Bad pickup lines are the stuff of Hollywood movies (and a particular fascination of mine.) You know the type, the guy or girl who’s convinced they have the killer pickup line, the one that never fails?
And that’s the second reason I have to wonder if conservation advocates ever get laid – they are solemn believers in the absolute power of message. And as a result, they spend literally millions of dollars on research and consultants searching for the perfect message, like Ahab searching for the white whale. Now, don’t get me wrong. Message is important. Research is crucial. And far be it from me to question the wisdom of hiring smart consultants.
But it’s the damage caused by the false hope that there exists some set of words that will have such transformative power, if only they can be discovered. I’ve sat in hours of meetings with groups looking for “the” message on climate change. And those meetings have been both sad and funny. “Drowning polar bears!” “Your barbecue grill is safe!” “Changing your light bulb will save the world.” Conservation advocates are true believers in the fundamental rightness of their own values, and utterly convinced that they can convert everyone to their church. Utterly convinced that there is some magic phrase or set of words that will magically convert Homer Simpson into Al Gore.
Just look at history. In a single generation, we completely changed social norms around drinking and smoking while pregnant. In the 80’s and 90’s the gay community adopted safe sex, (but then began to abandon it in the 2000’s.) Across the globe, advocates have been able to achieve targeted behavior change, but message is only one part of a complex puzzle.
And yet still the conservation community searches for the perfect message. The problem isn’t just that it’s wrong. The problem is pursuing a single strategy almost totally to the exclusion of the broader range of strategies and tactics. When you bet the house on a single bet, you’re risking everything.
There’s not one audience. There’s not one message. There’s just sound strategic marketing & communications, fully integrated and based on data to be sure you’re meeting the customer where they are, not where you want them to be, or where you are.
It’s time that conservation advocates moved out of their parent’s basement, learned the value of authentic engagement with their intended, and practice some adult relationship skills.