Reframing Global Warming Across the Political Spectrum
These days, green marketers are challenged to efficiently reach consumers and effectively impact their attitudes and behaviors. There are many reasons for this of course: consumer attitudes are still evolving, familiarity with green products is just emerging and purchase behavior is inconsistent within and across categories. As such, marketers tend to look for targetable demographic groups or behaviors that have a higher propensity for green.
In this political year, it is interesting to examine whether political ideology, and more specifically, party identification as a Democrat or Republican is an indicator of interest in green.
Today, there is a common perception that Democrats are more pro-environment than Republicans. Indeed, on issues like global warming, it is not hard to see why. According to a recent Porter Novelli/George Mason University consumer survey, Democrats consider global warming a “serious problem” nearly 2:1 over Republicans. Additionally, only half as many Republicans as Democrats feel that by taking action they can impact global warming.
Beliefs Regarding Global Warming by Political Affiliation
Yet, this perception may not necessarily reflect behavior. In fact, when it comes to taking action, Republicans act more similar to Democrats than their views on the environment may suggest. In fact, Democrats perform, on average, only one more green action (from a list of 14 that includes using less energy, recycling, buying energy-efficient appliances, and buying organic food) than Republicans.
For marketers, this observation may provide an opportunity. Republicans may be as receptive to green as Democrats if marketers can reframe the underlying environmental issue and the messaging that is communicated to them. Attitudinal research based on political party affiliation may provide clues to how this may be done. Here are a few examples that marketers may want to consider:
Reinforce local benefits: At the recent conference, Professors David Konisky, Jeff Milyo and Lilliard Richardson at the University of Missouri presented research that examines how attitudes toward government involvement change based on the type (ie, pollution, resource preservation, global warming) and geographic scale (ie, local, national, global) of the environmental issue.
Based on their research, Konisky et. al., determined that “party identification and political ideology are the strongest predictors of environmental attitudes”. More specifically, “Republicans are much less likely to support further government efforts to address environmental issues.”
Interestingly, Republicans were much more apt to favor governmental intervention if the issue affected people locally, or even nationally, rather than globally. In speaking with Professor Konisky last week, he expressed his belief that “people tend to want the government to address proximate problems.” One way to increase interest is by “reframing the climate change issue as one of local impacts [to] generate more concern for this issue relative to other issues.”
While Konisky et. al., focused on attitudes toward governmental action, marketers should test the hypothesis that sentiment will carry over to campaigns that build awareness regarding climate change as well as influence purchase behavior.
Position as a leader: A recent national survey conducted on behalf of the Civil Society Institute and its Results for America project (CSI/RFA) indicates that Republicans are more apt to favor action on global warming if the US is positioned “to lead – not follow – other nations” on both climate policy and clean tech. In fact, while only 45% of Republicans (vs. 86% of Democrats) agree that we need “national leadership on global warming,” two-thirds of Republicans want American to take the lead on policy and technology development.
As such, marketers have an opportunity to test a leadership message when communicating with consumers regarding green. Such a message may resonate well with consumers, and especially in categories in which a company is in a leadership position today (eg, General Electric, Toyota) or in which no clear established leader exists globally (eg, renewable energy, electric cars). One recent example is Tesla, the California-based automotive up-start that established itself arguably as the leading electric car company with its weekend launch of a car that can go 225 miles without recharging and 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.
Focus on measurable impact: Across the political spectrum, the “number of ‘green’ actions” is not strongly correlated with political party affiliation, but rather level of concern about climate change. According to the CRI/RIA survey, those that believe that both global warming is dangerous and that action to mitigate it is efficacious perform more than 40% more green actions than those who do not – regardless of political persuasion.
Marketers should consider a duel message to clarify not only the impact of global warming as well as the effectiveness of measures to mitigate it.
One example, laundry detergent, was mentioned by Joel Makower in his presentation at the Green and Good conference late last year. Many brands focus on the environmental impact of the formula itself, advertising that a consumer can reduce his/her footprint by using a formula with a less burdensome manufacturing process and chemical makeup.
Yet, as Makower pointed out, most of the impact from washing clothing is not from the manufacturing or distribution of the detergent but the heating of the water (according to GreenYour, this ranges from 85-90% of the total energy required for the washing). As such, Tide and other brands that offer a cold water formula have an opportunity to message not only how well their products clean clothes but that they greatly reduce the carbon footprint from washing simply by not heating the water.
1 Konisky, David, Jeff Milyo, and Lilliard Richardson, “Environmental Policy Attitudes, Political Trust, and Geographic Scale,” abstract presented at the Western Political Science Association annual meeting, March 20-22, 2008.