The Absolute Truth About Marketing
Monday, May 22, 2006
  How will global warming affect your marketing plan?
“It don’t feel any hotter to me.” US President George W. Bush is reported to have said this when asked about the threat of global warming. Did he say it? Does it matter? It’s what he thought for a long time, until earlier this year when he admitted that global warming is a fact.

After the Tsunami, Katrina and Larry, global warming is now real because people believe in it. It has entered the Common Mind, so now marketers must deal with it. What opportunities and challenges lie ahead in a globally warm world?

For a start, the car companies are turning defence into attack by promising to plant a tree for new car buyers (to offset their polluting behaviour). They think they are safe responding to the superstition that trees will save our skins – superstition because in certain conditions trees are net emitters of greenhouse gases. They should guard against the day that the debunkers in the popular press reveal that one.

Until that day you can offer consumers the illusion that they are doing something good for the environment by promising to plant a tree for them. They get the same warm fuzzy feeling American consumers get when they separate their garbage into recycling categories, despite the fact that it’s pointless now that refuse management techniques make separation after collection simple and easy. More superstition. Like hanging garlic around your neck to ward off vampires.

Water saving devices will become popular, with low water use washing and dishwashing machines fetching a premium as water prices skyrocket. Swimming pools will seem like an extravagance. Lawns and gardens could become the preserve of the rich and famous. The rest of us might pay to watch grass growing.

The dire predictions of green activists have the sea advancing inland – shifting the beach at Bondi 150 metres. This will play havoc with property prices, pleasing those who did not pay for a waterfront home but might get one, and devastating those currently enjoying waterfront views.

Wind and other non-coal generated power should increase in popularity, with consumers likely to be more willing to pay for green power. Hybrid cars could take a slice of the market, putting Honda and Toyota out in front. The hydrogen cell vehicle, whose only emission is water vapour, could become economically feasible.

But perhaps the biggest shift in consciousness could be made in the perception that, given they were right about global warming, the greenies are right about everything else. This might not happen overnight. But global warming is going to get worse before it gets better. What would life be like in a Green World?

De-industrialisation would follow the depletion of energy sources if we were to cease using oil and coal and were unable to switch to nuclear energy. (The USA has enough coal to burn for 250 years and considers it a matter of national security that they be able to burn it.) The global economy would contract as transport and distribution systems wound down through lack of energy. Economies would have to become more localised and crafts and cottage industries flourish.

The reduction in earning power for the average consumer would see discretionary dollars disappear and, combined with reductions in use of petrochemicals and plastics, would bring communications technologies into an ice age. The computer era would become a page in history. The same shrinkage of consumer spending and taxable incomes would see many services that provide personal security and wellbeing scaled down, such as law enforcement and medicine. Security issues could see the emergence of medieval walled cities (an expansion of the gated community concept) and private armies (as seen on the streets of US cities). A Mad Max scenario.

Unlikely? If global warming speeds the depletion of the natural resource base on which agriculture relies – superdroughts and massive erosion of topsoils – the house of cards we call modern civilisation could disappear as quickly as the Mayan cities did, abandoned almost ovenight and left to be consumed by the forest.

Now nothing ever happens according to the way things are predicted. But perception is reality. If the market believes in a likelihood, it effects the way people think and act. Books like Jared Diamond’s Collapse, Tim Flannery’s The Weather Makers or The Revenge of Gaia by James Lovelock are well-researched and convincing and scare the hell out of readers.

Whatever happens, global terrorism and global warming together means it is a very different world we’re selling into.
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