Going green: one shade doesn’t fit all

In the immediate aftermath of the Super Bowl, with everyone in the ad business weighing in on the best and worst of all those $3 million ads, mostly consensus emerged. Google’s low-budget spot (the only one that turned everyone at the crowded Super Bowl party I attended near silent) was pure brilliance. Snicker’s absurdist approach was absolute fun. And Dodge’s screed against marriage misery led a shamefully disturbing trend of misogyny in this year’s ad crop (although for the record my girlfriend found it funny).

But there is no commonly accepted view on how to receive “Green Car,” Audi’s attempt to market a fuel-efficient diesel vehicle. It’s the one that still has me thinking 24 hours later, given the enormous contradictions of selling a vehicle as “environmentally friendly” while simultaneously lampooning the environmental movement. It’s an ad that’s both highly rated for entertainment value and deemed controversial in its delivery. As Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik astutely pointed out, “it’s as if you used the Apple ‘1984’ ad to sell PCs, by making people want to please Big Brother. Maybe this would have been a better ad for Hummer?”

It’s hard to debate the humor inherent for moderates in depicting a future that combines the left-wing nightmare of a police state with the right-wing nightmare of environmental regulations run rampant. Teaser ads from the same campaign warning against “napkin abuse” and  “environmental contraband” are equally as funny. But is mocking environmentalism really an effective way to get people on board with going green? As someone who self identifies as an environmentalist, should I be offended?

Perhaps a few months ago, the spot would have provoked my ire. But a research paper and online presentation I gave for my public opinion and new media course last semester changed the “one shade fits all” views I had on the green movement. The research looked into how environmentalism has evolved in the digital age. What I found was that while the environmental movement was built on the efforts of those who want to preserve the natural world for conservation’s sake, it reached mainstream status only with the support of those who go green as an act of economic self-interest.

That’s the audience Audi undoubtably targeted with its “Green Police” marketing campaign. Credible polls have shown that a majority of Americans will support environmental protection, but only if it doesn’t hurt the economy . In other words, they’ll go green if it also means protecting the green in their wallets.

This shouldn’t be a hard crowd to win over. As environmentalists we strongly believe that conservation and sustainable consumption is the only way to ensure long-term wealth for all of society. The challenge is communicating that to those wary of environmentalism and fearful of short-term economic loss. Maybe that takes some good-natured ribbing of the movement’s excesses. It definitely means recognizing that not everyone views ‘Green’ as exactly the same shade.

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