Huffpost Green
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dave Llorens Headshot

Women Didn't Buy Smokes in the '20s for the Same Reason People Don't Buy Solar Power Today

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

In the '20s, women didn't smoke. It just wasn't socially acceptable and wasn't thought of as something "women did." As you can imagine, the tobacco industry would have preferred otherwise, and after World War I, a big tobacco company hired Freud's cousin, Edward Bernays, (the dude who basically invented PR) to figure out what the hell was going on (after all, they figured they could hawk twice as many cigarettes if they could sort this problem out and get women smoking). What they got from Ed was more effective than their wildest dreams.

Whether Ed "figured it out," or not is probably open to debate (something about penises). But what is unequivocally genius is what he did get women to start smoking (now keep in mind that I'm not making any judgments in this article on what's right and what's wrong -- I'm simply pointing out some historic facts and the relevance of those facts to a very real and misunderstood problem today). Ed was well-connected to press and photographers, and he "let slip" that there was going to be a group of rebellious debutantes at the very famous New York City Easter Day Parade who were going to light up "torches of freedom," and he told them where the women would be located. The, he paid off a bunch of models to light up during the parade. The reporters had a prewritten phrase/headline ("torches of freedom,"), and an amazing and shocking story that wrote itself (you could say it was an easy news day). It got covered big-time. The next day women around the U.S. all saw news about important beautiful women smoking publicly as though it was no big deal. Seeing it in the papers as a "thing women now did," was all it took, and...

... Boom. Women now smoked. Overnight. It's a "thing women do..."

Solar needs its own Ed Bernays. The reason is simple.

Today, most people don't think that solar is a "thing they do" to save money. They think it's a thing "that other guy does..." You know, the Al Gore-like guy down the street -- that rich environmentalist dude with the weird rainwater-collection things -- that's a thing he does. It's something that compost Nazi from work does. It's something Ed Begley puts on his house so he can lower his carbon footprint. It's not a thing they do. One of the competitors to our company has flat out nailed this point in their ads about this topic. 99.9 percent of people think it's just an expensive tech toy, much like a Ducati or a big Plasma TV, that costs a lot of money, and they don't care enough about the environment to spend extra money.

The irony is that solar can be financed in a way where there is no upfront cost and the homeowner shows immediate savings from the first day. There are 11 states in which our business can operate this way today. Most solar systems nowadays are financed in a way where people save money immediately at no upfront cost to them. Yeah, seriously, it goes up on your roof, you pay nothing upfront, and you pay as you go for the energy... and that payment is less expensive than the energy it is replacing. Thus, immediate savings (and often tens of thousands over the lifespan). On top of this it's all warranted, insured, monitored, and the performance is guaranteed. In California, 75 percent of systems are now done this way.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Yeah, well, unfortunately everyone else thinks so too. It's not, though; it's real. There are millions of people in over 10 states where this works and conversations at the dinner table about this are few and far between. The economics to the homeowner caught up and surpassed the incumbent (your utility), but it has not sunk in, at all. We know this because the amazing event where we get in front of potential customers, they think it's too good to be true. Sometimes we joke internally about making our offering worse or offering to throw a rock through your window if you decide to get solar to make it not sound less good.

So how do you quickly thaw this iceberg of public perception about solar power? Well, hell, I had a 14-year-old tell me that it was better to own than rent because you could deduct mortgage interest. What? It's not fair. If just 5 percent of people knew that you could get solar on your roof for free with guaranteed instant savings, it would blow up like Facebook (OK, maybe not at Internet speed, but it would blow up). But every time someone like Al Gore gets on a soap box to preach to the choir about solar, it's just another coffin nail pounded into this perception problem.

We need someone like Glenn Beck. Bill O'Reilly. We need someone big, public, loud, and widely followed, and widely viewed as the last person on earth who would go out of their way to help the environment for the environment's sake alone, to put it on their house because of the savings, and then tell everyone why they did it -- and we need the Ed Bernays of the 2010s to set that up. Yes, I legitimately believe it's that simple, and can accelerate the market by decades (who knows when women would have started smoking otherwise? '30s? '40s?). It's a shame Oprah doesn't have her show anymore because she would have been perfect. She could move a mountain of public perception with a flick of a wrist.

From Our Partners