by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

I know that I've written about it before, but the nonsense coming from the energy lobby continues to rub me the wrong way.

Big Oil continues to run lots of glossy, very expensive branding premised on claiming that there's some conversation going on between the energy producers and the consuming public. 

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Their goal? To keep pumping as much oil as possible for as long as possible, as it should be. That's their business. But their branding, conversely, makes the faux case that they're already doing lots to seek alternate energy, spending money on research, and that their employees want to help inaugurate a future without fossil fuels. 

I can't help but remember the many years of obfuscation and philanthropic contributions from the cigarette makers...similarly intended to maximize the productive years left in their businesses. 

Do they think anybody really believes that Big Oil is an active partner in the search for ways to put themselves out of business? 

Again, I mean no slight to the oil producers; they are excruciatingly important to the global economy and, as far as I know, break no laws. They're not bad guys, per se, but their branding could be far more effective if they considered:

  • A campaign to encourage energy efficiency, which would at least be more honest and perhaps even more useful to consumers
  • How about making substantive contributions to developing real, profitable lines outside of fossil fuels, instead of spending what seems like real money promoting their symbolic expenditures on research
  • Create impactful consumer-involving campaigns, like declaring that X% of every gallon of gas sold would be committed to reducing greenhouse emissions (or something), and then using all that glossy advertising to report back to the public what's really being accomplished

Then there are the Areva ads, which try to make nuclear power seem safe and fun, like a hip cartoon.

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In them, we're presented with imagery that explicitly suggests that nuclear energy is an important part of our energy grid...part of a balanced portfolio that includes wind turbines (which are featured in the portrayal of the town). The spot ends with cartoon characters dancing with one another; the implicit punchline is that nuclear is good.

Again, the reality is nothing of the sort.

Diehard technocrats and political zealots will argue that nuclear power is safe, and that it should be exploited as an alternative to oil. But

  • They neglect to remember that many of mankind's greatest technical inventions have failed -- Titanic and Hindenberg, anybody -- not to mention Three Mile Island or Chernobyl
  • They can blather on about safeguards until they're red in the face, but if there's any "debate" going on, it's about whether it makes sense or not to trade the risk of destroying millions of years of history by combusting oil, with the risk of poisoning hundreds of generations into the future with radioactive waste
  • They can pretend that the issue can be reduced to a cuddly cartoon, but isn't that sort of like translating the cigarette issue into an image of Joe Camel smiling with a cigarette between his teeth? 

I know, I know, all is fair in waging battle in the court of public opinion, and those on "the other side" aren't so much other companies competing for profits, but rather zealous believers who could care less who (or what) makes money. 

So the energy biz is in a bit of a nihilistic battle, really. I get it.

But, at least in the instance of the oil companies, they're using the money they get from consumers to create communications that don't serve the best interests of those consumers.

Imagine if

  • McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts used some of their marketing dollars to try and convince people that they're working on ways to make more healthy food?
  • Alcohol brands spent large sums on marketing new products to get people to drink more, even as they ran ads claiming something irrelevant, like drink responsibly?
  • Women's cosmetic companies ran charitable campaigns to support women refusing to use makeup in order to feel good about themselves?

Nobody would accept that sort of nonsense either...er...wait a minute!

Dim bulb alert!  Ohwhataduckiam!

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/09/shrill-baby-shr.html

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