Message and Messenger

FROM THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE: American Coalition for Ethanol Executive Vice President Brian Jennings talks about the importance of a positive message, but also the importance of the messenger.
By Brian Jennings | August 21, 2017

For the past few years, the public relations and paid advertising strategy of the American Coalition for Ethanol has centered on finding the right messenger to deliver the right message.

 We are grateful to have a diverse membership base and strong alliances with corn growers, retailers and fuel marketers, rural electric co-ops, industry vendors and service providers. When people from all walks of life are part of the movement to support renewable fuels, it is a real testament to the fact that we’re stronger.

That’s what ACE’s Power by People campaign is about: Putting a human face on ethanol; making connections with people on their terms; appealing to people’s hearts in addition to their minds. And it goes beyond having a message that’s persuasive to both the left and right side of the brain. If we want to influence the public opinions that inform political decisions, we also need to think about our audience and have the right messenger deliver the right message. That’s why Power by People has highlighted mothers, grandfathers and millennials, and why our advertising has featured retailers who are offering E15 and flex fuels to their customers. Retailers have become an incredibly important ingredient as we try to convince Congress and the EPA to provide Reid vapor pressure (RVP) relief for E15 and higher blends. 

Take Charlie Good for example. He’s an ASE-certified mechanic who has owned a gas station for more than 30 years. During much of that time, Charlie was tied to a ConocoPhillips contract that limited the types of fuel he could sell. When he broke free from the contract restrictions and began offering E15, E30 and E85, E15 became one of his best-selling fuels. The trouble is that Charlie, like too many other station owners, is handcuffed because the EPA refuses to provide summertime RVP relief to E15 and higher blends. ACE has prominently featured these real-life experiences in D.C.-based ad buys to focus attention on the need for RVP relief.

Scott Zaremba is another retailer featured in our advertising. Since Scott was the first retailer in the country to offer E15, he’s been a particularly effective messenger in our efforts to convince other retailers to make the switch to higher ethanol blends. Retailers trust and respect the opinions of their peers, and Scott is someone experienced with E15. That’s why Scott’s success with higher blends has been highlighted in the ad buys we do in petroleum and retailer media.

Our strategy of right messenger for the right message has been validated by a survey done by Roll Call, a D.C.-based publication. When it compared ACE’s RVP ad featuring Charlie to those from Koch Industries and the National Beer Wholesalers, among many others, ACE came out on top. Seventy percent of Capitol Hill staff remembered seeing our ad and 60 percent of them recalled reading it.

Ethanol opponents spend a lot of time and money trying to create an alternative reality, scaring people about the “harm” ethanol causes and stereotyping the ethanol industry as some monolithic government program and the Renewable Fuel Standard as a heavy-handed EPA mandate. They are masterful at playing to people’s emotions, particularly the mistrust people have of the EPA. 

While ethanol opponents appeal to people’s fears, ethanol advocates often fight fear with facts. A common refrain within our industry is: “The facts are on our side, we just need to get the facts out there. We just need to tell our story.” Our story is important, but our storytellers are equally important.

Surveys confirm that people are most likely to be convinced by people to whom they can relate. That’s why we continue to rely on people from all walks of life in our Power by People advertising, telling the stories that support the facts. Retailers have been particularly effective messengers and ACE plans to incorporate more of them in our future public relations efforts.

Author: Brian Jennings
Executive Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol