Tobacco Lessons Learned

Is there something energy efficiency marketers can learn from tobacco counter marketers? I've been mulling this question and I think there is. Our company has been employing social marketing techniques to discourage young people from smoking and to encourage smokers to quit for the better part of a decade. With considerable success.

Here in Vermont, where we do this work, we have helped bring down the smoking rate among teens to 16% from a high of 34% in 1999.

So what might the lessons be? There are at least three, perhaps more.

1.  Persistency pays. Quitters (inside lingo for smokers who want to quit) have to try, try, try. And try again. One of the themes at November's Behavior, Energy & Climate Change (BECC) conference was concern about the sustainability of people's energy efficiency behavior change. It may be that people have to keep trying and we marketers have to keep reminding them.

2. People want to do it their way. One key insight we've learned from talking with many smokers over the years is that most of them want to quit on their own. No counselor, no nicotine patch, no nothing. Cold turkey. I wonder if there isn't some of that behavior in energy quitters. Maybe we need to give people information and tools and let them shape their own energy efficiency program, one that works for their lifestyle.

3. Peer misperceptions abound.The single greatest insight we uncovered about why teens smoke has to to with their perception, or rather misperception, of how many of their peers smoke. Most tweens and teens believe that the percentage of teen smokers is significantly higher than it actually is, by a factor of three. Which prompted us to create and sustain for almost a decade an "8 out of 10 teens-don't-smoke" campaign. My guess is that if people knew how much energy they consumed compared to their friends and neighbors, they might be compelled to alter their behavior. In fact, there are several companies, including OPower, offering "peer-proof" marketing programs in the energy efficiency space.

What do you think? Does this logic hold up? How does it square with your energy efficiency marketing experiences?