Sustainable Development has been a small blip on my radar for the past 20 years or so. It’s become slightly larger but still not so as to draw any real attention. It’s not that I’m not interested in it. I recycle. I make efforts to ensure I’m not wasting consumer goods. I hate shopping so feel I play a positive role in not contributing to the consumerism frenzy. Heck, I even climb stairs rather than take lifts as I feel they’re a waste of electricity. However, despite being reasonably well educated and having a (relatively) positive attitude towards environmently friendly efforts, I’m still quite clueless about the larger issues. Clueless and, being honest, ostrich-like. It’s such a HUGE issue made up of other very large issues that it feels rather out of my hands and, quite frankly, depressing to think about. I suspect I am not alone.
Education is the potential solution to many of the world’s ills so naturally it follows that we should apply this to the problem. Consider the popular link “The Story of Stuff”. Approximately 20 mins long, it manages to touch on the many issues facing us today and it’s quite clever and clear. However, despite the friendly tone of the nice lady, it’s just a touch, well, preachy albeit disguised in a “cutesy” voice. In fact, I presumed this was for children as she talks like she should be presenting Sesame Street. (“This week’s doom was brought to you by the letter ‘Arghhhhhh!'”). It also lacks clear solutions or a sense of hope. It’s very entertaining and all, but I end up thinking… “Okay, so what exactly do you want me to do about it?”
Sustainable development issues depend on education for success to a significant degree but this education has to be delivered and communicated in such a way that it gives hope and clear steps regarding the solution/s to the problem. I just finished a large marketing project on a charity which has much the same problem with its communications. “Guilting” people into action, attempts to shock, playing on their feelings of social responsibility and depressing people with news of the situation were all aspects of their communcations. After a while it becomes associated with negativity and people just don’t want to deal with it any longer. They too become ostriches.
The parallels are apparent. If other businesses communicated in this manner, they just wouldn’t make any sales. It’s time to look at the communications differently and present a more positive side showing exactly what can be done, what incentives there are, the opportunities available and benefits of being involved. Highlight the success stories and promote the companies who are the heroes.
As we are talking about using the media, a little manipulation never goes astray! It’s necessary to grow demand, particularly among those with influence. Build the issues into status-related causes people are proud and motivated to be a part of. As Bee-Jay commented on my blog “Buy-Buy World”: “status and prestige” of the eco-friendly purchase is a clever way to tap into the underlying consumption drive.
Before you try to get people to buy in to the idea, get to better know your market. Find the right angle, tone and medium for your communications. Tap into the basic human needs and wants. Exploit these and sell your market something that they will want to buy. And with that, companies will follow. But please, no more preaching: I’m up to my neck in it…