The brave new world of slacktivism

by Evgeny Morozov,

Last week, The Globe and Mail ran an article on the history of “slacktivism” (the G&M piece
seems to have grown out of an interview I did with CBC’s Spark a few weeks
ago on the same subject). “Slacktivism
is an apt term to
describe feel-good online activism that has zero political or
social impact. It gives those who participate in “slacktivist”
campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world
without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group. Remember
that online petition that you signed and forwarded to your entire
contacts list? That was probably an act of slacktivism…

“Slacktivism” is the ideal type of
activism for a lazy generation: why bother with sit-ins and the
risk of arrest, police brutality, or torture if one can be as
loud campaigning in the virtual space? Given the media’s fixation on
all things digital — from blogging to social networking to Twitter — every click of your mouse is almost guaranteed to receive
immediate media attention, as long as it’s geared towards the noble
causes. That media attention doesn’t always translate into campaign
effectiveness is only of secondary importance.

The adherents of “slacktivism”
usually point a well-known narrative to justify what they are doing:
while it’s true that the dramatic fall in transaction costs of
organizing activist campaigns has simply opened up the field to many
more participants and issues, there has been no drop in the actual
quality and effectiveness of
these campaigns.
It’s easy to dismiss most criticism of
“slacktivism” as simply unproductive: after all, having
thousands of people — most of them previously not involved in any
activist campaigns at all — suddenly start practicing the kind of
click-based “nano-activism” available via Facebook and Twitter
could be extremely useful, if only for specific campaigns that would,
indeed, benefit from increased public attention.

Perhaps, it’s high time to challenge
this narrative and ask a very difficult question: are the publicity
gains gained through this greater reliance on new media worth the
organizational losses that traditional activists entities are likely
to suffer, as ordinary people would begin to turn away from
conventional (and proven) forms of activism (demonstrations, sit-ins,
confrontation with police, strategic litigation, etc) and embrace
more “slacktivist” forms, which may be more secure but whose
effectiveness is still largely unproven?

Let’s not get into trying to find
answers to purely speculative questions like whether the utility of
the very public work of 1000 “slacktivists” equals that of the
very quiet and often unattributed work of one traditional activist.
The real issue here is whether the mere availability of the
“slacktivist” option is likely to push those who in the past
might have confronted the regime in person with demonstrations,
leaflets, and labor organizing to embrace the Facebook option and
join a gazillion online issue groups instead. If this is the case,
then the much-touted tools of digital liberation are only driving us
further away from the goal of democratization and building global
civil society.

Of course, the ideal case here is when
one’s participation in digital activism doesn’t subtract from — and
instead enhances — one’s eagerness to participate in real-life campaigns.
However, it’s also quite possible that a significant portion of the
activist population would be morally content with the “slacktivist”
option alone, preferring not to get too close to more dangerous
activities that are likely to get them in trouble with authorities.
So should we be more careful when discussing the success of most
digital activism campaigns, since they may also have unanticipated
adverse effects on more effective forms of enacting political and
social change? (Of course, the relative effectiveness of one type of
activism over another is a matter of great contention too.)

I don’t really have a good answer here
and am increasingly of the opinion that the only way to conclusively
answer this question is a scientific one: we simply need to start
constructing gigantic surveys, otherwise these insights will forever
stay in the land of the anecdotal. I also think that it might be
useful to search for traces of “slacktivism” in other fields. For
example, is the growing public fascination with “ethical consumerism” likely to erode other more effective (and more
political) forms of protest? Given that some advocates of “ethical consumerism” still cling to the notion that “shopping is more
important that voting,” this may as well be the case.


I think if you look at it in

think if you look at it in terms of effecting change directly you’re
looking at it in the wrong way. “Slacktivism” appears to be much better
at building wide (although vague) consensus on an issue. Consensus, of
course, will never change the world, but it’s a nice step forward.
People who would never have heard of Darfur in the past now have a
little sticker on their Facebook that shows their support.

Ultimately, if someone publishes a research paper that shows that
slacktivism does have a net negative effect on participation it’s not
like it’s going to change any of the real world dynamics that cause the
average Joe to be more likely to support an idea in theory rather than
putting themselves on the line. Much more interesting would be research
on how to turn passive support into micropayments that can be turned
into real change by the truly committed.

