How brands can educate the public on climate change


As COP 28 focuses people’s minds on climate change and the actions they can take to alleviate the growing crisis, one thing marketers can do is consider not using the term climate change.

So says John Marshall, marketing professor and founder and CEO of Potential Energy Coalition. The nonpartisan nonprofit brings together America’s leading creative, analytic and media agencies to shift the conversation on climate change.

Why climate change language matters  

Marshall argues in a TED talk that the language commonly deployed around climate change – using terms like net zero and anthropogenic – may be fine for specialists but is confusing for the ordinary person in the street. “The way to fix this failure to communicate is to start not by talking about the issue, but to start with people, to think first about individuals,” he says.

  • Use plain, obvious and universal language. Instead of ‘warming’, try ‘overheating’; instead of ‘climate’, talk about ‘extreme weather’. If mentioning ‘clean energy’, add ‘cheap energy’ as well.
    “And if you absolutely must talk about temperature increases and you live in the US, use Fahrenheit for goodness sake: it doubles the severity!” Marshall urges. 
  • Make climate something that matters to people individually. “Nobody has an epiphany about policy proposals,” he observes. “The right messages are those that connect climate change to personal identity; our life – not future lives, not the world, (but) our community; our values – not necessarily environmentalism; our child – not just children.”
  • Make the issue relatable to ‘people like me’. “You can present the exact same message to many people, but when it comes from someone with a similar accent or background, we see double-digit increases in message effectiveness,” Marshall reports. “Most people see climate change as an ‘environmentalist issue’, but messages that break away from those narrow identity markers make the issue relatable and give people a reason to care.”

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