Mountain lions, car crashes and a killer marketing challenge
In late 1982, I was driving east on a dark four-lane road skirting a forest preserve. Something flashed in the corner of my eye. In the next split-second, a deer appeared directly in my headlights—and then, before I could react, came the impact.
The car pitched as my tires bounced over the deer, but I was able to hang on and steer to the shoulder. I got out and took inventory:
- I was unhurt.
- The front end of my mom’s Buick Skylark was mangled—headlights blown, grille gone, hood crimped back on itself.
- And the deer? Let’s just say I’m glad it was dark.
Why am I describing all this more than 30 years later? Because deer-related traffic accidents have recently become one factor in a marketing challenge I’ve been working through in my brain.
The other factor is mountain lions.
BRING ON THE MOUNTAIN LIONS
Generations ago, mountain lions roamed the Midwest prairies. Today, some people want to reintroduce mountain lions to their former territories as a natural means of culling deer populations.
I have nothing against deer (personal history notwithstanding), but they’re overpopulated—and they cause more than one million car accidents and 200 fatalities a year in the United States. There are lots of ways—realistic and otherwise—to reduce deer-related traffic accidents, but they all have negative tradeoffs:
- Expand deer hunting season—but hunting accidents cause nearly 100 deaths a year in the US and Canada.
- Capture and neuter selected deer populations—because our departments of natural resources always have budget surpluses.
- Build more fences alongside likely deer crossings—but fences would disrupt wildlife in countless other ways, not to mention being an enormous expense.
- Stitch reflectors into the coats of every deer in North America—but, well, you can probably come up with your own objection.
So, maybe mountain lions make sense. (Plus … mountain lions in Illinois? Cool!) Estimates say that reintroducing mountain lions would reduce deer populations enough to prevent about five deer-related traffic fatalities a year.
That’s only a 2.5% reduction, but five people alive instead of dead would be a good thing, right?
Well, here’s the rub, and—thanks for your patience—the marketing challenge. While attacks on humans are exceptionally rare, the number-crunchers say if you reintroduce mountain lions, you could expect one additional person a year to be mauled to death.
HORROR OVERWHELMS LOGIC
How do you market a program that gets one person a year killed by a mountain lion?
By the numbers, it’s a no-brainer—accept one death to prevent five. But all numbers are not created equal.
More than 38,000 people died in US car accidents in 2015, so reducing that number by five wouldn’t make any headlines—it’s a statistical non-event. No one in America will notice their roads have been made 0.013% safer with fewer deer roaming around.
But that single mountain lion killing would lead the local nightly news, probably for days.
And then? Woe to the politician who led the effort to reintroduce the killer cougar. He or she could point to the statistics—insisting that mountain lions actually saved four net lives—but the horror of that one person being mauled to death would overwhelm any logic in the argument.
So … finally … the Marketing Challenge:
Given the pros and cons as outlined above, would you accept an assignment to rally public support for the reintroduction of mountain lions?
If so, what kind of campaign would you devise?
Leave a comment and let us know!
Senior Copywriter Jeff Segal writes blogs and social content for several SN clients, while crusading tirelessly against the words provide, quality, strive and utilize.