March 2011: Think about consumer pain when marketing offsets and electric cars

By , February 28, 2011 9:08 am

March 2011, Market Intelligence Article for Sustainable Business Magazine, reproduced with permission.

Peter Winters, President, Haddock Research & Branding

Double-click on the offprint below to see it in a larger size.


This article has been prompted by the challenge facing the director of a carbon offsets company who asked me, when discussing a research proposal, “Why don’t people buy offsets?”. To address this kind of question, consumer companies can learn from the pharmaceutical industry.

Pharmaceutical companies are focused on outcomes. This means that for any particular drug, they want to know what it will do; what pain, or disease, it will address. Understanding, defining and measuring the consumer experience are important elements of determining the overall benefit of these outcomes. This article describes how such an approach could help in the marketing of carbon offsets and electric cars.

As a secondary point, medicine provides a role model in how a discipline can evolve in response to scientific advances and practical experience.


When consumers buy a product, they want it to do a job – or as Theodore Levitt observed People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”[1] For companies providing low-carbon products, part of this job is to tackle the emotional pain[2] that consumers can feel in contributing to climate change in a specific way. This health metaphor is apt since pharmaceutical companies provide a role model for how this can be done.

In marketing a drug, a pharmaceutical company has a number of key tasks. They need to identify and test their new compound to see how it affects the human body, and define for what specific disease the drug would be used to treat. The pharmaceutical company would also identify the incidence of people suffering from this disorder and the effectiveness of their treatment as demonstrated by clinical trials. All this evidence is assessed by regulatory bodies, such as the FDA which works with a Target Product Profile[3] (pdf) for each new drug and indication. Particularly in the cancer[4] and neurological therapy areas, there are ongoing new classifications of diseases and evolving specialties which take into account medical advances and clinical practice.  A pertinent example is how GSK identified that their Parkinson’s Disease drug Requip was also effective as a treatment for ‘Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)’, a disorder suffered by an estimated 7 to 10% of  the general population in the US and Northern Europe[5]. Following approval for RLS in 2005[6], GSK have undertaken physician and patient education programs about this disease[7].

Now consider the challenge of selling carbon offsets to consumers. Much like a pharmaceutical company, we should define the exact type of consumer pain, how many suffer from it, how effective offsets are as a therapy for this specific condition, and understand the ‘consumer/patient journey[8] (pdf) to guide marketing activity. In the UK, there is widespread discussion about the environmental impacts of flying, and according to the TGI Green Values report[9], the emissions per capita from flying in GB is the highest of 20 countries measured. Could offsets be used to treat what we might metaphorically call ‘Flying Climate Syndrome, the conflicted feeling (aka cognitive dissonance) potentially suffered by people who both fly and are very concerned about climate change? From our Environmental Choices survey, such Climate Citizen[10] flyers[11] represent 15% of English adults. Yet, the therapy is not yet thought effective by many. Just 21% of Climate Citizen flyers think offsets are both a good idea and work well in practice – the great majority of Climate Citizen flyers are either ignorant, sceptical or ready-to-be-convinced about them[12]. As Edward Hanrahan, Executive Director of ClimateCare[13] commented, most voluntary carbon offsets are currently bought by businesses as a rational, cost-saving abatement measure with only a tiny proportion bought directly by consumers. If offsets become more targeted at consumers, it would be useful to explore just how painful Flying Climate Syndrome really is for Climate Citizen flyers, and how offsets might be included within their (retail) therapy options.

Auto companies selling electric cars are also wondering how to attract buyers and which markets to target. A recent Synovate study[14] study indicates that Canadians are more interested in electric cars than Americans are, and we can see why this might be. A relatively high proportion of Canadians are personally committed to tackling climate change, according to an international survey conducted by GlobeScan[15]. Our Environmental Choices survey shows that the cars driven by Canadians have, on average, lower-emissions than cars driven by Americans. In Canada, the average Greenhouse Gas Score[16] of cars driven by Climate Citizens is significantly better than those driven by Sceptics/Uninvolved (6.15 v 5.48) [17]. The environmental impact of tar sands development is actively debated[18], leading to tensions in Canadian society about Big Oil[19]. 46% of Canadians ‘very strongly’ believe they need a personal car[20]. Companies selling electric cars could target the 19% of Canadians who are ‘personalcar-needing Climate Citizens’ who potentially suffer from ‘Anti-Oil Drivers Climate Syndrome[21].

