The Department Of Energy Could Use A Little Emotion In Its Energy Conservation Campaign

The IntersectionBy The IntersectionJul 20, 2011 2:15 AM


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This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and policy wonk, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process The Department of Energy has released a new series of public service announcements designed to motivate the public to save energy. They're calling it a consumer education campaign and running with the slogan:

"Save Money By Saving Energy"

The campaign currently features two videos that "educate" the public on the obvious point that saving energy puts money in your pocket. While I applaud the effort, I wonder if they've chosen the best approach. It is logical to assume that saving money, especially during these difficult economic times, might be a motivator for behavioral change. However, I'm not sure that an appeal to logic is the most effective strategy. A common theme here at The Intersection is the greater effect that emotional appeals will have on voters and consumers. Granted the campaign was created pro bono by Texas-based advertising agency GSD&M, but that seems all the more reason they could have chosen a different, more scientifically-informed tact. The videos are informative as you can see here: But, will it effect behavioral changes? I'm not so sure. After all, the Republicans recently took on the issue of light bulb efficiency and won. Despite the fact that "regular" light bulbs are known to waste energy, and thus money, the Republicans successfully passed legislation to strip pending regulations on bulb efficiencies. Apparently, their constituents aren't sold on the idea of conserving energy or money by changing from incandescent bulbs to alternatives like compact fluorescent light bulbs. Why were the Republicans able to win this small but symbolic battle? They turned the energy efficiency discussion into an emotional debate in which they portrayed the Democrats as trampling on multiple "real American" values. Take for instance this quote

from an article at the "pro-free market" Hawaii Reporter:

"Some politicians in Washington don't think you're all that bright. They believe that you can't make wise decisions in your day-to-day life, so they have taken it upon themselves to impose regulations to protect you from yourself. And there's no better example than Congress' ban on the incandescent light bulb, which is up for repeal in the House today. The 2007 law is set to phase-out Thomas Edison's brainchild bulbs in 2012 and replace them with costlier but more energy-efficient alternatives, the most popular being compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Since then, the impending restrictions have become a hallmark of Nanny State overreach, provoking backlash across the country."

In this brief text, the conservative website touched on several hot button issues that feed right into the Republicans' false narrative on Democrats: 1) Democrats are elitists who think average Americans are unintelligent. 2) Democrat-supported regulations are an encroachment on your personal freedoms. 3) Democrats are destroying the fabric of America by aborting the "brainchild" of the great American inventor, Thomas Edison. 4) Democrats are trying to control you by creating a Nanny State (another appeal to libertarian values). 5) You are not alone in your opposition. There is "backlash across" America. These tactics include Orwellian-style language and misinformation. The Republicans absolutely know that incandescent light bulbs are less efficient than CFLs. They also know that this legislation will force Americans to ultimately spend more on energy than the increase in the cost of the new bulbs. The Natural Resources Defense Council issued a report asserting that more efficient light bulbs could save Americans $12.5 billion in energy costs nationally by 2020. It doesn't matter. The Republicans have won their hearts and their minds, for now. If the DOE wants to be as successful as the Republicans in the energy debate, they'll need to find the emotional trigger that appeals to a broad segment of the population. Forget about using logic. That is so 20th Century. Follow Jamie Vernon on Twitter

or read occasional posts at his personal blog, “American SciCo.”

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