Today’s forecast: changing climate views

We had a blizzard up here the other day, the second biggest in our history. Yet a few days before that, the thermometer was pushing 60 degrees. This certainly feels like global weirding.

IcebergAlthough I’m generally concerned about climate change, I worry more about the fate of this planet on days when the temperatures don’t match the season. When it’s balmy in February, that’s troubling.

On the other hand, when the snowbanks tower over my head, warming doesn’t seem to be an issue. Doubts chip away at my climate change convictions, notwithstanding the statements of NASA, NOAA, the United Nations, 34 science academies and countless other credible agencies.

I’m not the only one who’s fickle on climate.

A University of British Columbia study found a strong connection between weather and climate attitudes over the past two decades “with skepticism about global warming increasing during cold snaps and concern about climate change growing during hot spells.”

The University of New Hampshire came up with similar findings, especially among independent voters in the state. “Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change,” said researchers Lawrence Hamilton and Mary Stampone. “On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to.”

Why do our attitudes change like this? Because despite what we know, we just can’t deny what we see and feel. Yes, sensory experiences do play a big role in what’s relevant to us, maybe more than we think. You can see it in our new Conversational Relevance study. Although hotel guests value location and recreational facilities for the kids, these highly rational concerns are only part of the mix. Guests also chatter online about water pressure in the shower and the view from the room, and about abstractions like a hotel’s culture and cachet.

The bottom line? When it comes to decision-making, whether it’s a hotel room or the destiny of the human race, logic is overrated. Think about it. Rationally, if you can.

Rapid content response - can you do it?

Communications organizations need to act fast these days – like the bicycle maker that recently pounced on a green gaffe by General Motors.
Here’s how it went down.
GM put out this ad, targeted at college kids…
GM 'stop pedaling' ad
…showing a poor sap on a bike in front of a cute co-ed who was riding in a … wow, car!

Embarrassed

…and then there was this part:

bad part

“Yep. Shameless,” wrote BikePortland.org publisher/editor Jonathan Maus. “But just more of the same from the auto industry.”

Cyclists went ballistic. The auto company – a recent beneficiary of American tax dollars, contributor to our national debt, and the front end of a pretty big greenhouse gas supply chain – actually had the gall to promote its cars as, well, an alternative mode of transportation.
Why pedal, indeed? Why drink tap water when you can get a plastic bottle from Fiji? Why compost your leaves when you can let the garbage man take them to the landfill? Heck, why regulate carbon emissions when it’s easier just to spew?
Cyclists occupied Twitter with complaints about GM. The company quickly apologized (smart) via Twitter, shifting the blame onto college kids (dumb, but no one called them on it):
We're listening
One company in the bicycle industry, Giant Bicycles, actually made some hay with the story. The bike manufacturer came up with this take-off on GM’s ad and, within about 24 hours of the twitstorm’s beginning, posted it on Facebook.

Giant Bicycles reply parody ad

That’s quick.

The Giant post gained more than 1,000 likes and 386 shares (a pretty big share ratio). That’s solid engagement and a boost for the brand. Although Giant is admired for Toyota-like value, it doesn’t have the cachet of the Pinarello, Orbea or maybe even Trek brand. So leading the charge against GM’s foul, if only for a minute, adds an emotional dimension to Giant.
Either way, Giant’s rapid content generation feat is rare. Sure, savvy communications organizations know how to join a Twitter conversation, but quickly developing solid content like the parody ad almost never happens. Many companies and agencies still use byzantine “public relations 1.0” workflows for social content creation, review and approval – assuming they can conceive of a clever response in the first place.
Too often, it still takes a month to put out a press release. Even if social content takes half the time, this pace simply won't work. In the age of Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, an opportunity goes cold long before you’ve had a chance to run your proposed creative response up and down the chain of command, collecting edits, suggestions and feedback at every turn. By the time the content is blessed, if it ever is, it’s worthless.
To get results in 2011, be ready to act. Faster than you ever have. Like Giant, which is said to be the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer.
So … how does a giant company like Giant get so fast on its feet?
Well, we asked them*.
Checkmate: First, how did you come up with the idea for your parody ad?
An Le, Giant Global Marketing Director: GM’s ad was so off the mark that it made our idea quite easy. We simply illustrated the real “reality” of what college students (and many of us) are facing these days – rising cost of fuel, congestion, and an ever-expanding waistline.
Checkmate: How did you get the ad done so fast?

