[tweetmeme] Most people can’t swallow that title whole. You’re probably thinking that we don’t need a new dog food, or we don’t need another toothpaste. Or another handbag. Or car. And you’d be right – partially. We don’t need a new product, but what we do need is what it represents – the creation of desire where there is none.


How ludicrous is it that we buy expensive dog food even though it’s virtually indistinguishable from the less expensive competition? How ludicrous that we stick to ‘our brand’ of shampoo, or toothpaste, or car (gulp, big purchase) because it’s familiar.

But what made you try it in the first place? Advertising (mostly).

The popular impression of advertising is that it not only forces people to consume, but it forces them to consume things they don’t want. It’s double bad.


But even though that’s the ‘truth’, it’s not the entire truth: it’s actually about persuading people to try what they haven’t tried, and persuading people to enjoy it when they do try.

Persuasion and enjoyment are vital components of moving swiftly to a sustainable world.

It’s entirely within the advertising community’s gift to

give a new-found love of walking short distances instead of driving. Something a government could only challenge using the unsophisticated levers of legislation or taxation.

“Sustainable development is seeking to meet the needs of the present without compromising those of [the] future … We have to… learn to live sustainably.”
United Nations

Is ‘learning to live sustainably’ a tough brief? Yes. Is it any harder than persuading people to change their bank? No. (People get divorced more frequently than they change banks.)

Ready, steady, go

And notice we haven’t spoken about products yet. With advertising’s weird voodoo we don’t need to wait for the fantastic new startup businesses to make the first sexy mass market electric car that everyone wants, or wait for the cudgel of UK wide regulation on feed-in tariffs to incentivise behaviour-change on home solar power and home wind power. We can make the best of an existing situation:

“There are two ways to improve a product: change its material properties or change the way consumers respond to it. Advertising works in the second way. In many cases it is fantastically successful.”
FT.com, Spread the word about the benefits of advertising, Jamie Whyte, June 26 2007

The ‘problem’ with advertising is that it creates desire where there is none. But it’s the ability to create desire where there is none that could be our saving grace when it comes to persuading people to use less water to wash, or to walk instead of driving.

Governments, are you listening?

Recently we’ve written about persuading consumers to respond differently to existing products, processes, and services. You might like to follow up this article with any or all of these:
10 words that can save 7 trillion gallons of water
Your daily routine is defined socially – so why should I appeal to you as an individual?
Access without ownership – 3 revolutionary ideas that lighten the carbon burden.

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