The tools for meeting that challenge are right in front of our eyes.
Many times. Every Day.
A marketing approach reaches its audience – getting past the choir – where they are already present and, at least partly, paying attention with:
- Ads on TV and radio
- Posters on buildings and public transportation
- Placements on websites
- Ads on Facebook and other social media
- In movie theaters
- At concerts
- Billboards on the highway
Elections are won or lost on the number and nature of TV ads. Advertising routinely sells the public on products that are unhealthy and unnecessary, so perhaps it’s not unreasonable that it can “sell” messages about a healthy environment and a safe, sustainable future.
We know that it’s a challenge to change established beliefs. To be effective, the climate ads would need to be seen many times, every day, and across multiple platforms.
“In the nonprofit world, most leaders are allergic to simplifying things, fearful that this will lead to distortion. But only simple messages, repeated frequently, move people to awareness and action.”
– David Fenton, Founder and CEO of Fenton Communications –
Public Health Campaigns Have Worked Before,
This One Can now
There is a proven record of success for public education campaigns. Keep America Beautiful did this for littering. Smokey the Bear told the public that “Only you can prevent forest fires.” The Truth campaign educated the public about the health risks of smoking. These campaigns changed not only opinions but behaviors as well.
We need a public education campaign about the climate crisis. I’m calling this, The Climate Truth.
While public service messages might not sway the opinions of some hardcore deniers, a range of well-crafted messages repeated across multiple media platforms could shift the opinions of many who are doubtful, misinformed, or disengaged, while also energizing those who are concerned but passive.
Even those who understand and accept the scientific facts prefer not to think about this crisis because it can cause feelings of anxiety, despair, or depression. Many of the pleasures of modern life (e.g., travel, eating meat, shopping) can generate feelings of guilt or even shame because they contribute to global warming. People typically cope with these uncomfortable feelings with avoidance and distraction.
But whatever the emotional factors that interfere with facing the climate reality; denial, confusion, disinterest, guilt, impotence, or despair, a comprehensive and wide-ranging public education campaign would make the awful and inconvenient truth difficult to repress, deny, or ignore.
In addition to traditional advertising, this campaign could employ other means as well:
- Everyone is concerned about the well-being of their children and grandchildren. Posters and brochures about the health impacts of climate change could be displayed in all pediatrician and OB-GYN offices.
- TV and movie script-writers could weave information and effective responses into storylines. (But, please, no more apocalyptic climate disaster epics – those are not helpful.)
- Concerts could include climate messages from performers with videos on the large screens.
The Climate Truth Website
This campaign should have two elements: the ads and a companion website. All of the ads should include a catchphrase that directs viewers to the website.
The website is an important element because the “ask” of most ads is brief and straightforward. Buy this. Try that. But the science and ramifications of the climate crisis are complex and the range of possible responses even more complicated.
Much of the current messaging about climate change describes its destructive impact, but leaves the viewer feeling helpless. It’s not useful to raise an alarm about a crisis without providing recommendations for appropriate responses, just as you wouldn’t sound an alarm in a building or on a plane without pointing out the exits.
The website would provide possibilities for constructive actions to be taken.
A Climate Truth campaign could rebrand the issue by identifying themes that promote values shared across the partisan divide, including: slowing down the pace of daily life; maintaining a healthy lifestyle; providing insurance against future risks; supporting local communities, stores, and farmers; keeping children safe; or preserving nature as God intended.
A common theme in movies and books occurs when warring factions unite to fight a common enemy. We have seen instances of communities coming together to help their neighbors after a disaster strikes, and it makes sense to encourage that kind of cooperation to prevent disasters from occurring in the first place.
Many of the solutions to the climate crisis could be community-bonding enterprises that benefit the environment and also enhance connection with others. The transformation to a carbon-free economy could unleash American initiative and ingenuity to reshape and unite American society.