The trouble for many people who move to Knoxville, Tennessee, is that our city has long held the distinction of being the seasonal allergy capital of the U.S. Situated in a temperate rainforest, the steady rainfall we receive year-round brings with it lush blooms of vegetation. When the weather warms in early spring, the pollen bursts forth, covering cars in a light mist of yellow.
Aside from the never-ending car wash cycle post-spring, Knoxvillians also have to deal with the influx of often crippling allergies. Even people who had no history of allergy problems have found themselves sniffling, congested and teary-eyed within Knoxville’s city limits.
For those allergy sufferers who live in more allergy-friendly locales, I’ve got some bad news. Researchers are predicting pollen counts to double in the next 30 years. The cause? According to researchers, there is one major malefactor: climate change.
Scientists at the Rutgers Center for Environmental Prediction have posited that the effects of climate change (warmer temperatures, elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and higher-than-normal precipitation levels) will exponentially increase the amount of pollen produced by trees and plants throughout the world. Higher pollen levels means a higher number of people who will feel an allergic reaction and suffer through allergy season.
Couple this theory with other researchers’ predictions of more frequent, and violent, storms, and we’re in for a bumpy (and sneezy) ride. So what should marketers do with this information, aside from stockpiling allergy medicine?
Well, we know from our Eco PulseTM study last year that 57% of consumers surveyed agreed with the statement: “Global warming, or climate change, is occurring, and it is primarily caused by human activity.” We also know that consumers simply do not respond to doom and gloom messages forecasting the end of the world.
This leaves us with an interesting new behavior-changing conundrum. While melting ice caps and rising ocean levels feel so distant to many consumers, especially on a day-to-day level, the threat of extreme allergy seasons might do the trick in convincing some consumers to change short-term behaviors that may be detrimental in the long run to the environment.
Another bit of data to keep in mind from our Pulse studies is that, when given the choice, consumers continue to choose their comfort and convenience over the environment. If “comfort” and “the environment” are the same thing, as could be the case with tackling a rapid increase in allergies, the playing field gets leveled.
Perhaps the opportunity lies in taking advantage of inconveniences that are becoming extremely visible. Marketers could encourage consumers to think small-scale, and pay attention to how their activities affect their immediate environment. Suddenly, the threat of an annoying health issue carries a lot of weight in the eyes of consumers.
Another way of approaching the problem could be through a partnership with an organization, such as the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. By raising awareness of the situation at hand – and potential solutions – both entities could see positive results.
As most red-eyed, runny-nosed allergy sufferers will attest to, allergies are a problem you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But there may just be a silver lining here. Polar bears are cute, but sneezing is awful. Maybe Americans could be convinced to save themselves from allergies, if they can’t be convinced to save the planet … or the polar bears.