Is groSolar's new ad campaign the right approach?

groSolar recently announced the launch of a new national advertising campaign that will feature images of real people in real life situations, rather than pictures of solar panels.  According to the company's press release, groSolar's objective is to "communicate the real value of clean energy choices."

This technique is especially common in the healthcare industry.  Doctors, hospitals, clinics, and other providers often show people living a happy, healthy life rather than say, open heart surgery in progress.

The questions is: would you select a surgeon based on pictures of happy people?  Does a value-oriented advertising campaign convince a skeptical audience to buy services from the advertiser?  My answer to these questions would be: not if the product or service is high riskā€¦and solar is perceived as high risk.

Here's the reason why.

Solar requires a complex, information intensive and high risk purchase decision. (Note I said the purchase decision is complex and high risk, not the technology) A solar installation requires a good deal of work on the part of both the consumer and the provider. It is a product/service with a standard base of know-how, but totally customized and personalized. Buyers of want a dealer/installer with a good reputation and would prefer to find one by means of a reference or referral. Information and dialogue are part of the purchase process.  There is the possibility of interaction after the system has been installed and the customer wants to be reassured that he or she can always ask for and receive additional help or information. If the solar installation goes bad, the customer is looking at losing thousands of dollars, the potential of roof damage/repair, time without electric power, and a significant disruption to their life.

With products that are more costly, complicated or high-risk, the customer has more at stake.  So all of the typical methods used in low-risk consumer marketing -- cosmetic factors, product/company name, package color and design, messaging, image, "feel good advertising," celebrity endorsements, logos or symbols to reinforce associations -- are totally ineffective.

The only way to market a high risk offering is with methods that reduce risk in the mind of the customer -- references from someone the customer trusts, professional affiliations, compliance with industry standards, a supporting infrastructure, evidence of expertise, product quality, and ongoing service.

groSolar's ad campaign may raise awareness for the solar industry in general, and that's a good thing. But if the company's goal is to convince customers to buy groSolar's products and services, then advertising is the wrong way to do it.

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