From the Ministry of Social Marketing

“What the audience research tells us about how to build consumer demand for renewables”

Edward Maibach, M.P.H., Ph.D.
Justin Rolfe-Redding, M.A.

Center for Climate Change Communication
George Mason University

Presented at Phase II Conference, American Council on Renewable Energy, December 8, 2010

“Our data show that questions asked in national surveys about proposals such as wind farms exaggerate the support for wind farms because the answers are typically superficial, top-of-the-head responses. When people think about the advantages and disadvantages of wind farms, as they would if a wind farm were proposed for their community, their support diminishes.” —Eric Smith & Holly Klick (2007): “Explaining NIMBY opposition to wind power”

Bottom line: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. [a danger to developers’ plans, that is]

What’s a possible solution? Inoculation theory, perhaps: Present your audience with a weakened version of counterarguments. Show them refutations, or help them come up with their own. [ie, straw man fallacy] (William McGuire: “Inducing resistance to persuasion: some contemporary approaches. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, vol. 1 (pp. 191–220), New York (1964): Academic Press)

Activate the Alarmed and Concerned.
Convince the Cautious and Disengaged.
Reach out to the Doubtful and Dismissive.


1. Aggressively target all audiences. RE is the vanguard of environmental messaging for skeptical publics.
2. Identify unique needs of publics for solution–, information–, and values–oriented messages.

Overall recommendations:
Mindset: Begin and end with your audiences.
Plan: Consider their unique strengths and deficits.
Action: Connect through appropriate messages and messengers.

Simple clear messages, repeated often, by a variety of trusted sources.
—Maibach’s formula for communication impact


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