“Saving money” may be a promise you can’t keep

“Saving money” may be a promise you can’t keep

I’m no psychologist, but I’m about to play one in my blog:

The human brain doesn’t like incompletes.  Read a few self help books and you’ll hear we tend to put people in our lives who let us complete the incompletes from our childhood.  Put a picture of half a smiley face in front of someone and ask what they see, and they’re likely to say “a smiley face” not “a half a smiley face.” Or place some bla__s in some te_t and your reader will automatically fill them in.

Thus, when you put broad messages in your advertising, your target audience fills in the gaps.  This works to your advantage if you’re selling, say, aftershave.  You can suggest a promise of sexiness, and your target will fill in the blanks about specifically what that means for his life in a very psoitive way — in a way that might move him to buy the product.  In the case of energy efficiency, a broad promise works to the opposite effect.  Every time your advertising says “Save money!” in very broad terms, your target audience makes up a number they can expect to save.  What do you think that number is?

Fifty percent.

For two years in a row now our Energy Pulse study (publishing October 30) has asked Americans what they expect to save on their monthly utility bill if they invest $4,000 to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.  The average answer has consistently been around $92 — which is half their reported winter heating bill and 54% of their reported summer cooling bill.  In reality, it’s nearly impossible to cut one’s utility bill in half with a $4,000 investment.  So no wonder our Utility Pulse study revealed that a third of the consumers who’ve undertaken EE home renovations haven’t seen the savings they expected.

Back in psychologist mode:  how do you suppose consumers feel when their expectations aren’t met?  Frustrated!  Angry! Hoodwinked!  And that leads to apathy (see our blog post from last week for more on that subject).  Yes, consumers need a promise, they need to know what’s in it for them to buy an energy efficient product or service, and savings is a good promise.  It’s in the best interest of the company doing the advertising, however, to set very clear, realistic expectations of how much can be saved.  And it’s also in the best interests of advertisers to consider other promises.  And for that, look at what your friends in the aftershave sector are promising.  Seriously.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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