Giant: Instead of going through our agency or design house, we did this piece in-house. It took us about two hours from conception to going live on Facebook. With Facebook, we have a quick and casual way to get a message out to our core audience, and we would not have produced this parody ad if Facebook did not exist.

Checkmate: Do you pull off these quick content creation feats very often?

An Le on a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.

Giant's An Le in a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.

Giant: We create content daily – be it news, videos, photos, etc. – but this is our first parody ad.

Checkmate: What’s your process for approving the concept and, later, the final? How many approvals?

Giant: We don’t have too many layers of management at Giant. I have final say in creative, and in creating this particular ad, our in-house designer (Nate Riffle, who sits next to me) and I bounced ideas back and forth and had it done in a couple of hours. If we work with a design agency, the process is similar but does take a bit more back and forth. 

Checkmate: What is your secret for fast content creation?

 

Giant: Be quick. Avoid committee approval. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Have some guts to take chances once in a while. And don’t be malicious – do it in a spirit of fun.

...

* via email. They provided answers from their global marketing director in one hour and five minutes. Do your spokespeople move that fast? We got the right email address by pinging Giant’s Twitter address. That yielded another quick reply. Who’s monitoring your Twitter feed for media/blogger inquiries?

What behavior is relevant to climate change?

Today's blog is posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a senior account manager at Beaupre. 

“So the world ends Wednesday?”
 
That was a colleague’s snarky rejoinder to my explanation of the oil export crisis and the implications for our energy future. Perhaps my explanation was off. Or perhaps we're all suffering from a Hollywood-induced relevance deficit. Human response systems are really good at spotting and dealing with near-term problems. If it's not a clear and present danger, it's not relevant and therefore not motivating. Hollywood understands this and formulates its films to capitalize on it – particularly the action and disaster ones.
 
In a typical Hollywood disaster flick, the world crisis is glaringly apparent – and personally relevant - to viewers within the first 10-15 minutes of the opening credits and will be resolved within about 120 minutes. The real world doesn’t work that way, of course. However, our media-mediated lives often create a bleed-over of Hollywood-style expectations. No category five hurricanes raking the East Coast flat on a weekly basis? Well then, no climate change, obviously. Plants and animals shifting their ranges in response to climate changes is a subtle thing, ill-suited for hardy action heroes like Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel.

This lack of near-term urgency makes it tough to change behavior on important issues like climate change and carbon-intensive lifestyles. People tune out long-term problems. Clearly your warning to them has no relevance to their particular life.

That is the challenge for those in green tech seeking to motivate people. Rather than reflexively grabbing for a “Save the Planet” positioning, stop and look closer for angles that make what you're offering relevant to issues your target audience is grappling with.

Have an all electric car that makes polar bears want to hug people who own one? Great, but I'm pretty sure that's not relevant to anyone concerned about rising gas prices and the fact that increasingly complex internal combustion engines and their drive trains are making regular maintenance an expensive proposition. Electric cars are also kinda cool and hip. People like to be cool and hip, even if it costs more. Just ask Steve Jobs.

Find what's relevant, match it with what you have on tap and then sell. Maybe even get Vin Diesel to star in the commercial.

What behavior is relevant to climate change?

Today's blog is posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a senior account manager at Beaupre. 

“So the world ends Wednesday?”
 
That was a colleague’s snarky rejoinder to my explanation of the oil export crisis and the implications for our energy future. Perhaps my explanation was off. Or perhaps we're all suffering from a Hollywood-induced relevance deficit. Human response systems are really good at spotting and dealing with near-term problems. If it's not a clear and present danger, it's not relevant and therefore not motivating. Hollywood understands this and formulates its films to capitalize on it – particularly the action and disaster ones.
 
