr. Plus, the climate change deniers must love seeing these outdoor ads surrounded by the leavings of the season's first blizzard. (A completely irrelevant but unfortunate anecdotal position that enters every climate change argument.)

Trying to address complex issues in a way that people can understand is actually very hard. Especially in advertising, which is often described as "though-provoking" but which usually aims at the gut. I have heard and communicated many perspectives on climate change through my corporate responsibility and social marketing work with clients as diverse as Environment Canada, Canadian Urban Transit Association, AECL, CAA and the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute. As I recently said to an ad student, "Everyone wants a better world. The eternal problem is getting them to agree on what that is, and how to get there."

Will this campaign shame the leaders into action? Probably not. But it got Greenpeace some new exposure and got people talking, which is all that any client can really ask for.

Let's keep the conversation going.


  1. Speaking of controlling discourse, consider the very different meaning of these two statements:

    1. All countries should have to make the same reductions in per-capita carbon emissions.

    2. All countries should have to reduce per-capita carbon emissions to the same level.

    In the developed world, we've been pushing #1 as if it were a self-evidently fairer solution, and are shocked when the developing world (including China) begs to differ.

  2. I've been thinking a lot about per-capita carbon emissions, especially as I stare into my (unused) coal fireplace.

    When most of our heat and light came from coal and gas, did we as city-dwelling individuals have a better or worse carbon footprint?