Environmental non-profits often deal in grander issues than others, and the unfortunate truth is the average citizen and consumer has difficulty conceptualizing things like ecosystem health or oceanic pollution or the extinction of creatures they have no direct contact with.
There’s no larger topic than the survival of Earth’s ecosystem, and therein lies the problem. The issue is too big, there are too many moving parts, and the average person doesn’t know how to tackle it personally. Your job is to bring it down to their level. Here’s how.
Big Problems Demand Small Actions
People need complicated ideas presented in manageable packages. This is what metaphors and similes attempt to accomplish: they’re a reinterpretation of something difficult as something understandable. It’s not a matter of intelligence or education, either; this affects all large concepts someone is not familiar with.
As we discussed in another article, for non-profits the greatest way to break through the barriers of the ad-adverse public is to discover the core truth of your cause and articulate it as an image; something people can see from across the street and decipher the meaning of without much explanation. A fine example of this would be the Save the Paper campaign. Another would be NRDC’s air pollution campaign. That’s fine for raising awareness and getting attention, but unfortunately 60,000 people dying from pollution is not enough to get people emotionally invested. It might sound counter-intuitive, but remember that we as a society watch disaster movies for fun.
As an environmental non-profit, you must answer two questions for your target audience: how will this affect me personally, and what can I do about it that I can accomplish quickly? You can worry about the visual representation later; first you must establish the logic and tell them what they can do… right now.
The Great Plastic Straw Debate
Translating a complex problem and prescribing a solution they can act upon can have adverse effects, as well. In Canada, we are witnessing a movement involving restaurants to reduce the number of straws being used. The problem is many people want to keep straws, or don’t see it as an altogether useful endeavor. There are valid points on either side.
When it comes to environmental topics, your brand is bringing the issue into two arenas: the cultural, and the political. How do you make people believe something they have to give up is not something they feel like they are losing, or is a positive change is not a bullied obligation?
You need to make them feel like their action makes them the hero of the story.
Related Article: Non-Profits and the Knockout Punch of Remarkability
Storifying the Urgency
A strong example of the power of storytelling is Worldvision. When raising funds for their work overseas to aid developing regions, their campaigns would share the stories of the children they are helping. At every level of their campaigns, from commercials to direct marketing, they would put the real faces the children in front of the audience and tell their story.
A starving village in Africa is too abstract for the majority of people, but Aliesha and her dreams of becoming a nurse to help her sick mother is a story we can identify with; that is how we understand the trials of others.
Take us to a world where there is no sunshine due to pollution obstruction, and tell us how it affects taking children to school. Show us a world where fish populations are destabilized, and tell us how it affects dinner every week. Tell us a story of a grandfather telling their grandkids about how good sushi used to be.
As an environmental brand, it is easy for the mind to gravitate towards the negative. Once you’ve crafted some story outlines about the negative, try flipping it and exploring the positive angle. Swap out a dystopian world for an ideal world, and tell us how we can help make it happen.