Activist and Slactivist DNA

have met enough activists in my day to recognize that they share a
special gene pool. Which is to say that there tends to be something in
their personalities that motivates them to fight continuously against
perceived injustices while the rest of us think about what we’ll be
eating for dinner and which is the best microbrew. In fact, I think you
share their personality traits, but your abundance of energetic
ambition has – at least lately – been expressed in protesting against
slacktivists rather than allegedly oppressive governments.

The real power of online “activism” in my opinion lies in the power
of deconstructing simple narratives formed by monolithic
institutionsabout the oppressed and the oppressors, and encouraging
debate about how to bring about change. I agree with you that no matter
how many Facebook groups you join or online petitions you sign, nothing
is going to change in Darfur. However, if you are willing to dig deep
enough, any internet user today has access to more information about
the roots of the conflict than would have ever been imaginable just a
decade ago.

Of course, it is fair to argue that we will spend too many of our
24-hours-in-a-day informing ourselves and not enough time acting on
that information, but that’s not what I have found. When the majority
of my acquaintances have invested a great deal of time informing
themselves about conflicts in Sudan, DRC, and Liberia they want to get
more involved, not less. Most of them travel to these countries, enlist
with NGO’s, and realize that the dynamic they had once thought so
simple is actually very complex. That, in my opinion, is a big step

But you’re right, this is all anecdotal. Even surveys will be hopelessly biased – only representing the most vocal respondents.

Now, time for me to figure out what to eat for dinner …

I am sure the people of

am sure the people of Darfur are very appreciative of all the people on
Facebook who took the one second out of their busy lives to click and
add a sticker of support.

Slacktivism allows stupid, apathetic people to con themselves into believing they are helping make the world better place.

@money, I’m sure they are

I’m sure they are pretty much equally appreciative of those people
whether they add a sticker or just do nothing as they would have
otherwise, but that’s not really the point I was making.

It is not all or nothing though

activists, however, do use the web social media in addition to their
demonstrations, litigations, and sit-ins. Moreover, Slacktivist who go
too far in some countries by challenging the authorities are suddenly
arrested, harassed, and their computers taken away. In the Western
world, the Slacktivism model may be a good critique, but not
necessarily in other less democratic places in the world.

it DOES work… at least in my province

in Ontario (in Canada for those who don’t know), the government almost
passed a law forbidding people 18 and under with full licenses to carry
more than one person in the car. 4000 people joined a facebook group
protesting. It was mentioned all over the media here, until at last the
government gave up its quest… thank god

Not only this, but you can really equate joining a group online to
writing a letter to a newspaper. While it may not represent a view as
personal, creating a group will get many more people actually involved
and doing a positive action, in comparison to people reading and saying
‘oh, that’s nice’.


Five Things You Should Never Say to an Online Donor

Picture one of your supporters sitting at her computer. She’s
browsing your website. She just finished reading a heart-warming story
of success about someone whose life has been transformed by your
nonprofit’s program, and there’s a tear in her eye.
(There’s also a bit of broccoli between her front teeth, but
don’t focus on that now.)

Now you watch with bated breath:
Will she convert from supporter to donor? What can you say during this
open-minded moment of truth? What should you absolutely avoid saying
during this crucial time?

If you peruse the Learning Center,
you’re bound to find information about effective messaging, good
donor stewardship and tips to get your online fundraising off the
ground (peruse away!). But for all the warm fuzzies and smart messages
you’re sending, consider these five things that you should never
say to your online donors:

  1. “I’m not trustworthy.”
    Obviously you would never have a headline on your nonprofit website:
    “Don’t Trust Us with Your Money.” However, make sure
    that’s not the message folks are reading between the lines. Are
    you set up to receive online donations? Did you hide your
    enigmatically- named “consider giving” page beneath 12
    layers of informational pages? Are your physical address and annual
    report listed and easy to find? Legitimize your online presence,
    validate your online visitors’ preference to donate online and
    show your site visitors you need and appreciate their help.

