Points to Ponder: Economic Activity and the Role of Energy

Points to Ponder is an occasional series of thoughts (points) that come to mind and that I can articulate in the written word. They are ponderings because I really do not have any clear answers to the points under consideration.

By John Tobin

This pondering is a follow-up to my 2/6/12 discussion covering the ROI on energy literacy and public energy education programs.

As the Executive Director of the Energy LITERACY Project and as a past Distinguished Lecturer for the SPE I made numerous presentations on the need to develop an informed energy literate consumer base. I used one theme I found that never wore out. 

When you reminded to the man on the street that there is no economic activity that can take place without the consumption of some energy, the general response is, “Yea, you’re probably right, but I wish you hadn’t told me.” 

Talk about energy illiteracy, the concept of cheap and abundant energy has almost become a constitutional right that we didn’t have to worry about. In spite of low prices for natural gas, today there is some worry about the cheap part for gasoline, but you get my point. 

After seeing all of this year’s Super Bowl ads, it was very heartening to see the GE and Budweiser ad that really made the same point about energy in the economy. Perhaps you saw it. 

Here GE workers building turbines for electric generation end the commercial noting that, “When people think of GE they don’t generally think of beer.” The patrons of the bar say to the GE workers, “Do you make beer?” And the GE guy says, “No. I make the power that makes the beer.” At which point the patrons say, “Without you there’d be no Bud? We like GE guys too”. 

Isn’t this what the energy industry is all about? And coming from GE in such a simple, subtle (and credible) manner says more about the role energy plays in our daily lives than many more direct PR efforts I’ve seen in years. You left this commercial realizing how energy isn’t so bad and is necessary after all. 

There are some lessons here. 

1) The key “grabber” is the pocketbook issues in our daily lives and role energy plays in making that life possible. 

2) Another lesson is that of tapping the creative talents of Madison Avenue. They can be very effective even if not politically correct. Remember the ad campaign for Camel cigarettes in the ‘80s? Every kid in the country had to have a Joe Camel tee shirt if not actually start smoking. 

     a) What could the industry do in teaching the general public about energy if GE resurrected the cute and cuddly “Redi Kilowatt” of the ‘50s and ‘60s? 

     b) Or maybe Madison Ave. developed a character such as Redi’s evil twin “BTU Bubba”. 

     c) Of course we’d still need to have a credible (and maybe even a humorous) delivery system or spokesman. 

On this President’s Day, as we look for leadership, I note the 2/10/12 O&GJ digital issue’s editorial and news bemoaning how once again various interest groups and Congress are wanting their cake and eat it to when it comes to natural gas, LNG exports, petroleum product exports and the role of the Keystone XL pipeline. This may be the result of energy illiteracy, arrogance, or just the image of the industry. 

But maybe the best response can come from the advertising world as a means to explain energy’s role in our lifestyle and economic wellbeing. Would this be one investment that would yield a positive ROI I talked in my 2/6/12 article? This is truly a point to ponder. 


John Tobin is the Executive Director of the Energy LITERACY Project. For more of Tobin’s insights on energy price forecasting see: Confessions of an Energy Price Forecaster. Please send your ponderings on this or any other topic to John at jtobin3es@gmail.com.

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