Climate change is an overwhelming issue, yet among the millions of advertisements, media and devices that compete for our attention, we do not give it the salience it deserves. Most of us know that our cars produce green house gases; leaving devices turned on wastes energy, and we should recycle. Climate change deserves more salience than that. Plaguing the planet, it bypasses continents, cultures and languages. We could be making substantial changes around the world in our daily lives right now to combat this transcontinental issue, but instead we continue to consume and ignore. Consistent reminders of these issues among the constant diversions that press our attentions daily are key to a transition from consumerism to sustainable practices.
This is a proposal to use framing, priming and agenda setting to improve Canadian exposure to environmental issues through ads on Canadian Broadcasting Stations.
Ads are the Perfect Primer
Advertisements in the twentieth century have become “the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history” (Jhally, 2000, p.27) and it promotes the acceptance of “a standardized code of social conduct to which we conform” (Bernays, 1928, p. 39). Currently ads are used everywhere in Canada to promote overt consumption and support our capitalistic society. They can be found on television, magazines, the internet, buses, lobbies, the cinema, buses, and even parks. They are short and succinct bits of information or images that nudge, press and even harass us everyday.
If we consider Samuel L. Popkins theory of low-information rational and the potential use of heuristics; advertisements become the perfect medium to inform, educate and prime the public about climate change and sustainability. (Although originally talking about government the following statement embodies the issue of climate change as well) Popkin states that society has a “limited amount of information about [climate change], a limited knowledge of how [sustainability] works, and a limited understanding of how [an individuals] actions are connected to consequences of immediate concern to them” (1993, p. 8). Beyond that, most “individuals are unlikely to spend time acquiring copious amounts of information” (Sniderman, As cited by McDonald, 2009, p.47), which renders lengthy articles, news stories and documentaries mostly ineffective. This is not to say that other media should not continue to discuss these issues as well.
However, the availability heuristic could be utilized here to advance the affectivity of the overall communication of these concerns. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman suggest that “things that come to mind more easily are believed to be far more common and more accurate reflections of the real world” (Cherry, 2015). The repetition and consistency of ads about sustainability would instill small amounts of information that can be accessed easily later to make decisions on sustainability and even daily actions. This method is known as priming, which works by “making an issue more accessible” (McDonald, 2009, p.50).; influencing people through exposure (McDonald, 2009, p.50).
One argument against the use of low-information rational and heuristics is that is often promotes bias because it leaves out substantial pieces of information in order for it to simplify it. However, when it comes to climate change and sustainability our planet is now at the point of no return, the amount of damage we have done and are doing needs to be reconciled and a new direction formulated now. Does oil make our lives easier…. Yes. Do we need it… no? So why then do we put the survival of oil ahead of our own? This is because the current advertisements we see everyday promote consumption and capitalistic ideals.
Using Framing to Increase Ad Susceptibility
Since the end of the nineteenth century companies from around the world have poured billions of dollars and resources into researching the most effective methods of advertising “to create a culture in which desire and identity would be fused with commodities” (Jhally, 2000. p.28). The advertising industry has known since the 1920’s that what people consider to be of most value are their social relationships. So instead of using this information to endorse the sale of commodities, let us use it to expose issues and promote change.
In order to show you what I mean here, I have chosen the method of emphasis framing and the topic of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Richard Louv coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder to describe how “direct exposure to nature [is] essential for a child’s healthy physical and emotional development” and without a relationship with nature the next generations would disassociate with it. Louv states “lacking direct experience with nature, children begin to associate it with fear and apocalypse, not joy and wonder” (Louv, 2008, p. 134) and without that connection, why would or how could the next generation preserve it?
To use emphasis framing to promote this idea we could ask parents how or where do they imagine their child’s ideal play area or experience of the outdoor world? If we consider the following images, which do you think most parents would identify with?
(Eartheasy, 2012) (Corbis Images, 2011)
(City Snaps, 2001) (78th Street Play Street in Jackson Heights, 2010)
(Davis, 2013) (Erickson, 2012)
Most parents will identify with the first set and some with the second set, however the third set currently represents the actual outdoor experience of most of the world. This is due to an excess of garbage produced. James N. Druckman (2001) states that “by emphasizing a subset of potentially relevant considerations, [one] can lead individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their opinions” (p.230). Therefore, by emphasizing the fact that this is all of our children’s future if we do not stop consuming the way we currently are, this would affect most parents’ family values and eventually most likely their attitude toward issues like natural area destruction or waste generation and management. The use of priming, repetition and heuristics through the medium of advertising is the best means of popularizing the topic of sustainability and promoting change.