  2. “I take you for granted.”
    If your website forces supporters to search for a long time to find out
    how to, you know, support you online (or if there’s no way to
    support you at all), it’s frustrating – see point 1. If
    online supporters are not acknowledged, it’s downright
    ungrateful. If your site is set up for online giving, ask yourself,
    “What happens when people donate?” Do they hear from you
    again? Do they get a tax receipt? Is the only thing they get a receipt?
    The quickest way to turn a donor into a one-timer is to neglect the

  3. “I have no idea how much you should give.”
    Of course your donors will give in varying amounts, and you want to
    allow that sort of flexibility to your supporters. However, to say,
    “Give whatever you want” is not a specific, tangible ask.
    Make it easy (and easy-to-picture) to choose a giving level.
    Here’s an example: Recently one of our Network-for-Gooders sent a
    birthday fundraising ask that outlined exactly what a $37 donation
    would buy (“the food for a healthy, homemade breakfast for 15
    homeless men and women”). Set up custom giving levels (like
    Malaria No More’s “$10 buys one bed net!”). Paint the
    picture of how the money will be used.

  4. “What’s your name again?” If
    you met a donor in person, you wouldn’t greet him, “Hi,
    friend.” Why treat your online donors any differently? In your
    email marketing and outreach, be sure to include personalization
    whenever possible. Use whatever data you have to create the most
    engaging messages possible. For example, “Hi, Bob! I wanted to
    reach out and say thank you for your $20 online gift…”
    (This works if his name is Bob, of course.) And here’s a helpful
    hint: If it looks like a form letter, sounds like a form letter and
    quacks like a form letter, it’s a form letter and your donor will
    know it. Although, sending something is better than nothing, which
    brings us to point 5…

  5. *Nothing at all.* And,
    the most important thing to avoid saying to online supporters and
    donors: Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Radio silence. If you know nothing else
    about the Internet and all this Web 2.0 business, you should know this:
    The Web is about engagement and building connections. Thank your
    donors. Encourage monthly giving. Offer other opportunities to get
    involved including volunteer openings, signing up for your e-newsletter
    and so on. If you donor came in as anything above and beyond
    “anonymous,” take that opportunity to build a relationship
    and make the most of it.

And, if you’re thinking
to yourself “Gasp! I can’t accept donations online,”
or, “Heavens to Betsy, we’re not sending email
campaigns!” let us help. We’re pleased to offer
easy-to-use, affordable and effective resources for just those


Top 10 Information Architecture Mistakes

Bad information architecture causes the majority of outright user failures and isn’t improving at the rate of other Web usability issues. To determine why, I’ve identified 10 long-term sore thumbs that together cost websites billions of dollars each year.

I divided the following list of worst IA mistakes into two parts, which corresponds to how we partition the materials across our 2-day IA course: structure on Day 1 and navigation on Day 2. Of course, you need to get both right, but they’re essentially two different design levels: The invisible way the site is structured and the visible way users understand and manage that structure.

Structure Mistakes

1. No Structure

The most notable structural problem is when designers treat a site like one big swamp with no organizing principle for individual items. Yes, users can fish the swamp using search or by following links from current promotions or outside sites. But whatever they dredge up is it. No opportunities for understanding the site’s other offerings or locating related items.

This sin is common on news sites and catalog-based e-commerce sites, where each item (articles and products, respectively) is treated as a stand-alone unit without connections to related items. No wonder users leave those sites so quickly.

2. Search and Structure Not Integrated

We’ve long known that users often exhibit search-dominant behaviors. This doesn’t mean that search is all they need, however. Arriving on a page from a search is like parachuting into a city. Hopefully, if you want to go to Paris, you’ll land there rather than in Amsterdam, but in any case, you’re unlikely to land on the doorstep of your favorite restaurant. To get there, you’ll need to walk or take a cab. Similarly, users often need to navigate the neighborhood around their search destination.

Of course, local navigation works only if the site has a structure to define its neighborhoods (see mistake #1). But the design must also expose local options to users. Even better if it indicates how relevant the neighboring options are to the user’s current query.

SERP (search engine results page) usability increases when each search hit exposes its location within the site structure. External search engines like Google can’t always do this because they don’t know the site’s structure or which navigational dimensions are most relevant to common site tasks. But you do know your site’s structure and should therefore include the info on your own SERPs.

Sadly, search and navigation fail to support each other on many sites. This problem is exacerbated by another common mistake: navigation designs that don’t indicate the user’s current location. That is, after users click a search result, they can’t determine where they are in the site — as when you’re searching for pants and click on a pair, but then have no way to see more pants.

