If the election teaches us one thing about mass communications in America it’s this, appeal to the Self Interest—rational or irrational as it may be. Think about it, President-elect Trump’s message was "pick me and I will make it great in America again," an easily understood personal benefit, living in a great country. After all, who doesn’t want to live in a great country? Hillary made a moral case about what kind of culture we should live in, and what kind of president we should have, which are second-degree benefits. Self Interest won. "Rational" is no longer a requirement for victory.
The truth about current political climate can be as scary as the truth about the actual environment. Are we backing out of the Paris Agreement? Reversing pollution protections? Selling federal lands to the mining companies? Can you hear the chants of "Drill Baby Drill?" Is China going to permanently lead the green economy because we won’t even try?
In the environmental movement, and many other causes, there is a notion that the cause —nature—has such inherent nobility that it is worthy of support simply based on its existence. And personally, I agree. Some causes are worthy of support on their own, especially the Earth. But nature for nature’s sake isn’t an effective communication strategy or a compelling enough benefit to overcome the skeptics, and it never has been. Neither was "Stronger Together," despite its truth.
In a world of dwindling resources, increasing anxiety, severe consequences and President-elect Trump; we must lead with the personal benefit to the individual we’re trying to persuade. It means making our general market communications personalized to Americans on their terms and focusing the beltway messaging on the economic potential in the millions of jobs in the green energy, green infrastructure and sustainable finance industries. No more polar bears stranded on icebergs. The bottom line is that if we want to save what’s in the collective interest, we must appeal to the self-interest.
Remind hipsters that if they want a good local brewery to succeed, they must ensure the sustainability of the local fresh water source. Remind the outdoorsmen in the south that changing animal migrations could ruin their hunting and fishing seasons without swift action on climate change. Remind those folks on Wall Street that if they want to keep eating steak dinners they need to start investing in sustainable cattle markets. And we need to remind the new administration that if they want to Make America Great Again, they need to make us the undisputed, global leader in the biggest industry of this century, Making the Planet Great Again.
—Drew Train is managing partner of socially conscious marketing agency Oberland.