Code Green: This Is A Security Alert

Last spring, climate change occupied the top spot on the domestic issues charts for some time, peaking when the U.S. House of Representatives battled it out to pass its "cap and trade" climate change bill. Amidst the current rancor of the health care reform debate, U.S. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recently unveiled their Senate climate change bill, calling it the "Clean Energy and American Power Act."

While there are similarities and differences between the passed House bill and the proposed Senate bill, the largest difference has been the message. The House debate centered largely on energy, the environment, and jobs, whereas Kerry announced his bill by first stating, "This is a security bill ..."

A security bill? At its core, this legislation is a climate change bill. Yet, Democrats have shifted their message away from "green" and toward "security." Moreover, as chair of the Committee on the Environment and Public Works, this was Boxer's bill to own. Still, in a symbolic gesture, she deferred to Kerry, who is more credible on security issues as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. It is instructive for communications professionals to observe this strategic marketing shift.

Despite intense lobbying by President Barak Obama himself, the House bill passed by a slim 219-212 margin, with 44 Democrats voting against. Democrats now realize that "green" votes alone won't pass the Senate bill. So Kerry is seeking to let the Democrats re-frame the bill in terms of security.

Consider for a moment that politicians sell products like any company does. Think of politicians as companies, or even products themselves, and think of voters as consumers. Just as Fortune 500 companies test-market their products and communications programs, so, too, do politicians. Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist behind Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" in 1994, has literally turned communications testing into a science, and now counts some of America's largest corporations as his clients.

So when John Kerry calls what is in essence a green bill, a security bill, there is good reason. He is reaching beyond the green consumer (i.e. voter) and reaching out to security consumers as well. One can be reasonably confident that his language has been well market tested.

There are several lessons here to be learned by marketing and communications professionals. First, think beyond green when pitching green products. What other value-added propositions exist for a product or service? How can you expand your consumer base? What environmentalists and politicians have learned is that there aren't enough green consumers out there to be successful. Politicians are also trying to sell their green products to pocket book consumers and security consumers.

Second, like it or not, the language used by politicians in the green space can be informative. Last year, Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent more than a combined $1 billion on their campaigns. A good portion of that went to polling and market testing of their messages. Savvy marketers of green products and services can pick up on some of these trends, ideas and messages --- for no cost at all.

5 comments about "Code Green: This Is A Security Alert ".
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  1. Rodney Brooks from ToTouch One, Inc, October 21, 2009 at 12:58 p.m.

    Is this "greenwashing" the green issue by calling it a security bill. Not sure what to think about how or what this bill is really doing to or for green marketing.

  2. John Spencer from Via Toy Box, October 21, 2009 at 1:15 p.m.

    Are you trying to say that small business practices should emulate politicians in Washington D.C? The last time I checked, Congress had around a 20% approval rating. Corporate CEO and health insurance executives, despite all the demagoguery, are trusted by more of the American people. Call it a climate change bill (it used to be called global warming) or a security bill, it won't matter. As people begin to realize that the new "green" economy will just result in higher unemployment and more government control, look for a backlash.

  3. elizabeth Weisser, October 21, 2009 at 1:26 p.m.

    Marketers know that getting the proposition, positioning, and messaging right on any new product is key to gaining consumer awareness, buy-in, engagement and trust. Congress should be doing the same for this critical bill. You could argue that a security bill is a more encompassing term/higher level thought for climate change (e.g., the ultimate end benefit -- a more secure future for our land and our people if we adopt 'greener' policy and practices now). Or, 'security' could be seen as a 'green wash' and distraction of the core intent of the climate change bill.

  4. Ruth Barrett from, October 21, 2009 at 2:44 p.m.

    Green is way too limited of a focus at the national policy level or for that matter at the Corporate level hence the continued investment in increasing sustainability awareness. What's in a name? Plenty. Sustainability incorporates a wide diversity of issues, opportunities, and big challenges. It is the mission critical application of the next two to three decades.

  5. Chris Corbett from KMA Direct Communications, October 21, 2009 at 6:23 p.m.

    I think this article makes a good, though somewhat elementary, point regarding value-adds to any marketing proposition. However, the real story may be that consumers, voters, and politicians are beginning to doubt the entire proposition of global warming. I haven't looked at Luntz's data, but other surveys show increasing skepticism that global warming is dangerous, real, significant, or man-made. This impression is flowing from the high-profile resistance by a growing community of weather scientists. Plus, the response of global warming supporters--name-calling rather then rationale discussion--has added to the negativity accruing to the global warming brand. As MS learned with Vista, it's hard to keep selling a product that is perceived as flawed.

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