3. Missing Category Landing Pages

We recommend that sites have a series of categories that each link to their own landing page that gives users a section overview. Sometimes, sites forego the overview page and simply offer links directly to individual pages within a section. This might reduce the number of site pages, but when no page is clearly identified as a sub-topic page, users can misunderstand the site’s scope and miss important details, products, and services.

Category pages also help SEO because they’re the most prominent landing place when people search for a type of product, service, or information. They’re also a way to overcome mistake #2 because they help users bump up a level or two in the site structure if search takes them to an overly detailed leaf node. (Breadcrumbs facilitate users’ ability to easily move up the levels.)

4. Extreme Polyhierarchy

Compared to the physical world, one of the online world’s benefits is that items can live in multiple locations. Because websites can classify products and other content along multiple dimensions, they help users navigate locally to related items and provide faceted winnowing of a large product space into manageable shortlists that can satisfy the user’s main requirements.

This is all good, but polyhierarchy can easily become a crutch. Rather than spend time upfront to develop several intuitive and logical top-level categories, teams rush through this important process, creating numerous weak categories and listing products multiple times within them. The usability impact? Users spend too much time agonizing over top-level categories and then get confused when they see items showing up in multiple places (“are these the same thing?”).

With too many classification options and too many structured dimensions, users are forced to think harder to move forward. The profusion of options also makes people question the information scent. This lack of confidence early in the site experience extends throughout their visit and can negatively impact the end result (by thwarting a purchase, for example).

5. Subsites/Microsites Poorly Integrated with Main Site

Abandoned microsites litter the Web as the detritus of old marketing campaigns. A dedicated microsite might have been a good idea back when you launched a new product, but by the next year it’s undermining your online strategy and diluting your online presence.

Web design is design for the ages. Think about how anything you do will feel in 5 years.

It’s typically best to forego independent microsites and place new information on subsites within the main site. But you still need to integrate these subsites within the overall site structure.

For example, on both microsites and subsites, we often see product-specific pages that fail to link to information about the company or organization behind the offering. Further, many sites poorly represent their subsites in the main site search — which often ignores microsites altogether.

Navigation Mistakes

6. Invisible Navigation Options

The very worst mistake might be to have no navigation, but that’s so rare that I’m not going to discuss it. Still, any feature that users can’t see might as well not exist; invisible navigation is thus nearly as bad as no navigation.

Uncovering navigation shouldn’t be a major task: Make it permanently visible on the page. Small children like minesweeping (passing the mouse around the screen to see what’s hidden), but teenagers don’t like it, and adults hate it.

Similarly, you should avoid banner blindness bleed, when either the navigation itself looks like a banner or you place it next to elements that look like advertising and thus users screen it out. Even if it’s on the screen, your navigation might as well be invisible if users don’t look at it.

7. Uncontrollable Navigation Elements

Typically, anything that moves and bounces detracts from Web usability; when navigation moves while users are trying to find their way, it’s deadly. Users should focus on the higher-level problem of where to go, not the lower-level problem of how to manipulate the GUI.

Two common offenders here are overly sensitive rollovers that launch and block content, and elements that move, spin, or rotate of their own accord. Users routinely complain about these types of elements. Designers and programmers who include them in websites severely underestimate the business impact of user frustration.

8. Inconsistent Navigation

Navigation exists to help users, not to be a puzzle in its own right. Users should be able to understand it immediately, and apply that understanding throughout the site. Sadly, lots of sites change their navigation features as users move around. Options come and go, making users feel a loss of control. How do I get that menu choice back? I saw it just a few pages ago.

Although global navigation is not a site’s most popular element, its persistence serves a key purpose: it’s a beacon that helps users understand both where they are and how they can easily maneuver back to the top of the site if they lose their way.

9. Too Many Navigation Techniques

Our full-day seminar on navigation design covers 25 different website navigation techniques. Each approach has its own usability advantages and potential downsides, leading to the seminar’s focus on design trade-offs — that is, when to use what form of navigation.

One thing is clear: each navigation technique has its place on certain types of websites and intranets. But, if you use them all, you don’t get the sum of each technique’s benefits. You get a mess.

Competing for users’ attention. Too many places to look. Overwhelming. Don’t.

10. Made-Up Menu Options

In the past, this mistake would have ranked higher, but luckily it’s less predominant today than it used to be. Still, too many sites continue to make up their own terminology for labels and other navigation choices.

