You may have seen the recent video spots by the Reality campaign and wondered, “What was that about again?” The first one takes viewers on a tour of a nonexistent clean coal plant:
This ad winks at the audience, asking us to acknowledge that, like the emperor’s new clothes, clean coal doesn’t actually exist. But as Joseph Romm points out over at the Climate Progress blog, the first Reality ad manages to repeat the words “clean coal technology” seven times, possibly leaving viewers with the idea that clean coal is, after all, a reality. And that’s exactly what the people at Reality don’t want us to come away with. Sadly, for an audience accustomed to soundbites and sloganeering, subtlety and sarcasm can make for flimsy messaging.
The second ad presents a smug, clearly deceitful coal executive perpetuating the myth of clean coal:
This ad, like the first, seeks to debunk the idea that economically viable clean coal technology actually exists today. Again, the helpful Joseph Romm gets to the heart of the matter, this time on Grist: What, exactly do the smart and good-hearted people at Reality want us to do? Are they against the idea of clean coal, or just against the coal industry implying that we have the technology in hand? Should we try harder to develop clean coal or abandon it?
Stepping back from these spots, we can see the larger challenge of communicating about a new era of alternative energy. What exactly is the brand for the new green future so many of us want? What new, desirable reality does the Reality campaign seek, and how should it be represented? The lesson of these ads, it seems to me, is that (to lapse into a sports analogy--sorry) you shouldn’t hide the ball, if you want your team (and your fans in the stands) to follow your game plan.