I'm So Thirsty

You look up. It’s mid-day. You’ve been walking fast. Lick your lips. Dry. Dry as a well-picked bone in the desert. There is no water. Is this a dream? A post-apocalyptic nightmare at your local multiplex? 

In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about putting more drama into the effects of global warming. You may recall the plague of locusts. But there is one plague that did not feature in Exodus that may define our modern age. The disappearance of water. 

Water is a beautiful thing. We have come to take it for granted in our world of ridiculous under-pricing, temperatures controlled by petrochemicals, and exotic variations shipped in from Pacific islands at absurd prices. In fact, the U.S. is one of the few developed nations that squanders its potable water, using it to irrigate lawns for example, something our equally developed friends in western Europe would find profligate. This is a classic example of the pitfalls of ignoring Schumacher’s triple bottom-line theory. When you fail to price in the real cost of natural resources, people like you and me misuse them, sing way too long in the shower and eventually, turn our lands into desert-scapes. 

If you live on the East Coast, or Minnesota, this may not make much sense to you. If anything, New York has too much water visiting its shores – which is, of course, merely the flip side of the phenomenon, but also a powerful distraction from the fact that the resources we live our lives by are ebbing. But one of the reasons for the West Coast being as spendthrift as it is with water is our importing of East Coast tastes into what was essentially a desert. And eventually, if we continue to use natural resources in this way, the problem will spread everywhere. So it’s a lesson worth hearing. 

Living in California as I do, it’s not easy to ignore the signs of brownification (if that’s not a word, it should and will be soon) all around me. With only a few exceptions, the sere majesty of Southern California is beginning to pall. As is the beauty of Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. If we don’t act soon, there will have to be another major exodus – and somehow, “Go East, young man” doesn’t ring quite as stirringly as the original Horace Greeley version.

We are past the dream of arresting climate change. Now, it’s time to prepare for the fallout. So here are some ways marketing can help us conserve our second-most precious resource (after air):

  • Measure it: The quantified self movement can do more than just help us lose weight. Through investments in the Internet of Things, we can create dashboards that show us just how much water we are using at any given time. Usually, awareness itself is a powerful deterrent but it becomes really powerful when matched with another powerful marketing lever:
  • Price it: Do what Adam Smith would. Make it more expensive. Make us value it more. And watch how habits change. Especially when you add the third lever:
  • Praise it: Find ways to lionize the savers, the people who cut back and change their habits. Give them medals, recognize them publicly, heck, even give them a tax rebate and then tell everyone else that they got a tax rebate. We live and die by social recognition. Let’s use that Facebook page for good. 

There are many ways to build marketing campaigns around each of these three core strategies. Deprivation is one way, and you can see the effects in your multiplex with the reinvention of “Mad Max”: What was once a pleasant fantasy thrill ride is now an uncomfortable reality. And in the real world, it doesn’t even feature Charlize Theron. It is a brutal world where humans regress into animalistic states and lose all their dignity in a search for survival. 

Think about that when your throat goes dry.

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