A Marketer Looks at Climate Change – Part II - The AIDA Model

Aïda is not just a popular Giuseppe Verdi opera first performed in the 1870s, it’s also the acronym for well known marketing model: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action, AIDA. According to Wikipedia, “The AIDA model proposes that advertising messages need to accomplish a number of tasks in order to move the consumer through a series of sequential steps from brand awareness to action (purchase and consumption).” First proposed more than 100 years ago, the AIDA model is tried and true. Can it provide some insight into how we need to communicate about climate change?

The AIDA model is well established in marketing practice. How can we use this model to prompt more people to take actions that reduce carbon emissions?

The AIDA model is well established in marketing practice. How can we use this model to prompt more people to take actions that reduce carbon emissions?

Considering climate change, it’s clear that that we have the public’s Attention and Interest, even if a significant minority of people in the US still doubt the scientific consensus on climate change, but it’s also clear that we haven’t yet provoked a widespread Desire to take specific Actions.

What does this situation tell us as marketers wanting to “sell” the climate change proposition? We certainly have to continue to engage with the Attention and Interest phases to bring more people on board. To me that means not being lazy in our thinking or speaking. We can’t just chalk up every natural calamity (hurricanes, tornados, fires, floods) to “climate change” without explaining in detail what we mean.

Often what we really mean is that climate change has made the calamity worse, even though it would more than likely have happened on its own. This is certainly the case with the devastating fires in California in 2017 and 2018. Contributing factors certainly include a relentless growth of housing in fire-prone areas and an equally relentless opposition from the environmental community to clearing out most of the underbrush in forests and coastal areas.

Years ago, I learned about the TANSTAAFL principle, “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” If we’re going to have a laissez-faire approach to settlement patterns, then we have to take stronger actions to protect people from fires, floods, mudslides, etc. These actions certainly include better building codes and building practices (raise the home above flood stage, use more fireproof materials, etc.), but they also include removing significant vegetation from forest and chaparral zones, prohibiting settlement (or barring flood insurance) in even “500-year” flood plains, etc.

How should we plan to move people further along the spectrum of Desire and Action? This is where removing obstacles from taking action may play a larger role. Growing use of electric scooters is one such example; rapid adoption of electric vehicles would be another. What are the obstacles to their use? Often it’s outdated infrastructure or lack of clear rules for their use.

Sometimes it only takes a “nudge,” as many studies have shown, to move people to take actions that benefit not only them but also others. The 2009 book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, coauthored by Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler (Economics prize) and Cass Sunstein, shows how we can use findings from behavioral economics to move people toward more desirable outcomes by being transparent about all the choices they face and then “nudging” them toward choices that result in lower carbon emissions but EQUAL satisfaction with outcomes.

Nudging works! Years ago, Canada wanted more people to recycle at home, so they made all the recycling containers a special color: blue. The Blue Bin by the curbside showed you were being a good citizen of the planet. Even if it was (nearly) empty, you still put your blue bin out on pickup day, so as not to be shamed. The same principle works today - my local electric utility sends me a monthly statement showing how my energy use compares with my neighbors and don’t we all want to be “below-average” consumers of energy? You might call this the “Lake Wobegon effect,” after Garrison Keillor’s fictitious town where all the children are “above average.”

So here’s the conundrum for people advocating dramatic social and political responses to climate change. How can you take a deeper understanding of how people respond to marketing messages to nudge people to do the “right thing,” especially in a consumer-driven economy? If government tries to impose solutions, the current political stalemate at the national level (and in many states) shows that we’ll still be talking about what to do 10 years from now.

Aïda the opera may worth listening to, but learning more about AIDA the decision-making model may be a better investment of your time.