Whilst one should not take the analogy with healthcare too far, companies working in the low carbon sector can learn from how pharmaceuticals are marketed. Let’s also better understand how this can be done by establishing the specialty of ‘low carbon marketing’.

[1] A paper which describes this argument well is ‘What Customers Want from Your Products’, Clayton M. Christensen, Scott Cook and Taddy Hall, January 16, 2006,

[2] In thinking about ‘consumer pain’, I have been inspired by the book Neuromarketing (2007) by Patrick Renvoisé & Christopher Morin. They describe the four steps to sales success as being Step 1: Diagnose the Pain, Step 2: Differentiate Your Claims, Step 3: Demonstrate the Gain, Step 4: Deliver to the Old Brain.

[3] ‘Guidance for Industry and Review Staff: Target Product Profile – A Strategic Development Process Tool’, Draft Guidance, FDA, March 2007

[4] For a description of how cancer is a term which covers many different diseases, and the development of therapies, see ‘Oncology: The Disease, the Dynamics and the Difficulties of Global Marketing Research’, (2010), Synovate Healthcare, Jackie Ilacqua,

[5] ‘Restless Legs Syndrome, A Clinical Update, (November 2006), Chest, Charlene E. Gamaldo and Christopher J. Earley

[6] ‘Restless Leg Syndrome drug, REQUIP, approved by FDA’, May 7, 2005, Medical News Today, – for RLS, the drug is also marketed under the Adartel brand name. More information about this story may be found at ‘Also, see ‘Glaxosmithkline’s Marketing Strategy for Requip: A Case Study in Product Lifecycle Management’, ICMR,

[7] As an example of these education programs, GSK support this RLS website –

[8] ‘Patient journey’ studies are used by pharmaceutical companies to get a better understanding of patient needs. For published examples see ‘The Report on Pain’ January 10, 2011, commissioned by the Canadian Pain Coalition, with support from Pfizer Canada Inc., to explore the patient journey of Canadians living with chronic pain. – : Also,  ‘The Breast Cancer Journey’, (2007), Aequus Research, –

[9] ‘Green values; Consumers and branding; Global Marketing Insights from TGI’ (2007), page 7,

[10] Environmental Choices segmentation,

[11] Environmental Choices, EC1 3.e – Flying and telepresence

[12] Environmental Choices, EC1 3.g – Carbon offsets and business reputations – slide 84

[13] Conversation with Edward Hanrahan, Executive Director at ClimateCare / Environmental Markets, JPMorgan, February 3 2011

[14] ‘Synovate survey shows Canadian new car buyers more electric than American car buyers’, August 17 2010,

[15] ‘The impact of climate change on business: The rise of the green consumer`, (2008), Globescan, Fabián Echegaray, Lloyd Hetherington, Eugene Kritski, Yashwant Deshmukh, ESOMAR 2008 Congress paper, p.383, 384, 387.

[17] The survey data comes from ‘Environmental Choices, EC1 3.f – Transport, cars & car-sharing organizations’ – and information about the EPA Greenhouse Gas Scores may be found at ‘US EPA – Vehicle Environmental Scoring, Greenhouse Gas Score – MY 2008 & Earlier’,

[18] For example,‘CBC oil-sands doc needs to wade deeper’, January 27, 2011, John Doyle, Globe and Mail,

[19] ‘The Tensions in Canadian society over Big Oil and climate change’ Haddock Research, September 22, 2009,

[20] The equivalent figure amongst the English – ‘36% of English adults ‘very strongly’ believe they need a personal car’, ‘Environmental Choices, EC1 3.f – Transport, cars & car-sharing organizations’

[21] Many Canadians can make choices which can use the potential full fuel life-cycle benefits of electric cars given the amount of clean energy in the country. Canada is one of the top ten countries in the world with the cleanest energy supply –






One Response to “March 2011: Think about consumer pain when marketing offsets and electric cars”

  1. […] the specific type of product that the company plans to sell. I mentioned this approach in my March 2011 article with respect to pharmaceuticals and offsets[6], and as a much discussed approach in marketing […]

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