How to talk conservation to conservatives: A great example from Goldman Sachs

How to talk conservation to conservatives: A great example from Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs recently launched a campaign steeped in environmental messaging that seems to be squarely aimed at a conservative audience. Don’t cover your eyes – it’s not a train wreck. After all, conservatives actually do inherently love conservation. It’s really a misnomer to think otherwise. True, conservatives get annoyed with certain aspects of the environmental movement. Tree huggers and spotted owl lovers are not heroic figures to the right. But there are a lot of good, old-fashioned values that are consistent with the fundamental elements of conservation and stewardship. So why the disconnect between conservative audiences and traditional green messaging?

Well, as with most hot topics, “green” has become a political football, and the left is scoring a lot of points with it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing the left – a lot of what they’re doing is on point. Nor am I trying to sanctify the right – they do have some scorched-earth policy makers on their side of the aisle. That said, as green marketers, we don’t have to choose a side. We can be the free agents for change. All we have to do is employ some semantics, put on our demographic thinking caps and do what we’re best at: talking to people where they’re at and moving them to where we’d like them to be.

The Goldman Sachs campaign, deftly titled “Progress Is Everyone’s Business,” is a great example of this. It’s well worth your time to take a look at the messaging in their videos.

With a heavy emphasis up front on infrastructure improvements and business and community development, environmental elements are seamlessly woven in with terms like “advanced” and “high tech.” The vocabulary of sustainability is evolving beyond the old standbys, and these stories are told in the context of progress, not restriction.

A key takeaway here is this: Words matter. As a communicator this may sound like a big “duh,” but for whatever reason many have been slow to catch on. It’s not just what you say – it’s how you say it, particularly with conservative audiences. Whereas the term “green” may reek of unshowered hippies to a conservative, the same concepts can be communicated with terms like “stewardship” and “conservative allocation of resources,” words near and dear to every red-blooded American’s heart. Our research bears this out, in fact. The notions of “doing the right thing/leaving the campsite better than you found it” and “energy independence” play well on both sides of the aisle.

Another takeaway lies in the imagery. Clean and bright. No gratuitous b-roll of raw sewage pouring into the river, although that was the problem they were trying to solve in the DC Water story. People are far more motivated by the portrayal of an optimistic solution than a depiction of a jarring circumstance (again, we’ve seen this bear out time and time again as we’ve tested various approaches in our focus groups). There were also no pictures of the Colorado River or polar bears adrift. Instead, relevant environmental (and business) benefits were visually communicated. A big miss by many sustainability communications is that people care about what they touch and encounter on a daily basis. Scientists understand that melting polar caps impact main street America, but Main Street Americans don’t.

In short, the Goldman Sachs series is worth a few minutes of your time. The campaign showcases many facets of successful communication in the green space. Critics may get distracted by the details and may (or may not) identify distortions or hypocritical facets. I am not in a position to verify or deny any of that. I am, however, in a position to say that as a communication effort targeted to an audience that can be on high alert to tuck tail and run at the mention of “environmentalism,” it’s a solid piece of work. Whether we are trying to make our cities cleaner or rescue a few drifting polar bears, there is no reason to eliminate half of your audience by using polarizing terminology and imagery when a more thoughtful, strategic approach could greatly broaden your impact.


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Posted on

February 25, 2015

About the Author

Matt Brass

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing all campaigns and collateral. With nearly two decades of marketing design under his belt, Matt has extensive experience in design, photography and videography, as well as blogging about the latest and greatest (or worst) ad campaigns out there. He leads our team on kayaking trips, too.

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