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Another pseudo-debate?

'values modes' versus 'values'

'social marketing' versus 'identity campaigning'


"Painting the town green' was not intended to be an academic work, and has plenty of good and useful stuff in it. Steve was influenced by Chris Rose and came out with an endorsement of the use of the "values-modes" brand of market segmentation, even though I was sceptical about this."

Why was I sceptical? Basically because the remit I had set myself was to look at mainsteam work - work from the existing body of the social sciences (not exclusively experimental psychology, though that was my starting point). When I looked up Pat Dade's values-modes I couldn't find any academic papers about it, couldn't find any proper details of underlying research. It appeared to be an exclusively commercial concern. That is absolutely fine of course, and does not mean that the underlying research was bad - but it does mean that I couldn't examine it properly. It was straightforwardly outside my remit.

My second reason for being sceptical was that the values modes market segments were derived from Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Here I find myself sounding like Miss Jean Brodie: "for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like". Maslovian psychology is intuitively appealing, and my feeling is that maybe there is something to it. But 'there is something to it' applies to many things and is pretty weak praise. I'm not sure how well supported the hierarchy of needs is by proper, non-anecdotal evidence. You are free to think that is just my evil, unspiritual prejudice (though actually I think I am not at all unspiritual), but at any event I am less interested in the less empirical end of the psychological spectrum and do not wish to hitch my wagon to a brand-name school of self-development.

My third reason for saying "hmmm" is even vaguer. The value-modes system put people into clear categories. Like astrology. People just love popping themselves and each other into these boxes - it just seems so right. It all seems too much like fun to me!

But never mind that ... do values-modes work?

Quite possibly, for the simple reason that if you are communicating something to a large group of people you will have more sucess if you produce several different versions of the message. If the values-modes system is a viable way of generating different versions, then yes, it will "work" (though it might or might not work better than other systems). However, it all depends on what you mean by "work" - as we shall now see.

A quick word in praise of Chris Rose

The direction from which Chris Rose is coming is clearly indicated by the title of his book: How to win campaigns. He is not talking about the long game, he is talking about achieving specific aims: stop that motorway! don't sell our forests! get the legislation passed! All of which need large numbers of people to be mobilised and to take action quickly. In pursuit of this he has taken on board the wiles and techniques of the marketeers. Quite right too. He stresses that, if you want someone to act now the fastest way is to take them as they are rather than preach at them to become a better person (i.e. more like you).

So that is one thing I like about the Chris Rose angle: he is against preaching and very aware that different people have different ways of seeing the world. That is first base, and he has definitely got to it. Not everyone has and he is worth reading.

However ...

His background is in biology, as with so many enviro-folk, and he has not read widely in the social sciences, nor does he seem to have read much mainstream experimental psychology. (The giveaway for the latter is that he appears to have taken the NLP self-help system as accepted science). As regards values-modes, in much of his writing I feel that I am being preached at, so he really ought to know better. Finally, specific, targeted, time limited, agressive campaigns are not the only way in which things move forward, though I really don't think Rose would argue with that.

Despite all this, I think that Tom Crompton's criticisms of Chris Rose (and of Painting the Town Green - I do feel a bit miffed on behalf of Steve Hounsham who made a good job of a modest and helpful project) were slightly overdone. In fact, and with genuine respect, I pick up in his tone what I think is a faint whiff of academic turf war.

Is social marketing pernicious?

The idea is that taking people 'where they are now' sounds innocuous, but contains a timebomb because where some people are now is with an identity heavily invested in material consumption. That identity can be harnessed to green ends in the short term, but ultimately we will still be left with dedicated consumers. Much better, it is argued, is to play with the idea of identity. We all have the potential to be 'defenders of the earth' - it is something innate within us - and if that can be awoken there is the potential for the real changes that need to made for sustainability.

Hoorah! The use of 'identity' seems promising to me and I'd agree that, in the right setting, we are all eco-positive. I might have started from a base of social and cognitive psychology, but I have been influenced by the insights and perpectives of the wider social sciences. Meaning and identity are crucial and we can only be fully understood in relation to our social surroundings.

Why is this a pseudo-debate?

The argument that the 'social marketing' approach is dangerously counter-productive seems a little theoretical and overblown to me. Is there evidence that NGOs and authorities are charging ahead and over-applying agressive market segmentation techniques? Thinking of people in a crass marketing-derived manner? (That was a genuine question, I am an outside observer and not within the loop of practitioners, so it is possible that this is happening, I don't know).

It seems to me that the 'identity' approach has equivalent dangers. Applied with insufficient care, identity campaigning could slip right back into comfortable preaching - trying to get everyone to 'think like us', refusing to examine differences. After all, people like preaching - surely you have noticed? You get a lovely warm glow from it!

(I suspect that this will not happen but my point here is that there will inevitably be a certain loss of detail in the transition from books and papers about 'how to do communications' to the actual communicating done by other people).

My final brow-wrinkling about the identity approach is about the concept of values. I appreciate the point that 'values' are not the same as 'attitudes' but I am not convinced (though I would like to be) about the causal efficacy of these 'values'. So much work in the social sciences suggest that causality in human behaviour travels both ways. My conciousness affects my behaviour, but my behaviour can create my consiousness. Not just behaviour either, my tools can create my consciousness.

And my point is?

A false opposition has been set up. There is no single theoretical framework which will explain all of human behaviour - but even the worst theories are based on some sort of real insight (that is one of the conclusions of motivating sustainable consumption). It is impossible to do anything without some sort of theory, however implicit, so perhaps the most effective pragmatic stance is to wear one's theory as lightly as possible.


2012


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