How to Avoid the Pollution Plague

Seth Godin thinks that the global warming movement could use better copywriters.

Without getting into a debate about the underlying science, Seth uses global warming as an example of how the way a story is told matters more than the underlying facts. He thinks in this case, it boils down to choosing the wrong words when warning of the possibility of catastrophic climate change.

Global is good.

Warm is good.

Even greenhouses are good places.

How can “global warming” be bad?

I’m not being facetious. If the problem were called “Atmosphere cancer” or “Pollution death” the entire conversation would be framed in a different way.

I’d call it “pollution plague” myself (if you hadn’t guessed). Cancer and death are things that happen to individuals, but the plague has ravaged entire civilizations. That’s a story that has a chance of getting people to take action.

The marketing lesson is clear. If a whole bunch of scientists think our current practices may lead to ecological disaster, and everyone pretty much yawns because the story isn’t vivid enough, what happens to a silly little business with a lame story?

We’ve seen that in a competitive situation, the better story tends to win, even sometimes over greater merit. We know that people decide based on emotion, and then justify with logic. And we know that once a certain number of people adopt a story as one they want to hear, there’s a good chance that a lot of others will too.

In today’s business environment, it’s not enough to have a story. It’s got to be a vivid, engaging story that connects at an emotional level. Anything less may well lead to disaster.

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  1. You lost me a bit at the third paragraph from bottom when you switched gears… not that I don’t see your thread, but I couldn’t help thinking to myself:

    “If a whole bunch of scientists think our current practices may lead to ecological disaster, and everyone pretty much yawns because the story isn’t vivid enough, what happens to a business with a lame story?”

    the business dies along with everyone else in a horrible global conflagration.

    Seth’s example is a really good lesson, but when you make the blatant switch to a direct business content, I can’t help having the feeling the a bad business story is being equated to global die-off. It’s an emotional thing. They just don’t carry equal weight (even if we were talking about my business).

    Just a thought.

  2. Perhaps that sentence is poorly worded. The public “yawning” about a business with a lame story was the point — you’re right, your business doesn’t amount to squat compared to a “global die-off,” and yet as Seth put it “no one’s marching in the streets” about global warming.

    So what chance does a silly little business have of catching the public’s imagination, unless it tells the right story?

    Sorry if I was obtuse in that section.

  3. Great blog.

    Bingo. Any silly little business has no chance of catching the public’s imagination, unless it tells the right story. Read about it in my upcoming book, “Life After the Press Release”.

    Kudos to “Viral Copy” – a great product.

  4. Nice read.

    I didn’t know global warming was bad…

  5. Char, if you stay in Florida for the rest of your life, you’re likely to find out first hand.

  6. Brian,

    No, you weren’t obtuse. I knew what you meant, and I agree with the premise 100%.

    I just wanted to point out the potential indelicacy because it’s the first thing I’ve seen you write that had potential for misunderstanding. I watch for those things because I myself am so prone to them.

    A great story is the key to more than just PR, actually. If you’ve got a great story, chances are you’re living a pretty great life too!

  7. Hmmm … I wonder if Seth read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear recently …..

  8. I vote for “Atmospheric Apocalypse”. :)

    Being a Canadian, and experiencing far fewer really cold days this Winter compared to any other year I can remember, I’m not completely a’gin it (Global Warming).

    However, I’m smart enough to know it’s a far reaching problem with a myriad of ramifications (weather pattern changes, sea level rising, etc).

    However the marketer in me is thinking of turning this huge lemon into water tower full of lemonade by getting into the ‘hip-wader boots’ market. Because there are a LOT of big coastal cities that’re gonna need them later in the century. 😉

    BTW, I just discovered your blog today and – as others have commented elsewhere – it’s really really good, and I’ve signed up for your email update and subscribed on Bloglines.

    Looking forward to your future posts!

  9. Thanks Steve. “Atmospheric Apocalypse” huh? You’ve got skillz. But the more I think about this, the more depressing it becomes!