Digital Marketing Consultant - Good Stuff Communications

What Can The Sustainability World Learn from the Search for the Perfect Pepsi?

I imagine that you are thinking the answer to that question is “not much.”  Well, on the surface, you might be right.  I wouldn’t really hold Pepsi or Ragu up as models of sustainable business or environmental consciousness.  I did watch a very interesting TED talk with Malcom Gladwell about the nature of choice and happiness.  Please take seventeen minutes of your admittedly very busy life and watch this:

If you don’t have seventeen minutes, i’ll give you a quick synapsis.  The man (Howard Moskowitz) that was tasked with determining how much sweetener should be in Diet Pepsi.  He wanted to find out how to make the perfect Pepsi.  He gave a large number of people taste tests using varying levels of sweetener, in an effort to use data to pinpoint the degree of sweetness that people wanted the most.  He went about this, tried it with thousands of people, and found that the results were all over the place.  It was not a nice bell curve, it was a mess.  This bothered him for years, until it hit him:  They were looking for the perfect Pepsi, and they should have been looking for the perfect Pepsis.  He realized that there wasn’t one perfect Pepsi for everyone.  People didn’t all fall into one category.  He used this approach to help Ragu develop all of the different spaghetti sauces we now find in the supermarket.

So what does this mean for sustainability?

Well, we spend a ton of time considering how to change the message, how to vary the message, how we can effectively bring about change, how we can talk about sustainability, how we can market sustainable businesses, how we can get people to change.  We tend to think two things:
One, that we, as sustainability advocates, have not done a great job in presenting the narrative about environmental impact.
Two, that there must be a single better way that would be more effective.

We search for different ways of sharing facts about global warming.  We look for different ways of talking about personal changes that we need to make.  We look for the single best way to communicate our agenda.

Maybe Pepsi and Ragu have something to tell us here.  Maybe we have been looking for the perfect environmental narrative, but all along we should have been focusing on finding the perfect narratives.  A subtle shift, to be sure, but one that may prove to be powerful.

(Special thanks to William Griffith, professor at Antioch New England, for sharing this video in class and sparking these thoughts!)

What do you think?  Does this concept have interesting implications as we try to bring about significant changes?

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