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June 2009

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Climate Change Marketing
Transformations of Media, Technology and Society in the 21st Century

by Glen Emerson Morris
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Advertising is always a product of its time, and we live in interesting times. It appears that we will be the first generation in the history of modern advertising to have to integrate climate change into our marketing and advertising strategies.

The prestigious science magazine New Scientist has been running a series of articles on global warming and the news isn't good. It appears change is happening considerably faster than the scientific community had believed just a few years ago, and the closer you get to the scientists behind the reports, the worse the news gets.

A growing number of scientists are arguing that a large scale eco-collapse is underway and, among other things, the Himalayan glaciers are going dry. Since the Himalayan glaciers are the source of the seven biggest rivers in Asia, the effect on agriculture would be enormous, and the cost in life in the hundreds of millions. (This may explain why, in 2001, a member of the Dalai Lama's staff told me the Dalai Lama was not optimistic about humanity's chances of surviving the next 40 or 50 years, and was decentralizing the monasteries, scattering them across the planet, in the hope that at least some of them survive.) Is this being too pessimistic? Maybe not.

Recently New Scientist interviewed James Lovelock, the scientist who first worked out the effect of fluorocarbons on the upper atmosphere and that reaction's role in the creation of ozone. Lovelock said he believes the coming eco-collapse will be so severe that by the end of the century less than a billion people will be alive. Lovelock also said he believes that within 10 years extreme weather will be the norm and within 20 years France will have a climate much like the Sahara. Lovelock said he considers himself to be optimistic because he expects humanity to survive as a species.

Even if Lovelock is really being pessimistic, there's ample evidence climate change is really underway, and potentially very dangerous. Growing a business in the times ahead will not be easy, and will take some very careful planning.

Over the next decade advertisers will be selling to consumers facing both the trials of a depression and a growing climate change fear factor in many ways similar to that of a time of war like WWII. Fortunately, thousands of full page print ads from publications like the Saturday Evening Post have been preserved, so it's easy to see how a previous generation of advertisers handled the problem.

Scanning the archives of ads from the thirties and forties, themes that keep reappearing are value, reliability, honesty and responsibility.

In hard economic times consumers demand more for their money, and business better be able to provide it. Consumers are getting better at researching product quality, at both the local and national levels, so track how your competitors are doing because you can be sure your customers will. Also, try to actively review and streamline business operations on a regular basis, your customers will appreciate it.

Weather will increasingly disrupt production and transportation of goods, so if your company depends of imports it's a good time to consider how vulnerable supply lines are, and make sure you have a closer, more reliable, sources just in case. The message to the customers in your advertising should be, “You can rely on us. No matter what happens in the world, we will are prepared, and we will do everything humanly possible to provide you with the products and services you need, without interruption.”

Fortunately for small to midsized businesses, most consumers still think of them as honest, compared to the Fortune 500. SMBs need to keep that reputation. If you know you can't avoid supply problems, be honest with your customers. They will plan accordingly and be able to minimize the cost of supply interruption. If you surprise them with a problem you knew in about in advance, it will probably inconvenience them more and they may never be back, and for good reason.

World War II had much in common with the depression, but overall was a time of far greater personal risk, a fact not lost on advertisers at the time. Ads of the war years of the 1940s, combine war propaganda with an increasing emphasis on the valuable role companies are playing in the war effort. It's part PR of course, but the ads were also a sincere effort to reassure Americans citizens that American corporations understood their responsibilities and were meeting them.

Meeting responsibilities today, may prove more difficult than in WWII. Unlike Hitler, nature is not limited by a national budget, and we are in a war for survival. We need to change priorities. Our main concern these days isn't about minimizing our footprint on nature, it's about minimizing nature's footprint on us.

In their timetables for the 21st century, both Arthur C. Clarke and Buckminster Fuller predicted that technologies like the Star Trek matter replicator would allow people to make everything they needed, and be completely self sufficient and independent from the environment. It looks like we're going to have to compress the development cycle of survival critical technologies from a century to about 30 years. It looks like we might be off to a good start.

The first under $5,000 3D printer, the forerunner of the Star Trek matter replicator, is due out late this year from a company called Desktop Factory. There should be an under $1000 3D printer on the market by the end of 2011, and by 2015 3D printers will be common in homes. Within a decade home 3D printers will be capable of printing electronic devices like cell phones, and eventually we can expect desktop units to make guilt free steak dinners. If Star Trek did it, so can we. And we'd better.

Since pre-history, the responsibility of the business/merchant community has been to provide the members of our community the things they need to survive and enjoy life, and in that order. Lately, we got the order reversed. It's time to get back to basics.

Glen Emerson Morris was recently a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law. He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.

Copyright 1994 - 2009 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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