Who´s on the driver´s seat?

I don´t know any true “homo economicuses”, who are 100% rational and carefully conduct a  SWOT analysis in their head before doing anything. I know many who would like to think they are individualistic, independent and base their decision on strict rationality. In reality much of our behavior is preconditioned by our environment and emotions play a much more significant role in the decision-making process than we would like to think. When looking at marketing messages it is clear that every marketing professional knows this. Messages try to invoke feelings, stir memories and engage the recipient with imagery and music that many times has nothing to do with the product or issue at hand.

Paavo talked about the culturally-bound, pre-reflective understandings that we are not aware of. We have the meanings before we act, which means that most of the time we act before thinking. Habits are the drivers of our everyday lives, to the degree that they become invisible, part of the culture, something that simply is done, because “that´s how its done”.  Combined with the fact that we attach different meanings to things, through the invisible practices that have become naturalized for us, communicating and even understanding others can become a formidable task. For instance understanding of what “waste” is or what it means can be many different things depending to whom you talk to. Thinking about waste also evokes a lot of feelings, most of which probably are not very pleasant and make you want not to think about the issue at all. Dirtiness, disgust, diseases are on the top of the list of what comes to mind. Yuck! Convincing people with these attitudes to separate their  biowaste can be difficult. They just want their waste to be out of sight and out of mind. Period.

In the context of sustainability marketing it is just these things that communicators need to be aware of and tackle in their messages. A lot of sustainability marketing is about trying to make people change their opinions and attitudes about something, or start behaving in a new, improved and more sustainable way. In order to make that happen we need to know what the issue in question, for instance recycling, means for people. In Finland recycling can entail connotations of self-sufficiency and craftiness that can at least in some circles be positive and desirable qualities, but in some other cultures the concept can entail associations to poverty that the person might want to avoid.  If that is the case it is unlikely that recycled products become popular, unless new connotations AND feelings can be attached to the idea. Transformation of feelings and thoughts are needed.

Maybe Paavo was right, often you need to shake people up a bit to get your message across, to make others see things in a new light. A change of the surroundings can for instance do that, as in his example with the businessmen coming to the Mustarinda-house from their offices and having a chance to see things differently because of the surrounding nature, its sounds and smells. Changing from a desk in an office to doing work sitting around a table wearing woollen socks listening to fireplace cracking can be the rupture in the routines that makes people reflect about their thinking and behavior. Being aware of what you think and do is needed to change something.  Arousing feelings, tweaking something to be a little off the usual routines can be the opening needed for getting more “homo sustainabilicuses”, who are willing to look at the interrelatedness of everything and maybe even try to do some changes because of that.  So let there be plenty of music and art in the sustainability communications, because feelings are on the driving seat of reflection and  through that, change.

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1 comment
  1. lottaliuksiala said:

    Thanks Sarri for this posting! You made very good point about the everyday habits we have. As I read your posting, I thought to myself: “Yea, I totally agree! Some people need some serious shaking up!”

    Then something happened, the shake came back like a boomerang and hit me straight on my face. Who am I to shake anyone up.? A couple of hours ago, I took a flight back from Oslo where I had given my boyfriend a long preach about how how he should start recycling. And then I flew back home. FLEW. All my environmental footprint measures just flew out of window with that one flight. As someone cleverly stated on the class: “It really doesn’t matter how many tin cans you recycle if you fly even one time a year”.

    So even me, who’s supposed to be a forerunner for sustainable thinking, falls into the trap of closing my eyes from the truth. I only agree on those points of sustainability that fit nicely into my lifestyle. As long as I can keep my green image polished and pretty, it doesn’t matter what goes on behind the scenes. Isn’t this what we criticize all the big bad corporations of? I think the same goes for green consumer lifestyle. Green washing doesn’t just happen within corporations but within our own heads as well.

    So what can be done? I think that the first step is to acknowledge the problem. None of us on this class lead a life that this earth can support. After that, maybe we can all start, definitely not from a clean table, but from a dirty table and start to figure out how this mess should be cleaned up.

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