'Tackling' Climate Change

Just as sports fans around the globe are being riveted to their barstools by the World Cup, complete with spectacular goals and tackles, comes word that the World Bank believes that “tackling climate change” could be a huge economic driver for world economies. Why is it, you may wonder, that the word “tackle” is now used with increasing frequency in relation to climate change?

By design, actually. The folks at BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy), a consortium that includes Nike, Levi’s, and numerous other global brands, launched a Climate Declaration campaign in 2013 that reframed climate change as an economic opportunity. The headline was “Tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century – and it’s simply the right thing to do.” The world “tackling” was used very strategically, based on research from Yale University that showed a wide spectrum of American beliefs on climate change – with a solid block of male conservatives in the center who needed to be fully convinced and mobilized to take action.

Previous communications in the press, and in various campaigns through the years, had used phrases like “address climate change.” You know who “addresses” things? Mrs. Bunyevich, my fifth grade math teacher, who held a meeting with my parents to “address Teddy’s need to focus on his homework.” Real men do not address things in current American culture. The creators of the Climate Declaration knew this, and chose “tackle climate change” instead. 

This language helped appeal to a whole new audience in a new way. It was time to look at climate change differently, not as something that was just going to happen to us, something we were going to be passive about. Tackling climate change put us on the offensive. We all became linemen on our favorite football team (or soccer team, depending on which sport you like most). The tree huggers could keep addressing climate change all they wanted. But for the broad center of the country, the men (predominantly) who had sat on the sidelines, “tackling” brought testosterone into the fray.

You can see the results when you Google “tackle climate change” today. There are numerous references post-2013, when the Climate Declaration launched, and very few prior to that. The tackling of climate change has also – like a player chasing the ball down the field – picked up speed. Originally about 35 companies signed the Climate Declaration, and now there are over 500. “Tackling” has gone global, thanks to organizations like the World Bank. 

This trend has just begun, and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon. There are lessons here for marketers of all kinds of green products. For starters, I strongly doubt that the word “green” appeals to most men. It’s more likely the women who respond to words like “green” and “environment.” In fact, I think if more companies adopted a more male-focused communications approach, they could tap into a much bigger market for their products. Ironically, a male-oriented approach might also be attractive to women as well who are tired of the same old thing. 

Take cars, for example. Nissan launched their Leaf with ads of a polar bear hugging a Leaf owner. That approach can work with people who self-identify as environmentalists. But what about the conservative white males? The Leaf could reach a whole new customer base by taking a more aggressive and man-made campaign approach. 

Picture this: The commercial opens on the action-film superstar Steven Seagal in a car chase. He’s careening through downtown L.A., zigzagging through heavy traffic at high speed, flying across sidewalks as pedestrians duck for cover. In pursuit are the bad guys, who just happen to be driving black Cadillac SUVs, guns blazing from their open windows, bullets puncturing the Leaf. Seagal points his Glock skillfully and shoots back, hitting an SUV right in the gas tank. A fireball erupts. Seagal speeds away and loses them. Cut to him pulling into his suburban garage. His kids run out to greet him just as he’s plugging the Leaf into an outlet. The announcer says, “The Nissan Leaf. Gas-free. You got a problem with that?”

There is no end to the possibilities. But marketers have to start by hitting reverse and really thinking about who their customer is – male or female – and start questioning assumptions about what will work and what won’t. “Tackling” is here to stay, and companies who have a bromance with it will crush the market.

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