Social Marketing: Anti-Idling

Idling is a huge issue in Vermont. No, scratch, that, it’s an issue everywhere. It’s understated how impactful fumes really are.

I remember when I got my first car. I was in the process of getting my license, so the old Accord was sitting in the garage throughout the winter. Every day, I had to go outside, crack open the garage door, and let the thing run so it didn’t freeze up. One morning, I forgot to crack the garage door. I was sitting in the car, enjoying some tunes, and everything got awfully fuzzy. My head hurt, my thoughts were slurred, and everything just felt weird. That’s when I realized my mistake.

I survived, of course, since I’m here writing this, but that carbon monoxide poisoning got me thinking. What is the world, if not one big garage? There’s a key difference, though: the Earth doesn’t have a garage door to prop open.

Social marketing to combat idling in Vermont.
Tasty, tasty fumes.

I’ve spoken with a number of professionals from the American Lung Association, who have all said their bits about idling. The issues it causes are innumerable, ranging from diabetes, asthma, chronic heart issues, etc. But why don’t we think it’s a big deal?

As I’ve stated in my professional values statement, marketing is, to me, about consumer empowerment. But where does ignorance end and apathy begin? You can educate consumers all day, but what do you do when they have all of the information, and still do not wish to change their behavior?

Social marketing is a tricky beast. Changing behaviors is a massive undertaking, as it has been with anti-smoking campaigns. And sometimes, you don’t even see change.

I’ve been toying with this notion while working on an anti-idling campaign for my Integrated Marketing Communications class, and you can see some of the work on my portfolio page.

As you can see, we’ve been playing with scare tactics a bit. It’s imperative to have people understand that a personal decision has societal impacts. Children are a major concern for parents and community alike, and with schools being a high-risk area for idling, we’ve used this as a jumping block of sorts.

Normalization is a great approach, as social stigma is a powerful force in making people change their ways. We’ve proposed tickets to be placed on cars found idling, calling them out and urging them to stop. This isn’t about education, it’s about publicizing their negative behaviors and making them worry about the ramifications.

All of these are small stepping blocks, and a major frustration I have with social marketing is that there are no big steps. Legislation, even, is a long and arduous process, and idling laws that are actually in place in Vermont are lax, to say the least.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about approaching this matter. The cost inefficiency, car damage, health risks, environmental risks, and social stigmas are all valid approaches, but to know which one is the most effective takes a lot of time and resources, things that I do not have at this current time. In the future, I do anticipate reviving this as a pet project, but the world of a college student is so woefully small.

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