selling soap and providing energy information: to the extent that energy information programs are publicly supported or mandated, they are the outcome of a political process that determines a public interest is being served. This process not only creates information programs, but influences their content and methods of operation.
The political nature of energy information programs creates problems for those who run them. Bloom and Novelli (1981) point out that social marketers often face pressure against treating different segments of their audiences differently because this may be seen as unfair. Thus, it may be politically difficult to use the techniques of market segmentation that have been developed by the advertising industry. In addition, politics often limits the choice of media and messages for energy campaigns. An example is the prohibition against government purchase of advertising space or media time for energy information.
Social marketers are subject to political pressure in a way corporate advertisers rarely are. As a result, public information programs in the United States have been prevented from using the most effective communication techniques. However, private organizations, such as utility companies, can carry out programs of social marketing of energy conservation without public debate. While their actions would not be so restricted by political control as those of government, they are restricted by private control—the public interest is not usually a prime focus of privately run energy information programs.
Another difference between energy information and ordinary advertising is organizational. Information providers in government cannot influence product design or pricing the way the marketing department of an automobile or of an appliance manufacturing company can. Yet the design and pricing of a device such as a miles-per-gallon monitor for new cars may be an important influence on its acceptability.
Energy information is also unlike soap or toothpaste because of the nature of the “products.” Like other objects of social marketing (Bloom and Novelli, 1981), energy efficiency is not well understood by the public. One reason for this is the invisibility of energy flows. As a result, it is difficult or impossible to design simple messages or “product concepts” that can, through repetition, make an impression on an audience. Energy information is more like an educational program than an ordinary advertising problem in that its messages are complex. It is also often essential in social marketing to “sell” ideas to those least likely or able to “buy,” for example, antismoking messages to confirmed smokers or energy efficiency to low-income households.
Nevertheless, available knowledge could be better used in the design of energy information programs, despite all the existing constraints. If information for energy users is to be effective, it must be presented to attract and hold attention. To do this, the information must be presented in an