The Marriage of Energy and Media: Why Putting Media First Will Create Lasting Change


Six minutes. That’s what the average person spends thinking about energy in a year.

(Which also happens to be the amount of time they spend glancing at their energy bill.)

This stark reality paints a picture of the enormous challenges we face in reducing our carbon footprint, in responding to climate change, in ensuring our generation, and the ones to come, will have the resources to not just survive, but thrive.

It is, of course, the same challenge energy efficiency purveyors and marketers have faced since the inception of behavior change programs: energy is not top of mind, people take it for granted, and it’s only thought of when people are either paying for it, or are without it—both negative circumstances.

It isn’t for lack of information or incentive. Climate change is an undeniable reality—one that’s effects, study after study confirms, could be mitigated by widespread adoption of energy efficiency practices. Government and utility programs offer homeowners, building owners, and businesses the allure of incentives and lower energy bills. And with studies showing that nearly 85% of consumers are highly concerned with environmental matters, the market appears ripe for adoption.

Yet energy remains invisible, out of sight, and out of mind.

Clearly, it’s time we rethought our approach.

The Value of Visibility

Here’s the good news: there are clear indications that making energy efficiency top-of-mind has the power to incite behavior change.

energy mindshareDuke University studied the billing records of a South Carolina utility for 16 years. The results were telling about the relationship between energy consumption and visibility. The study found that both residential and commercial customers using automatic bill payments consumed significantly more energy than those who did not.

While energy efficiency programs spend millions on incentives, events, and marketing materials each year to no avail, one piece of paper—made relevant by the time and place it was received, and information it contained—was enough to consistently change behavior. The energy bill was a more effective piece of media than a commercial or brochure would ever be.

For marketers, the implication should be enlightening: maybe it’s not what we’re saying. Maybe it’s how and where we’re saying it.

Visibility happens when we meet people with the right message, at the right time and place. Therefore, it stands to reason that finding the most significant, relevant times and places to reach people with energy messages—through the perfect mix of media—may be the key to unlocking real behavior change.

Of course, that’s not as easy as it used to be.

A Brief History of Media

“We’ve got our idea. Now, let’s make a print ad, a TV spot, a radio spot, and a billboard. Martini, anyone?”

That’s what creating an integrated marketing campaign used to sound like.

It was only 20 or so years ago, but it was a very different time. Content was created by a handful of networks or publishers, consumers could only get it through a few media channels (broadcast networks and print publishers, the things we refer to today as “traditional media”) and for the most part, putting your message out was a matter of plug-and-play. The onus of success was on the size of your footprint and the “stickiness” of your message.

Then, technology happened.

Now, there are 2,000 TV channels to choose from (and DVR to skip the ads). There’s commercial-free satellite radio. There’s Google ads, banner ads, and mobile ads; magazines, blogs, and websites for every micro-niche imaginable. If reaching consumers used be shooting fish in a barrel, now it’s herding cats.

With so much content available via so many micro-targeted channels, the consumer now has the power to curate their own media consumption. One click, tap, swipe, or push of a button is all it takes to tune a brand out, or let a brand in. With all of the power shifted into the consumer’s hands, it’s markedly more difficult to get someone’s attention.

But that’s just one side of the coin.

If marketers do manage to break through, they have an unprecedented opportunity to create much deeper, more engaging relationships with people, and actually become a meaningful part of their lives.

These days, a consumer doesn’t just watch your ad. She watches it, likes it, comments on it, and shares it on all of her social media networks. And she doesn’t just buy your product. She buys it, posts about it on social media, writes an Amazon review, then posts a video review on YouTube, hashtagging all the way.

People are no longer just customers; they’re friends, advocates, and a medium unto themselves. That’s a powerful opportunity.

Making Energy Matter Through Media

Remember the six minutes per year the average person spends thinking about energy? Compare that to the amount of time people spend with media: 267,910 minutes per year. Source eMarketer, “Mobile Continues to Steal Share of US Adults’ Daily Time Spent with Media,” April 22, 2014.

energy mindshare That’s 12 hours and 14 minutes per day.

And it’s no wonder. Media is the place where we go to gain knowledge, connect with other people socially, and join causes we care about—and accessing it only takes a reach into our pockets. It’s time to harness the power of media to transform the energy market.

Now, it’s on us to nail the media and the message.

At Brand Cool, we’ve been working on the message for years by incorporating human insights into every aspect of energy efficiency engagement programs. It’s an approach we’ve outlined in our e-book, Energy is Human.

Now, we’re taking the next critical step: making these messages un-missable by uncovering the smartest, most strategic mix of paid, owned, and earned media placements possible—and we’re doing it by joining forces with some of the brightest media minds in the industry: Butler/Till.

As a media and communications agency on Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 Fastest Growing Companies, Butler/Till has been innovating the way brands use media to connect on more levels with people. Their “Media First” approach doesn’t use media to gain access to people and interrupt their thought process. It looks to make people the actual channel for change.

This highly personalized, hyper-targeted approach has the potential to drive more widespread, sustained engagement in efficiency behaviors and purchasing, making energy use an increasingly visible and conscious part of daily life.

As marketers and social scientists, our job is to make energy relatable and human. When we invite people to become the media for energy efficiency initiatives, we’ll do more than win the behavior, we’ll win the media weight that’s critical to make the urgent progress we need.

It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.