Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Energy Hog, Meet Squander Bug

The White House has decided that it is time to get serious about energy consumption. As has become standard with this Rovian administration, they have decided to forgo any concrete and meaningful action and instead are concentrating on a PR campaign. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the latex and leather "Energy Hog" mascot is going to be about as effective as Karen Hughes' public diplomacy tour of the Middle East. The only plus is that a foam mascot doesn't have anything embarrassing up its sleeve to spill before a Grand Jury (if it had been the Clinton White House, we might have ended up with testimony about 'making bacon').

Given the Bushies track record on public appointments, I'm just surprised that the job was given to a dude in a cartoon animal suit rather than a big election fund donor or campaign worker. Although this effort is so doomed to failure I wouldn't be surprised if someone ripped the head off the Energy Hog and found Michael Brown inside. Don't be shocked if the Energy Hog goes the way of Petey the Sexual Harassment Panda.

Here's what the Toledo Blade had to say:

Hog wild on energy
For a White House that prides itself in keeping relentlessly "on message" to sell its policies to the American public, the Bush Administration has come up with a jarringly negative image for the new energy conservation program.

The mascot is a cartoon character called "Energy Hog," a malevolent-looking pig that wears blue jeans and a leather jacket, with a chain around its neck. Whether this grungy beast, whose name is too reminiscent of "Gas Hog," will be successful in marketing a positive concept like saving energy is questionable, at best, but no one should be surprised that the tactic appears backward.

This is, after all, the same White House that has collectively sneered at the idea of energy conservation for the past five years. From fighting stronger fuel economy standards for motor vehicles to failing to advance energy-saving standards for home appliances, the Bush Administration has been the antithesis of green.

Indeed, President Bush and his retinue have actively sought to cast themselves as leaders of a sport-utility vehicle culture that could not care less about saving energy, on the road or at home. Then came $3 a gallon gasoline, after which SUV sales tanked, and forecasts of natural gas heating bills 71 percent higher than last year. And out trots Energy Hog to help administration officials spread the word to drive slower and turn down the thermostat at home.

This is better than Mr. Bush's recent off-the-cuff advice to motorists - "If you don't need gas, don't buy it" - but not much. Wasting energy, whether in our choice of cars or the plethora of electronic gadgets at home, has become so ingrained in American habits that it will take more than public service announcements on radio and television to reverse. Moreover, the Energy Hog is a negative symbol, with none of the positive vibes of earlier government public relations icons like Smokey Bear, who earnestly intoned "Only you can prevent forest fires," or McGruff the Crime Dog, who growled "Take a bite out of crime."

Indications are that the administration wants to avoid the fate of Jimmy Carter, who became president in the midst of an energy crisis in 1977 and was ridiculed for addressing the nation in a cardigan sweater from a 65-degree White House.

The difference is that Mr. Carter came up with a comprehensive energy policy that actually reduced the nation's dependence on foreign oil during his tenure in Washington whereas the current incumbent has trouble articulating any tactic that doesn't include drilling in a wildlife refuge or off the coast of Florida.

In short, Mr. Bush cannot expect to ride the Energy Hog to victory in his new conservation crusade.

Of course, this isn't the first effort of this kind. In the Second World War, the British government came up with the Squander Bug:
I don't know how effective the Squander Bug campaign was but I think the crucial difference was that back then both the British and American publics understood the stakes and realised that a degree of sacrifice was essential in wartime and possible shortage. All facets of society were so in tune with the nature of the struggle beofre them that in 1942 GM suspended production of cars and built Sherman tanks for the duration of the war- these days the closest they get to that is building Hummer H2s so dickweeds can pretend they are patrolling Fallujah while doing the school run.

Perhaps the sentiment needs to be as straightforward as this:

Then again perhaps not; these days every single last selfish one of us would probably decide "yes" and proceed to the raquetball club with a clear concience.


Listmaker said...

i was with you until you starting making fun of racquetball.

weasel said...

They hate us for our raquetball

Anonymous said...

Ugh! That mascot thing makes me plim!

Debbie said...

that squander bug is creepy ewwww

Anonymous said...

Did you see this: http://news.yahoo.com/s/latimests/20051010/ts_latimes/suvdriversinparisgetwindknockedoutofthem

weasel said...

Anoymous, I heard about the Parisian direct action on NPR or the World Service; I get the point (and giggle at the chutzpah) but I'm not a property damage sort of bloke (too much of a bourgeois English chap for all that; it always seems counter-productive). I am mulling taking the work of Michah Wright and sticking it under people's wipers though.

ChickyBabe said...

They both look equally evil!

weasel said...

Of course, the link doesn't work. this one should.

All the female visitors to the site have had visceral reactions to the various anti-waste mascots. Given that women are usually the descision maker on the family car, vacation destination, etc this doesn't bode well for the Energy Hog campaign's success...