In addition to perplexing users, made-up navigation terms also hurt search; users can’t find something if they don’t know what it’s called. Even if you provide synonyms, the main navigation terms carry extra SEO weight and it’s a waste to optimize for a query that nobody will issue.

Old words are better. When users understand their choices, they’re more likely to pick the right one. Speak plainly and speak simply. If users don’t understand a menu item, they’re less likely to click on it. Paradoxically, companies are particularly prone to making up fancy terms for their newest and most important offerings, thus shooting themselves in the foot with a double-barreled rifle.


A Development 2.0 manifesto

By Giulio Quaggiotto

Inspired by the 45 propositions for social media, below is a modest attempt at putting together some initial thoughts for a Development 2.0 (the application of web 2.0 principles to the development sector) manifesto. This is very much a work in progress, so feel free to add your comments and point out gaps:

1. Think business models, not only cool applications. What we need is the development sector equivalent of companies like Google or Amazon: innovators that radically disrupt the usual way of doing business.

2. Free your data. In the era of mash-ups and APIs, there is no excuse to keep proprietary control over data that could contribute to better policy making and reduce poverty.

3. Fight the not invented here syndrome. Leave duplication of efforts and the ivory tower syndrome to the Development 1.0 world. Use social media to scout the best ideas to achieve development results and catalyse diverse networks around them. Acknowledge that the best expertise might lie outside of your organization. Embrace open standards and make it easy for information to flow from one organization to another.

4. Think “real simple” business processes, from fundraising to reporting. Social media can radically simplify what are often unnecessarily bureaucratic processes that generate significant overheads. Free the energy to concentrate on your core mission.

5. Lower cost of failure. It was difficult to justify before, it’s indefensible now. There’s no reason to sink millions that could finance development projects in expensive IT solutions when there are so many cheaper options available (from open source to the cloud).

6. Fewer “lessons learned” documents, more open conversations about failures. Create an environment where it is ok to fail and talk about failure, so long as you are serious about learning from your mistakes and you don’t spend too much time following the wrong path. Fail often, fail quickly. Trust donors to understand that development is a complex issue.

7. Embrace transparency. You can now make it really simple to track how you are spending donor money. Let everyone hear the voices and experiences of people affected by your projects.

8. What you don’t have resources to do, others might jump at. Social media are great at releasing volunteer energies around your mission. Engage and go beyond your traditional support base.

9. Value (and plan for) conversations with your constituencies, at all levels. Every employee in your organization now can and, most importantly, should want to interact with as many stakeholders as possible through social media to further your mission. Establish a constant dialogue with donors so they don’t feel like they are ATM machines. Thousands of conversations a day should be a coveted objective, not a dreaded scenario.

10. Plan for serendipity. Do focus on results, but be open to get to them in unexpected ways, suggested by your the end users. Incorporate user-driven innovation in your proposals.

11. Think about the full circle. Found an innovative way to tackle a development issue? Go beyond the initial success. Use networks to scale up quickly. Make the connection between the results of your experimentation and the core mission of your organization obvious.

12. Cast a wide net. Your partners and colleagues are your filters to sift through unexpected sources of development knowledge. Collect snippets of information from multiple sources and highlight patterns among them. Use social media to tap into weak ties and bring together innovative perspectives to solve tough development issues.

13. Go beyond polished documents. Think visual. Documents and publications are not the natural unit of knowledge. Release unfinished products if this can help advance your cause and get others to contribute. A visual a la Gapminder can be more impactful on policy makers than a publication.

(With thanks to Anna Bottiglieri, Janice Ryu and Ryan Hahn for their comments, and Euan Semple for being a continuous source of inspiration.)


Best Send Time? When Recipients Are In The Inbox

Loren McDonald, May 07, 2009 10:15 AM

Just about every email expert, consultant or workshop speaker has fielded this question: “What’s the best
time to send emails so my recipients are most likely to read them?”

This is one of those “It depends” questions, because no single mailing list is like another. In addition, your recipients aren’t all in their inboxes at the same time, unlike the mass audiences that tune in to the Super Bowl every year at the exact same time across the continent.

Remember all those studies over the last few years that claimed to pinpoint the best time to send? I conducted what I think was the first study of this kind at a former employer back in 2003, which showed, at least across that company’s
client base, Tuesday through Thursday mornings delivered the highest open and click-through rates.

