RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Mr. Obama says America needs to break its addiction to foreign oil and cut the amount of carbon dioxide it produces. One way to do both is to use energy more efficiently. When gas and electricity prices are high, people do use less. But getting people to save energy will require more than just high prices, as NPR's Christopher Joyce reports.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Social marketing is a fancy term for persuading people to do the right thing for society. Even government agencies are turning to social marketers to get people to use less energy, regardless of its price. Social marketing worked well for anti-smoking groups. The American Legacy Foundation used scare tactics on smokers in this television spot. It shows a busy city street, lots of speeding cars, and pedestrians getting run over.
(Soundbite of American Legacy Foundation anti-smoking television ad)
Unidentified Voiceover: Every day 3,000 Americans start smoking. A third of them will die from it.
(Soundbite of car crash and sirens)
JOYCE: But move away from smoking or other harmful habits, and it gets harder to change what people do.
Ms. MERRILL SHUGOLL (President, Shugoll Research): Fear sometimes works, but it doesn't usually work.
JOYCE: Merrill Shugoll is president of the marketing firm Shugoll Research. She says Big Oil isn't like Big Tobacco. After all, people actually need energy and they don't see it as dangerous. Shugoll surveys consumers, and she says many don't know where energy comes from or how using it affects the environment. And when experts try to explain, they can be wonky and confusing.
Ms. SHUGOLL: People are - they throw up their hands. They go, well, today it's a crisis and tomorrow we don't have to worry about it. And they get mixed signals.
JOYCE: A mixed signal might be debate over how bad global warming could be, or whether ethanol fuel is really better for the environment than gasoline. Shugoll says to get people to change their energy habits, you have to tell them how, over and over.
One national program that has succeeded in convincing consumers to use less energy is the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program. It certifies and labels the most efficient appliances - refrigerators, dishwashers, even whole houses. But it does more than that. Maria Vargas is an Energy Star director. She says information on kilowatt hours isn't quite enough to get consumers to commit.
Ms. MARIA VARGAS (Director, Energy Star Program, Environmental Protection Agency): People buy on emotion, and they justify it with the facts. And for a while we were just so fact-driven. And I think we realized, fairly early on, that there has to be more to it than that.
JOYCE: To reach the heart, the Energy Star program also tells people their decisions can help protect the planet from environmental damage. But Vargas adds consumers also want to see some pocketbook advantages. I put that theory to the test at ApplianceLand in Annapolis, Maryland, where store manager Jerry Walker(ph) roams down aisles of shiny new refrigerators.
Mr. JERRY WALKER (Store Manager, ApplianceLand, Annapolis, Maryland): If you compare this one, this is not an Energy Star unit, so you're using about 479 kilowatts, about $51 a year estimated.
JOYCE: Fifty-one dollars to operate a refrigerator for a year.
Mr. WALKER: Non-Energy Star. Now, let's see what...
JOYCE: Walker eventually finds an Energy Star refrigerator. It's bigger than the first one and it runs cheaper.
Mr. WALKER: It's three cubic foot larger capacity, but you can see a difference of about $8 over the course of a year.
JOYCE: And that really makes a difference to people?
Mr. WALKER: It does. It really does.
JOYCE: And here's something else consumers want - to feel like they're intelligent. The group Alliance to Save Energy is trying to help consumers drive smarter. The Alliance's Rozanne Weissman says consumers told her they wanted tips on how to do that.
Ms. ROZANNE WEISSMAN (Director of Communications and Marketing, Alliance to Save Energy): People wanted to be smart about their choices. They wanted to know more, and they wanted dollar signs attached to the tips so that they could make a determination for their own bottom line.
JOYCE: So that's how the Alliance designed this radio spot for their recent Drive-$marter Challenge Campaign.
(Soundbite of Drive-$marter Challenge campaign ad)
Unidentified Actor: Mama.
Unidentified Actress: My baby's talking!
Unidentified Actor: And what I want to talk about is your driving. Your jackrabbit stops are wasting gas.
Unidentified Actress: He's back-seat driving.
Unidentified Actor: Ease up on the highway, too. Every 10 miles per hour you go over 60 is like paying 40 cents more a gallon. Ma, it's time for a change.
Unidentified Actress: I'll drive smarter.
JOYCE: So, being smart, saving money, and helping the environment. And then, of course, you can always try to shame people into doing the right thing. Social marketer Merrill Shugoll recalls one way recycling caught on.
Ms. SHUGOLL: What happened is your kids would come home from school, and they learned about it in their science class, and they would reprimand you.
JOYCE: There is one thing that social marketers are not likely to ask people to do, though: sacrifice. Former President Jimmy Carter tried that. He put on a sweater and told Americans to lower the thermostat. It didn't work. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: We've got an example of social marketing that's funny from the Energy Star campaign at our Web site, npr.org.