Imagine you’re at a dinner party.
A big one at a long, thin table. People who don’t know each other that well are mid meal, making polite conversation.
Suddenly, two people start to argue. A climate denier and a passionate climate activist are shouting at each other, shouting each other down with informed but aggressive points and counters.
Someone else pipes in with a more balanced point, but it’s lost in the noise of the disagreement. Another is quickly dismissed as ‘uninformed’, and eventually the row descends into name calling.
What happens to everyone else at the party? Do they join in? Try to keep the peace? Or focus intently on their food? Perhaps some turn to the person next to them and try to talk about something more benign: what they watched on the TV last night, or a podcast they love. A shared interest or connection they think the other person might have.
If we were going to read the room, and identify the opinion on climate change of the majority in there, who would we talk to? Not the climate denier or the activist, but the majority staring at their peas and busily avoiding conflict. Yet, all too frequently, this is what we do in the climate movement. Taking signals from social media newsfeeds (which are dominated by our shouty dinner guests above), we spend so much of our time supporting our friends, or shouting down our antis, that we forget about the middle.
This middle are vital to maintaining support for climate policies, and for making the decisions that will tackle climate change on a personal (or structural level if they’re decision makers). We call them ‘The Persuadables’ because they’re also being actively targeted by creators of climate denial and delay, who’ve realised the shouting doesn’t work and are using tactics to persuade them that climate action will cost them in some way.
Couching climate action in fear, unfairness or confusion does reach people when the impacts feel personal. Insidious, but people focused messaging surrounding the cost of climate action, the ‘unfairness’ of the UK taking action while others don’t, or cherry picking the science create doubt and confusion are effective ways of persuading our Persuadables that climate action isn’t what we need right now.
The biases of the climate movement are writ large in who is in this Persuadable group too. In the UK, the climate movement’s bias towards younger, more affluent and white people means that older, male, multi-ethnic and working class groups just don’t feel the same level of concern.
Over the last 2 years, the brilliant Florencia Lujani of Cultural Patterns and ACT Climate Labs and I have been studying this group, and creating a new theory of change for the climate and advertising sectors.
We’ve been to meet Persuadables in Newcastle, Birmingham and rural Yorkshire. We’ve run campaigns to reach them, and we’ve published what we learned as we’ve gone. You can read more about it in our work for Media Bounty and ACT Climate Labs below:
If you’re interested in what this means for marketing and advertising, check out our Beyond the Climate Bubble report. Or for a TL:DR version, go here. (TW for climate peeps, we talk about growth. Comments open for discussion on why).
If you’re a climate bod, you can find more detail on this group here, and sign up for a regular newsletter on tactics to reach Persuadables and get ahead of misinformation.