In a typical Hollywood disaster flick, the world crisis is glaringly apparent – and personally relevant - to viewers within the first 10-15 minutes of the opening credits and will be resolved within about 120 minutes. The real world doesn’t work that way, of course. However, our media-mediated lives often create a bleed-over of Hollywood-style expectations. No category five hurricanes raking the East Coast flat on a weekly basis? Well then, no climate change, obviously. Plants and animals shifting their ranges in response to climate changes is a subtle thing, ill-suited for hardy action heroes like Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel.

This lack of near-term urgency makes it tough to change behavior on important issues like climate change and carbon-intensive lifestyles. People tune out long-term problems. Clearly your warning to them has no relevance to their particular life.

That is the challenge for those in green tech seeking to motivate people. Rather than reflexively grabbing for a “Save the Planet” positioning, stop and look closer for angles that make what you're offering relevant to issues your target audience is grappling with.

Have an all electric car that makes polar bears want to hug people who own one? Great, but I'm pretty sure that's not relevant to anyone concerned about rising gas prices and the fact that increasingly complex internal combustion engines and their drive trains are making regular maintenance an expensive proposition. Electric cars are also kinda cool and hip. People like to be cool and hip, even if it costs more. Just ask Steve Jobs.

Find what's relevant, match it with what you have on tap and then sell. Maybe even get Vin Diesel to star in the commercial.

Cool branding at Greenbuild 2010

Greenbuild 2010I kept an eye out for branding innovation at Greenbuild 2010 as I maneuvered my way along (what felt like) miles of floor featuring over 1,000 exhibitors and 25,000 attendees.

Branding highlights:  

  • Social responsibility alignment – besides the typical association with energy saving and planet-survival, some Greenbuild companies extended their brands beyond the oh-so-obvious. Accoya, for example, had a “Sign our wall” fundraising effort with every signature translating into $10 for Haiti rebuilding. Other companies displayed Susan G. Komen for the Cure pink ribbons. Shaw asked people to respond to Twitter queries so it could donate $1 to the Make It Right Foundation, helping rebuild the Hurricane Katrina-devastated Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. Good for them, good for the world.
  • Transparency – Interface Floor won my prize for branding transparency. A massive graphic displayed above their booth featured a black and white illustration of a brain beside a barrel of oil. Their messaging platform: “Be smarter than oil.” Gradually leaving its oil industry connections behind, the company’s mantra is zero environmental impact by 2020. Clear messaging permeated the booth on laminated cards: “16 years and counting to becoming a sustainable company…” Other companies shy away, evade or obfuscate; this brand appears to be living its stated mission. 
  • Personal reinvention – David Gottfried wore shoes as he autographed free copies of his book “Greening my life.” The founder of USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) and LEED standard creator personalized his brand, sharing insight into his personal transformation from hard-charging empty life exec to green-inducing happiness. Kudos for having the guts to share lessons learned with others.
  • Promotions – not surprisingly, the top tease prize at Greenbuild 2010 was the iPad. Several companies featured iPad promotions including Dupont and NCI Group. My favorite giveaway? The cool hybrid Sanyo Eneloop bike
  • Living its mission – While 80% of Greenbuild 2010 exhibitors are indistinguishable (packing too many products, imagery and pleas into every corner of space), Dyson stood out with its "less is more" approach. Only two products were featured: hand dryers and bladeless fans. The booth was white, spacious and all messaging was tightly displayed on five panels. Copy was simple and memorable, contrasting the way it used to be with the way it is now (thanks to Dyson).   
  • Let’s have fun – Next time a company or client says “our stuff is in the weeds; we can’t do much creatively” remember Bluebeam. This company essentially has a better Adobe: a PDF based real time project collaboration file management tool. Yawn. But Bluebeam made the mundane come alive with its “Mighty Bluebeam” cartoon character, case studies galore, comic books, exhibit booth worker matching t-shirts and fun messaging like “It’s PDFin’ time!”
  • Interactive messaging – Most companies struggle with messaging. Not only trying to explain what they do, but also finding clever ways for people to “get it” and relate. Kudos to SYNLawn and SAGE for doing both. The former divided its narrow booth into three sections, allowing visitors to putt on a golf course, feel astro turf in a stadium and stand on a front lawn at home. Dynamic window maker SAGE (disclosure: client) made its “Power to change” tagline come alive several ways, including windows showing multiple exterior views and an interactive exhibit where visitors pressed a button and the glass transformed. Whenever messaging can be experienced like this, it’s a very powerful thing.
  • Green nation building standing out from a sea of corporate sameness were… countries. Scandinavia, Canada and France all sent delegations to Greenbuild 2010, positioning themselves – via products, technologies and companies - as green-inspired economies.

