The Department of Energy and Climate Change was in the news last week following complaints about their television ‘bedtime story’ advert. The government is right to bring climate change and the actions needed to tackle it to public attention, but these adverts, complete with cartoon crying bunnies and drowning dogs, are not the way to do it.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change was in the news last week after the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that its ‘nursery rhyme’ newspaper adverts should have been more tentatively phrased. The sentence “flooding, heat waves and storms will become more frequent and intense” should have read “may become more frequent and intense”.
Complaints about the television ‘bedtime story’ advert were dismissed. So apart from a ‘will’ that should have been a ‘may’, the Advertising Standards Authority overruled the 939 complaints made against the advertising campaign.
The government is right to bring climate change and the actions needed to tackle it to public attention, but these adverts, complete with cartoon crying bunnies and drowning dogs, are not the way to do it.
Using guilt and apocalyptic imagery, combined with exhortations for small individual actions, goes against the advice of many communication experts, including those featured in Green Alliance’s recent pamphlet, From hot air to happy endings, on how to improve public support for a low carbon society.
So how might an advertising campaign be done better?
· Inspire don’t guilt trip. With a threat like climate change that doesn’t seem immediate or personal, research shows that fear is an ineffective motivator. It has also been suggested that the use of guilt and fear actually serve to entrench people’s attachment the status quo. In research by communications agency Futerra, inspiring people about a low carbon future was the only way to get their interest. positive campaigns like ‘be proud, love Manchester’, which promotes sustainable living by drawing on people’s attachment to their local area, might be more successful.
· Make the solution match the problem. Changing our light bulbs is clearly not going to stave off the potential catastrophe that government talks about in its adverts. With a problem on the scale of climate change, citizen action makes much more sense against a backdrop of government action. Government should show what it is doing to shift the UK to a low carbon economy, and communicate under the core message “we are doing everything we can to make these changes possible, but we cannot do it without your help”.
· Lead by example. Whatever government asks people to do in its advertising campaigns it should also make happen in its own public buildings – for example energy efficiency, recycling and waste reduction in our hospitals, government buildings and libraries. This would help overcome any cynicism that government says one thing but does another, and it would also help people believe that low carbon living is possible, desirable and normal.
Whether we get a happy ending on climate change depends on many things: better government communication is one of them.