The Power of Words

The Power of Words

Through a story that would take too long to relate here, I found myself at a party Saturday night that was being held, in part, to raise awareness of the Slow Food Movement. Now, if you’re not aware of this whole concept, it’s essentially the opposite of Fast Food.  So, no McDonald’s or pre-packaged stuff…just food the old fashioned way:  grown or killed and prepared from scratch on a local farm or your own backyard.

Throughout the course of the evening, as I heard people talk reverently about this Movement I’m afraid I found much of the discussion pretentious, and realized I was among the group we see in our Eco Pulse survey known as Activists.  They’re very into Being Green and feel a strong pull to be part of a Movement whether it be For Something or Against Something.  I think I’m a bit stuck on the label, too.  When Fast Food came to be, there was no movement, it was simply a capitalistic response to market demand.  As a student of Mainstream Consumers, I think Slow Food can be exactly that as well — a capitalistic response to a different market demand:  a demand created by concern about tainted food from dirty processing plants or of too many injected hormones and what that might mean to a child’s development, or simply of an appreciation of the better taste inherent in food grown in somebody’s garden or of the personal satisfaction inherent to planting something and watching it actually grow and become the fruit or vegetable displayed on the seed packet.

Karen Barnes, our Director of Insight, attended the Good and Green conference last year, and Shelton Group will be a sponsor and speaking at it this year.  At last year’s conference there was quite a lot of discussion around language and the fact that much green marketing dwells on the negative, i.e. the planet is dying, we’re destroying our children’s future or, in the case of the Slow Food Movement, Fast Food is bad. Further, much green marketing tends to judge those harshly who are not green.  It may not be overt, but there’s often an implication that if you’re not buying the organic, all natural, sustainably harvested product, you’re somehow not as good a person, not as caring, not as responsible and certainly not as worthy.

This is the pretense I was talking about earlier. This will backfire — and that was also the point of the discussion at last year’s Good and Green.  In order for us to really see massive change in our consumption of resources and our dependence on products that have negative implications for the planet, we must get mainstream consumers to change their behaviors.  And they don’t respond well to condescension.  One of my favorite quotes from our recent Eco Pulse focus groups came in reference to Whole Foods, which had been described as being in the “snooty part of town.”  One woman said of the store, “my daughter calls it ‘Whole Paycheck.'”

So, if we want to get Mainstream Consumers to the table, we’ll do well to avoid labels that exclude or imply anybody is less than — even words like “Movement.”

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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