Dirty little secret: BP oil remains, media doesn't

The media decides what we’ll worry about. Today, that would be the economy, midterm elections, two wars, a tsunami, a new Bin Laden tape and a party drink dubbed “blackout in a can.”
 
Nothing much on BP these days, so the Gulf of Mexico oil spill must be pretty much taken care of, right?
 
Not according to this article in USA Today, which reports that:
 
·         The length of shoreline where oil is present has increased from 287 miles in early July to 320 today.
·         In Bay Jimmy, La., alone, 32,000 gallons of oil were sucked up in a recent 10-day period.
·         Oil, not surprisingly, is clinging tenaciously to marsh grass.
·         Cooler fall and winter weather will thicken the oil and make it harder to extract.
·         Cleanup worker count has dropped by nearly two-thirds, from 47,000 at the height of the spill to 16,200.
 
The disaster hasn’t gone away, but where’s the media? Well, kudos to USA Today for the above info, and to Frontline for kicking BP’s tail on Tuesday night. But in general, the media follows the conflict, the drama and the fancies of its paying audience to those insipid places we yearn to go. As a result, we’ve moved on from Afghanistan. We’ve moved on from Haiti. And we’ve moved on from the Gulf of Mexico.
 
To document this catastrophe fatigue, we searched for news stories on “Deepwater Horizon” (the name of the exploded rig and shorthand for the entire debacle) from April 2010 through Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 10:30 EST. Here’s what we found.

 

 

As you can see, the media bombards us with stories from April through July. Then the fatigue sets in. Just six months after the worst oil spill in history, the media is practically silent.

But the problems remain. That’s why Sean Penn is still in Haiti. That’s why Billy Nungesser is still in Plaquemines Parish. That’s why BP workers are still cleaning up the oil – some of them, at least.

 

Meanwhile, the media, drawn by our own insatiable appetite for trifling entertainment, has moved on to … well, Brett Favre’s … ankle.

 

Green Launching Pad innovates state-level clean energy branding

One of the more innovative collaborations between a higher education institution, statewide and federal government is unfolding in New Hampshire.
This past February, the Green Launching Pad was launched. It’s a strategic partnership between the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (ARRA).
The organization connects entrepreneurs and private industry with technical, scientific and business faculty, students and state-level resources to successfully launch and accelerate the growth of new green businesses.
Five New Hampshire companies received funding in Year One of the program. Seventy-one businesses and entrepreneurs submitted applications for this funding, bolstered by $750,000 in federal stimulus funding.
An advisory board selected the five winners who are now being supported with an intensive business accelerator program aligned with UNH. The companies are connected to business, science and engineering faculty to develop product development, finance and marketing plans. The GLP also builds relationships on the financing side via angel investors and private sector business mentors (disclosure: Beaupre mentored one of the five winning companies, Air Power Analytics).
The new Green Launching Pad businesses are required to help the State reduce carbon emissions in sustainable ways. By building successful companies, New Hampshire believes it will also fuel job growth and broaden economic opportunities.
Governor John Lynch led a roundtable discussion with GLP companies last week, answering their questions and uncovering their needs and concerns. He said “I want to see you succeed in New Hampshire. I want this effort to create jobs. I want to help you win.”
So far, it’s a model bearing fruit in the Granite State.
This week “Venky” Venkatachalam, one of the original GLP founders, told Michael McCord of www.seacoastonline.com “You read about this when you have academia and industry working together. This has been a huge positive experience that could be a powerful force for economic development.”
Clean energy conscious state government, higher ed institutions, energy companies and the corporate sector may benefit by keeping a close watch on its progress.

