J500 Media and the Environment

Re-framing the truth by alejandrooj840
October 21, 2008, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Business + Politics, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,


            I have always had an uneasy relationship with marketing.  I find that there is an inherent relativism in acts of marketing. Along these lines George Lakoff stated: “Framing can be used for propaganda. But honest framing effectively expresses what you honestly believe.” Nowhere does he speak about truth.  What ever beliefs you may have, creationism, evolution or pastafarianism; framing can help you express those views effectively. 

            This approach to marketing and communications made me zero-in on a key question of the energy debate: “Who can be trusted?”  In Lakoff’s interview there is an underlining tone which erodes the importance to that question.  In fact, one of his big points in saying that “words matter” is that well crafted messages can sway public opinion even when the issues and facts behind them remain largely unchanged.

            This notion has been previously reported in arenas beyond sustainability.  Lizette Alvarez’s piece on the New York Times, further elaborates on Lakoff’s mention of the death tax and the importance of message crafting and framing.  In practice, this means that the answer to “Who can be trusted?” may have less to do with truth, than an ability to connect a “je nais se quai” about the people or group looking for your trust.


            In a piece in 2001, John Tierney wrote about a very interesting marketing campaign where researchers scoured teen hangouts looking to promote a new product. They went up to boys between the ages of 8 and 13 with a question: ”Who’s the coolest kid you know?” When they got a name, they would look for that kid and put the question to him. The goal was to ascend the hierarchy of coolness, asking the question again and again until someone finally answered ”Me.”

            By the end of April they had a core group of what they called “alpha pups”.  They gave each of these “pups” a new wireless combat-based video game, plus 10 additional units to give to his friends.  The strategy was that they did not need to convince everyone to play the game.  They only needed to convince the most popular kids, the ones everyone liked, the ones everyone trusted and the rest would follow.

            This is no revelation to any marketer, or campaign advisor; especially in the wake of Collin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama.  But it was new to me. 

            I see several parallels with our role in communicating an energy message.  I think that one approach to frame this discussion is to focus on the speaker.  Who do the different constituencies trust?  Should we be speaking to nurses and doctors? Or to pharmaceutical reps?  Should we be speaking to blue collar laborers? Or to union leaders?  Obviously the first step is to speak to the constituencies independently and understand who is better suited to deliver the message.


Alejandro Ogata


1 Comment so far
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This John Tierney article is fascinating. Perhaps many others in the class have read it, but I had not. Hasbro’s marketing plan certainly highlights some important points for marketers (and CEP) to consider.

And your point regarding Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama is a very good one. People tend to forget what a big boost it was to George Bush in 2000 when Powell came on board as Secretary of State. That validated Bush’s early presidency for many people.

One of the reasons I’m so interested in how the health care industry can impact environmental conversations is doctors and nurses are so trusted, relative to other professions. The fact is few Kansans have heard of CEP. But they sure know their doctor. And they trust their nurses. If my doctor says something about the importance of clean energy, you can bet I’ll listen.

Chris Ronan

Comment by chrisr11

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