Fellow Toastmasters and welcome guests, there is a recent trend in advertising and marketing that is starting to worry me: Advertising though guilt. It’s no longer enough to say that your product or service is superior – now companies are implying that we are all headed straight to hell if we don’t buy their product or participate in their schemes.
Here’s a recent example – Terror-Free Oil [show photo of gas pump]. Years ago, we were enticed to buy a particular brand because it had a higher octane, or it contained detergents that cleaned our car’s engine. Now things are much more insidious – the implication being that if you don’t buy their brand of gasoline, you are funding terrorist activities, and by extension you are almost certainly a bad person.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing a lot about Earth Hour – a little too much for my liking. As I’m sure you know by now Earth Hour is a global experiment where people around the world are encouraged to turn off their lights between 8:30 – 9:30 pm on the last Saturday in March. The Toronto Star published a daily Countdown To Earth Hour, with accompanying articles detailing how people are going to prepare for and spend their Saturday evening.
The Mississauga News published a picture that is in my opinion, the absolute height of stupidity. [show newspaper article and photo] This shopkeeper said that she is going to observe Earth Hour by turning off the lights in her store. As I’m sure you know already, all of the stores in Port Credit close at 6:00pm on Saturday. Of course their lights are going to be turned off. What exactly is this shopkeeper hoping to accomplish by declaring this? Are we supposed to think highly of her now, for being such a caring, environmentally-sensitive soul? As the comedian Chris Rock said in one of his stand-up routines “You’re supposed to do that! What do you want, a cookie?”.
As surprising as this may seem, I participated in Earth Hour over the weekend. I turned off all my lights at 8:30 and kept them off for an hour. To me, this was a perfect opportunity to test some of my LED flashlights. I put a couple of flashlights in each room, turned them on and pointed them toward the ceiling to bask in the reflected glow – my apartment was nice and bright again, and I had to remind myself that I was making a sacrifice. This was also an excellent opportunity to test the runtimes, the light coverage, heat sinking, and how well each flashlight maintained its brightness as its battery was depleted. Overall, it was a fairly productive Earth Hour for me.
I’m of two minds about Earth Hour. I’m probably the furthest thing from a tree-hugger, and personally I think that Earth Hour is a colossal waste of time, and ironically, energy. The energy saved is merely a drop in the bucket – incandescent light bulbs use only 60 or 100 watts each (or 15 and 23 watts, respectively, for their compact fluorescent equivalents). If you really want to make a difference, dry your hair with a towel instead of a hair dryer (which uses 1500 watts). Open your dishwasher and air dry your dishes (1200 watts), dry your clothes on a clothes line instead of using a dryer (4000 watts), or make yourself a sandwich once in a while instead of turning on your oven (up to 12,000 watts).
Secondly, why wait? Do we really need an Earth Hour to do something productive? We’ve all known about this for weeks, so why didn’t we start turning off our lights every night? A couple of years ago, I watched a National Geographic documentary called Inside Mecca. It profiled a number of people and they talked about their reasons for making the pilgrimage. One lady from Texas (who was raised Catholic but who later converted to Islam) said that she was turning over a new leaf and making major changes in her life. This trip to Mecca was the first step in her journey. I, watching all of this on television thought “Madam – why are you waiting? If your faith dictates that you must visit Mecca, then by all means that’s what you must do – but don’t use it as an excuse to delay making positive changes in your life. You’ve made the decision to improve yourself, now take a page from the Nike marketing book and Just Do It! Do it today!”
These examples are merely posturing – all sizzle and no steak. Here’s an example of something that’s low-key but far more effective. Recently, I was at HMV buying some CDs. Their bags used to be black, but now they are white. [show black and white HMV bags] The white bags use a lot less dye than the black ones. This could mean they are cheaper to manufacture, thus saving the company money, or the company might actually care about the environment and deliberately manufacture bags with less dye. Upon closer inspection I saw that while the black bag had a recycling symbol on it, the white bag was biodegradable. Upon exposure to sunlight, it will break down into carbon dioxide, water and a couple of other innocuous things. This small change is actually making a big difference – far less waste in our landfills, and all without any fanfare.
To be fair ridiculous exercises such as Earth Hour do have the power to galvanize people around the globe and get them to become team players. Despite our recent tendency to gaze inward and exist in our own bubbles, events such as Earth Hour show us the importance of working collectively, helping each other, and demonstrating the importance of delayed gratification. This is an impressive example of getting us to accept individual inconveniences for the common good, and despite its lack of practicality, I see this as a healthy detour on our road to an increasingly egocentric existence.
And now, I’d like to extrapolate these examples, and make two predictions. These are things that are also “all image and no substance”. First of all, I’m going predict the demise of the red carpet. In this age of increased environmental awareness, I think that the red carpet will be supplanted by a bright green carpet. Celebrities are all about image, and green will give the impression that they are environmentally conscious, care about the planet, and are doing something tangible (or at least visible) to make the world a better place. Green will elevate their status as they embrace the cause du jour, making them even more exalted in the eyes of the adoring, impressionable masses. Clearly, this accomplishes nothing, but in Hollywood, image is everything.
Secondly, I believe that future television programs and commercials will become much darker. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical or thematic sense – I mean that they will take place at night, and have more dimly-lit scenes. It takes energy to light up a pixel, and the brighter the television picture, the more energy is required to view it. I predict that there will be a self-righteous backlash and perhaps even a boycott against advertisers who use a white background in their television commercials because they are forcing consumers to use more energy. Companies that use black backgrounds in their commercials will be heralded as environmentally-sensitive, and will enjoy increased sales of their products and services.
Laugh all you want – I agree that these are silly predictions… but no sillier than Earth Hour.