BP triggers dark side for augmented reality

No sooner did brand managers and marketers discover augmented reality (AR) as the next big marketing frontier then did consumers find a way to use AR to voice their own opinions.
 
AR developers Mark Skwarek and Joseph Hocking are keeping BP’s feet to the fire with a new AR iPhone app that lets users visualize the Deepwater Horizon oil spill at their local BP gas station or wherever they happen to see a BP logo.
 
Called “the leak in your hometown,” the app transforms the logo into the source of the deep sea gusher. Just point your phone at the logo and your outrage and sense of futility over the unceasing disaster is rekindled.

If you’re new to augmented reality, it’s technology that overlay’s digital information and imagery onto your view of real-world things, typically using a webcam or smartphone camera as the visual conduit.
 
The BP gusher app is pretty simplistic as far as AR apps go. Yet it’s a brand manager’s nightmare. As the app’s creators describe on their blog … 
An important component of the project is that it uses BP’s corporate logo as a marker, to orient the computer-generated 3D graphics. Basically turning their own logo against them. This repurposing of corporate icons will offer future artists and activists a powerful means of expression which will be easily accessible to the masses and at the same time will be safe and nondestructive.
Remember back when brand managers first swooned over the potential of social media as a new direct-to-consumer marketing channel, not yet realizing how the technology gives consumers their own, sometimes critical, voice? With AR, it’s déjà vu all over again. Google ‘augmented reality’ and ‘marketing’ and you'll see what I mean. But the effusive praise by marketers will soon be tempered as they discover that AR can be a double-edged sword, as much a threat to their companies’ corporate reputation as it is a powerful marketing tool. 

Next BP victim: 'brand journalism'

The brand journalist is the one of the most compelling marketing concepts I've encountered in a while. Leave it to BP to spoil a good thing.

Read more from our CleanSpeak blog here.

New Prius ad raises the branding bar

I’m blown away by the new Prius ads.

David Kiley said this ad from Toyota may have been inspired by Honda’s earlier diesel engine “Hate Something” spot (compare the two yourself), but from my eyes, it’s the freshest creative in a decade.

But it’s not just creative for creative’s sake. Lots of agencies are living the creed “make it entertaining, engaging and disruptive” so consumers take notice and buy.
 
The new Prius spot is much more.
 
They’ve taken a car that was already the # 1 best selling hybrid in the world – the undisputed mainstream brand – and made it a vehicle of the people, for the people, by the people. Literally.

Using 200 extras, they created a layered - but somehow unified - sea of 1 million people parts. Everything (except the Prius, road and sky) was constructed from human beings who become “landscape texture.”  Grass. Water. Trees. Clouds. Stones. Leaves. Sun. Flowers. Butterflies. The Bellamy Brothers’ # 1 hit from 1976 - “Let Your Love Flow” – is the audio glue. 

The piece de resistance (besides the people, colors and music) is the movement. As the Prius drives by, clouds shift, grass sways, butterflies fly, flowers open, water flows, the sun glows.
 
It’s a visual trip, blending nature, technology and the human race.
 
Hopefully for Toyota, the new campaign will move more than grass. The Prius has been struggling in the U.S. of late (mirroring the rest of the auto industry). U.S. sales of the Prius were down from 15,011 in May 2008 to 10,091 for the same month this year. Year to date, U.S. Prius sales are 42,753 compared to 79,675 in 2008 – 45 per cent less than last year.
 
I feel better every time I see this ad. I actually want to see this ad.
 
I can’t remember the last time this happened.

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