Promoting Change: Who should take this on?
John Zaller claims “that both elite and media perspectives can set the agenda for public opinion” thus it is in the best interest of the cause to be supported by political party. Currently, the Green Party of Canada’s value and visions align with changing minds on climate change and protecting Canadian Broadcasting. They recognize that it is imperative “that the Canadian government set real targets, with measurable objectives” (Greenparty.ca, 2015) and that it is necessary “to correct the perception that economic success is dependent on growth… [as] continued exponential growth” (Greenparty.ca, 2015) simply is not possible on a finite planet.
The Green Party is aware that our generation has the mind set of “shop till you drop”, that “we create more solid waste per capita” and that Canadians “think we are more environmentally conscious than we are” (Greenparty.ca, 2015). However, the party still lacks the support of most Canadians. Perhaps this is because Canadian Citizens values are being exploited to purchase more commodities. Considering that “elements prominent on the media agenda become prominent in the public mind” (McCombs, 2002, p.2), priming the public through a series of framed advertisements across the country through Canadian Broadcasting, promoting sustainability through our social values will increase support both for the party itself and the issues themselves. Their agenda has been set; they have but to find the perfect medium to put it into action.
No End in Sight
The world is currently racing toward the end of our planet- change is vital. Framed advertisements of social values and environmental issues are the best means of obtaining the salience and support necessary to deal with these issues. Generally, we have this idea that we must disconnect to reconnect with nature. However, the repetitive nature and low information rationality advertisements use daily are the perfect way of clarifying that connection across Canada through an elite group such as the Green Party of Canada. Our values are deeply embedded within the survival of our planet, so lets become a culture where our desires and identities are fused with sustainability.
78th Street Play Street in Jackson Heights. (2010). [image] Retrieved from: http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/08/06/eyes-on-the-street-78th-street-jackson-heights-815-pm/
Bernays, E. and Miller, M. (2005). Propaganda. Chapter 1: Organizing Chaos. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Ig Pub.
Cherry, K. (2015). What Is an Availability Heuristic?. [online] About.com Education. Retrieved from: http://psychology.about.com/od/aindex/g/availability-heuristic.htm
City Snaps, (2001). Play street. [image] Retrieved from: http://www.nycitysnaps.com/PlayStreet.htm
Corbis Images, (2011). Are children getting outside enough to play with each other?. [image] Retrieved from: http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/kids-lack-free-play-110901.htm
Davis, E. (2013). The land. [image] Retrieved from: http://transom.org/2013/of-kith-and-kin/
Druckman, James N. 2001. “The Implications of Framing Effects for Citizen
Competence.” Political Behavior. 23:225-256. Retrieved from: http://www.unc.edu/~fbaum/teaching/POLI195_Fall09/Druckman_2001.pdf
Eartheasy, (2012). Children playing outside. [image] Retrieved from: http://eartheasy.com/blog/2012/04/are-children-spending-enough-time-outdoors/
Erickson, A. (2012). The Dumps, Train Tracks and Polluted Water Where Kids Play. [image] Retrieved from: http://www.citylab.com/design/2012/12/dumps-train-tracks-and-polluted-water-where-kids-play/4064/
Greenparty.ca, (2015). 3.7 Zero waste | Green Party of Canada. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.greenparty.ca/en/policy/vision-green/environment/zero-waste
Greenparty.ca, (2015). Friends of Canadian Broadcasting | Green Party of Canada. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.greenparty.ca/en/friends-of-cbc
Greenparty.ca, (2015). Part 3: Preserving and Restoring the Environment | Green Party of Canada. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.greenparty.ca/en/policy/vision-green/environment
Jhally, Sut. (2000). Chapter 1: Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse. In R. Andersen & L. Strate (Eds.), Critical Studies in Media Commercialism (pp.27-39). New York: Oxford University Press.
McCombs, M. (2002, June). The agenda-setting role of the mass media in the shaping of public opinion. In Mass Media Economics 2002 Conference, London School of Economics: http://sticerd. lse. ac. uk/dps/extra/McCombs. pdf.
McDonald, S. (2009). Changing climate, changing minds: Applying the literature on media effects, public opinion, and the issue-attention cycle to increase public understanding of climate change. International Journal of Sustainability Communication, 4, 45-63.
Popkin, S. L. (1994). The reasoning voter: Communication and persuasion in presidential campaigns. University of Chicago Press.