Energy & Non-energy Benefits

March 1, 2006

My addiction (“Sex and the City” reruns) forces me to endure an inordinate number of mind-numbing advertisements for gum, shampoo, toothpaste, lipstick, cars, trucks (and more trucks) with a lead thumb on mute. An ad for Tide Coldwater started me out of the silence.

Tide Coldwater “Deep Clean. Save Green.”

Taking advantage of rising energy prices, Proctor & Gamble, masters of fast-moving consumer goods marketing, has launched a product/campaign touting the energy and money saving benefits of laundry detergent. P&G’s Tide Coldwater (“lowers energy costs, deep cleans in cold water, gives fabric extra protection”) is similar to GM’s ethanol-based flex-fuel vehicles: you don’t have to buy a GM car to use ethanol (several car makes and models are already ethanol-ready, and ethanol gasoline makes up 2% of all fuel sold in the US) – not any more than you have to use Tide Coldwater to wash clothes in cold water. But, like GM, P&G is avidly pursuing an energy angle in product promotion, although using very different messaging.

The Tide Coldwater ad – dollar bills swirling (like money down a drain) around a shocked woman holding an (unopened) bill from “Energy Company” (in red letters) – is pure mirth. First, because P&G leverages the image of the generic utility with abandon (it’s all about the utility bill, a whopper of a surprise). The messenger and the solution have better brand image with the consumer, and P&G is soaking it. Second, because Tide Coldwater advocates washing in cold water to save energy, something “big bad utilities” that profit from energy sales aren’t going to spend money to advertise on tv any time soon (here’s an ad for laundry detergent challenging the profit model of investor-owned utilities; sure, the utility may send you some print material about saving energy during peak periods along with that whopper bill, but, taking a lead from Tide Coldwater, you’re too shocked to read it.)

And last, the campaign is amusing, because the Tide Coldwater website provides energy efficiency tips: “More great ways to save…Are you energy conscious? You could earn tax credits up to $500 for being good at saving energy.” Addressing both consumers and businesses, the Tide Coldwater site links to the Alliance to Save Energy’s “Home Energy-Efficiency Improvement Tax Credit” and the Tax Incentives Assistance Project (“a coalition of organizations in the energy efficiency field, designed to give consumers and businesses information they need to make use of the federal income tax incentives for energy efficient products and technologies passed by Congress as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.”) Tax subsidies are another similarity to ethanol which now receives a federal tax subsidy of about 52 cents per gallon.

Did I mention this campaign is about laundry detergent? If P&G can swing a marketing campaign using energy benefits to sell product this mundane, then, in the converse, we can get seriously good at marketing the non-energy benefits, as well as energy and dollar benefits, of cleantech and energy efficiency itself.

NEBs (non-energy benefits) of Energy Efficiency

Lisa Skumatz of Skumatz Economic Research Associates and others like the Department of Energy – in coordination with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and others – have conducted in-depth research on non-energy (non-bill savings) benefits of energy efficiency, measuring and quantifying them as well. Benefits can include reduced waste and emissions, improved maintenance and operations, increased productivity and working conditions, and other benefits like decreased liabilities and better public image. The research draws out the value of energy efficiency to utilities, participants and society; it provides rich ground for marketing and sets the stage to move the energy efficiency discussion away from utility-centric terminology of kWh savings…away from the acronym soups of DSM and DR (demand-side management and demand response)…and toward the broader benefits valued by consumers (health, comfort, safety), businesses (productivity) and society (job creation, cleaner environment).

Perhaps one day, fortified with energy efficient technologies and conserving habits – and lots of great marketing to support them – consumers and businesses will open their utility bills with aplomb. I’ll be keeping my thumb on the mute button, just the same.

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