Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sometimes it takes a story

Sometimes, especially when something is new, it takes a story to really explain it and get a consumer to take action. Let me explain.

Over the past several months, I have been seeing more and more compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL). The little bit I recalled included some benefits that motivated me just enough to decide to replace all of my regular lightbulbs...right after they burned out.

But then something came along that sped up my timetable. That something was an excellent story by Charles Fishman in Fast Company Magazine: How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One. And You're Looking At It.

The story clearly spelled out the benefits of the CFL for the consumer: the bulbs use 75-80 percent less electricity and last 6-8 times as long as incandescent bulbs. That means that the more expensive CFL bulb pays for itself in five months, while lasting five years.

So I'm saving money, which is nice, but the story goes on to tell me how I'm not only saving money but also doing my part to save the planet. Here's the motivator:

...if every one of 110 million American households bought just one ice-cream-cone bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

In other words, the CFL gives me a painless way to save the environment. Where do I sign up?

But it took Fishman's story to bring home a point that advertising for the product could not. If you look at the package from GE, you only get one side of the story: the savings to the consumer. Eyeballing the package tells me that the bulbs last five years, use less electricity and all eight will save me a total of $300. Is that enough for the consumer to shell out the premium price? It wasn't for me.

But the story was. The following weekend I drove to Sam's Club and purchased enough CFL packages to replace every lightbulb in the house. My wife thought I was crazy...until she read the story and found out that I was saving money and the environment. If GE can get their advertising to tell the story as well as Fishman did, maybe more people will replace their bulbs.

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