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American Efficiency ? A Fool’s Errand.

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The cold, hard truth is that any program, product or service that’s tied exclusively to the idea of ‘efficiency’ is destined to fail – at least here in the United States. Here’s why:

In the land of plenty, where generations of people have searched for – and some have found – the American Dream, the concept of efficiency is viewed as the polar opposite of what everyone really wants: MORE MORE MORE.

After all, Americans suffered through shortages during the Great Depression and sacrificed comfort and convenience to help support the War Effort…and no one is going to tell US we can’t buy what we want, as much as want, whenever we want.

“Dammit, We’re Americans. We Won! WE deserve it all !”

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Since Henry Ford rolled the first Model T off the assembly line, American’s have understood efficiency to mean accomplishing the same task by using less of something; less time, less effort, less material and eventually, less people.

After all, what’s more efficient than a machine that runs 24/7 with little need for rest and requiring minimal maintenance?

Don’t get me wrong, Americans do crave the benefits of all this increased efficiency. Lower manufacturing and production costs generally mean lower prices for the consumer. Ironically, however, Americans tend to use these lower prices to actually buy more – not less – of whatever it is we want.

Yes, increased efficiency has helped improve the availability of many goods and services by making them more affordable for more people. Americans just don’t necessarily want to hear about all of the sacrifices that were made in order to reduce these costs…all in the name of efficiency.

Yet we all understand (on some level) that some sacrifices HAD to have been made in order for a hot, fast food hamburger meal to cost less than a Sunday newspaper or for it to actually cost less to replace an LED flashlight with a new one rather than buying replacement batteries for it.

How DO they do it?

How DO they do it?

Yes, for Americans, efficiency has always meant sacrifice – hidden or otherwise. Here’s another example.

No one would argue that a Quaker-styled, flat back chair is efficient, right? Simply made and uncomfortable, its purpose is singular and painfully clear – it prevents you from falling on the floor when you try to sit down.

In this way, the chair itself is meaningless.

It could just as well be a stool, a box, a rock or a stump. Right?

The chair does not matter. The chair is not important. Yet, the chair is efficient. But on its own, efficiency is not something that Americans value. If we did, would the super comfy LA-Z-BOY recliner ever have been invented?

Americans equate efficiency with cold. To us, efficiency means being forced to do without something. Efficiency means that a few may prosper while many will suffer. Efficiency takes away an individual’s personal choice.

Efficiency is a punishment. Efficiency is surrender. Efficiency is Un-American.

Now, tell me again how purchasing your energy efficient program, gizmo or technology with my hard earned money is something that I actually want to do? Sounds about as appealing is a “BOGO Root Canal” special.

As marketers, we must move beyond terms such as efficiency in how we describe the benefits of our products.

The plain truth is that Americans do not want to be efficient. What we want is more. Always have, always will.

Typical American Daily Commuter

Typical American Daily Commuter

So, as marketers, that’s what we need to communicate – more not less.

Our marketing messages cannot continue to be focused simply with efficiency as its most compelling feature and “use less oil” as its primary benefit. On its own, oil really has no value. Think about it. People with 2,000 gallons of oil in their tanks are not twice as happy as those with only 1,000, right?

The most effective marketing messages are those that focus on explaining to the consumer how the purchase will benefit them in some way by adding something to their lives, not by reducing something.

The average American will not be motivated by simply being told that they will use less oil or reduce greenhouse gases, carbon emissions or whatever. Instead, they will be motivated by being told that they will more money in their bank accounts – allowing them to buy warmer clothes, better food etc.

It’s not about reducing consumption, it’s about experiencing MORE.

My Prius isn’t great because I use less gas…it’s great because I can drive from here to New York City on a single tank of gas. (Self Talk: Ha! I can drive more miles than anyone else. Yeah me. I’m winning!)

I continue to keep the words my grandfather once told me in mind when working to come up with words and phrases that actually mean something to a customer.

He said, “There isn’t a person on this earth that needs a 1/4” drill bit. What they need is a ¼” hole.”

The challenge for today’s eco-marketer is that we are all shouting about how durable, clean or efficient our drill bits are while oftentimes mistaking (or ignoring) our customers real needs – more money in their pockets, more oxygen in their air and more hope for the future.

Seen examples of eco/green advertising done right? Tell me about it.


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