Thursday, September 25, 2008

Answers as Advertisements

Reading about the size of big energy companies' advertising budgets last night reminded me of a post I made a few weeks ago.

I wrote about a debate on The Economist's website, and I claimed that I'd post again after the debate closed if I had any further burning observations.

I didn't post again. Unexpected events derailed me for a little while, and that was certainly a factor, but, also, I thought that the debaters just sort of fizzled out. Their closing statements, rather than communicating realizations or adjustments, felt to me like restatements of the hardened opinions the authors brought into the debate.

Bummer. But I guess that's what a debate is all about, why a discussion is probably a more useful means of getting important things figured out.

Regardless, however, I do have an observation related to that debate that just started burning again. An observation about advertising.

I appreciate the transparency with which The Economist revealed BP as the sponsor of the debate, and I appreciate the straightforwardness of BP's presentation of itself.

No flashy videos set to inspirational music. No propaganda. Nothing that tripped my insincerity sensors. Just BP telling us their perspective.

They had a little rectangle of space in which they announced that they were a big important energy company and that they were sponsoring the debate, and, at the bottom of the rectangle, there was a link to a Sponsor Q&A, BP's Chief Scientist's answers to some vague but important energy questions.

And, if you read the interview, I'm guessing you'll agree that the Chief Scientist sounds exactly like the Chief Scientist for a big oil company.

We will see a 50% increase in energy demand by 2030 and a doubling by 2050.

If you took all the passenger cars in the US and turned them into battery-driven vehicles, you would need to make about 50% more electricity than we make now to charge the batteries, and we would want it to be clean electricity, so not coal. So, if you are a fan of electric cars, then you are a fan of nuclear power, to be clean.

There are two-and-a-half material sources if you are serious about reducing carbon emissions. One is nuclear fission. The second is carbon capture and storage. Wind is the final half. BP is working hard at full scale demonstration of carbon capture technology and is investing a great deal deploying wind power. Other technologies, such as solar photovoltaic, concentrated solar power, and offshore wind need more development stage to be both material and economical.

Conservation happens pretty much only by raising prices or through regulation.

Nothing groundbreaking or particularly impressive or against the big oil norm, but I like it. It feels real, a quick and incomplete but unexaggerated representation of the philosophy and priorities of BP's big decision makers.

I wish all advertising worked like that.* I wish all Chief Scientists or their non-scientific equivalents bought opportunities to answer important questions.

That's a lot to ask, but who knows. Maybe someday, when there are millions of people contributing to The Carrot Project, millions of people trying to figure out which businesses are doing the best things for the world, Chief Scientists will be begging for opportunities to answer big questions, begging for opportunities to convince people that their philosophies and priorities are worthy of everyone's support.

*Note: Well. Most advertising. Something about cavemen dancing and little kids telling stories that I can't quite fully denounce. Misleading ads, both of those. Totally unrelated to insurance or the companies providing it. Attempts to attach undeserved love to a brand name. But I can't help it. I'm brainwashed, fully capable of condoning totally reprehensible advertising.