Solar power. Do-goodery. Environment. Limousine liberal. Rare. California. Eco-Yuppie. Expensive. GREEN.
No doubt about it. The words that the general public associates with solar power these days are probably not the ones that will get most people to put PV panels or a solar hot-water heater on their roofs, as the blogger known as Dave puts it at 1blog.org. He suggests a new set of words:
Average family. Self-reliance. National security. Practical. Economically Conservative. Increased home value. ROI.
That’s better, isn’t it?
Assuming of course, that, with government help, solar really has become affordable by now. And for residential solar, that’s still a big IF.
Sure, a small percentage of altruistic consumers or political activists will buy a new tech product because it’s virtuous. A few more early-adopters will buy to gain social status or the admiration of their friends, neighbors and co-workers. But the vast majority of consumers buy a product because of value — or because they see folks like them buying it and they don’t want to be left out.
And in marketing, you can’t underestimate the power of celebrities to sell a product. Ah, but they have to be the right celebrities.
Not the usual suspects
Obama, Brad Pitt, Al Gore and Jon Stewart could sell solar power to liberals and environmental activists. Oprah could sell solar to early adopters who’ve already bought all the Kindles, flat screen TVs, and iPods, iBooks, iPads and iPoop that they could ever need. Oprah might even pull in a few women for what’s been so far mostly a male area of interest. But everybody knows that Oprah is rich, so if she’s doing something, it doesn’t mean it’s affordable.
Now try Jim Cramer or Donald Trump. Those are testosterone-pumping dudes, so you know if they go solar, it’s not to save the whales. They must have a good financial reason. But they’re still rich. Of course, most celebrities are rich, and it’s hard to find a well known person who clocks in at the plant for the night shift (in real life, that is).
But some celebrities play to middle America better than others. That’s where Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck come in. See the pitch that Dave at 1blog.org imagines for Beck:
He could be pushing solar instead of gold. Glenn is famous for having gold advertisements on his show and endorses buying coins as an investment. Solar is an order of magnitude better. With an an extremely loyal following of people who are not typically marketed solar. If Glenn Beck said, “I put solar on my home because if I don’t, they’re going to hand out my hard earned dollars in subsidies,” I bet others would follow.
Ideology trumps good sense
Just one hitch: even if they are convinced that solar can save families money, are people like Palin and Beck just going to forget about all those existing association with solar. Will “affordable” trump “limousine liberal,” “Obama,” “Gore,” and “green”?
On his radio show, Beck has already expressed his disdain for one common product to save electricity, compact fluorescent light bulbs. “There’s no way I put those fluorescent light bulbs in my house. I hate them.” Beck said he was going to buy up a truckload of incandescents so that his son would never have to buy a CFL, even if they were the only choice on the market. When a caller used the money-saving argument, Beck was having none of it. “I don’t care about saving money that way.”
And let’s not forget how Beck mercilessly persecuted one of the leading advocates for taking solar and other green energy to the masses of all colors, former Obama green jobs advisor Van Jones.
Beck is probably not our man for solar. And though Palin bills herself as an energy expert, she spouts nothing but nonsense on the topic. I don’t see her understanding the ROI of solar anytime soon. Indeed, it would probably take the US dropping a solar-powered nuke on North Korea to convince most Fox News types that solar is anything but a Sierra Club plot of some kind.
For the true anti-greenie, it won’t matter how cheap solar gets. Those damned liberal associations won’t be easy to shake.
But the premise of finding the right celebrities to help solar go mainstream is a promising one. There must be other famous names that appeal to a broader public and would help solar power shed its liberal-elitist-green image.