But even then, I wrote that the “best day” was different for every company. I saw that firsthand with one client for whom I tested various days and times and found that Sunday mornings was its best time, consistently
delivering the most conversions and revenues. However, even the idea that there is a specific day of the week and time of day that is the right time to send emails to your entire list is a completely flawed view.

Consider all the variables that factor into finding the single best time to send:

Demographics: Suppose you market largely to women. Women who work in an office might act on emails at different times than stay-at-home moms. Unless you are capturing detailed demographics, you won’t always know which is which.

Time: You have seven days, 24 hours and up to 40 time zones around the world for global marketers. The variables are endless.

Mindshare: With both consumers and business people spending an increasing amount of time on social networks and services like Twitter, being at the top of a recipient’s inbox is becoming even more critical.

The right time to send emails, of course, is when each individual recipient is most likely to respond: the time when they consistently open and act on your emails.

Getting so granular sounds nearly impossible, especially if you have a large list, but it can be done using recipient time-of-open and click data.

Mini Case Study: Cart-Abandonment Emails

Email consultant John Caldwell recently told me that one of his clients saw an overall 4-times increase in conversion rates when it began sending cart-abandonment emails based on the times when customers had previously opened emails.

In the past, the client had batched cart-abandonment emails and sent them out at one time. With this new strategy, emails launch within 75 minutes from when the customer abandons items in the cart.

If the customer opens the email but doesn’t return, the client’s ecommerce system sends a second email (and a third and final email if necessary) based on when the customer opened the first email.

Optimizing Send Times

My employer has also seen marked results for clients using an automated feature called Send Time Optimization, which calculates the optimum send time based on a rolling average of times each recipient opened or clicked on previous
messages, then schedules individual message deliveries at that time.

For example, one client, Encyclopedia Britannica, saw a 40% increase in net revenue by tying delivery times to historical open and click times.

Across a sample of just a few clients using this feature, we’ve seen these results:

* 20% to 46% increase in open rates
* 30% to 50% increase in click rates
* 52% to 75% increase in total revenue
* 30% increase in total number of orders per campaign (CPC client)
* 35% to 47% increase in per-order value.

These numbers are extremely exciting not just because of improved performance, but because like trigger and drip campaigns, they leverage the power of marketing automation. In this era of tightening budgets, reduced resources and
overflowing inboxes, email marketers need all the advantages they can muster.

While segmentation, personalization, great creative, cadence and other factors are critical to email success, getting your email located at the top of recipients’ inboxes above all the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter notifications will increasingly become an additional key email success factor.


Seeking to Save the Planet, With a Thesaurus

WASHINGTON — The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.”

The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.

Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.”

EcoAmerica has been conducting research for the last several years to find new ways to frame environmental issues and so build public support for climate change legislation and other initiatives. A summary of the group’s latest findings and recommendations was accidentally sent by e-mail to a number of news organizations by someone who sat in this week on a briefing intended for government officials and environmental leaders.

Asked about the summary, ecoAmerica’s president and founder, Robert M. Perkowitz, requested that it not be reported until the formal release of the firm’s full paper later this month, but acknowledged that its wide distribution now made compliance with his request unlikely.

The research directly parallels marketing studies conducted by oil companies, utilities and coal mining concerns that are trying to “green” their images with consumers and sway public policy.

Environmental issues consistently rate near the bottom of public worry, according to many public opinion polls. A Pew Research Center poll released in January found global warming last among 20 voter concerns; it trailed issues like addressing moral decline and decreasing the influence of lobbyists. “We know why it’s lowest,” said Mr. Perkowitz, a marketer of outdoor clothing and home furnishings before he started ecoAmerica, whose activities are financed by corporations, foundations and individuals. “When someone thinks of global warming, they think of a politicized, polarized argument. When you say ‘global warming,’ a certain group of Americans think that’s a code word for progressive liberals, gay marriage and other such issues.”

The answer, Mr. Perkowitz said in his presentation at the briefing, is to reframe the issue using different language. “Energy efficiency” makes people think of shivering in the dark. Instead, it is more effective to speak of “saving money for a more prosperous future.” In fact, the group’s surveys and focus groups found, it is time to drop the term “the environment” and talk about “the air we breathe, the water our children drink.”

“Another key finding: remember to speak in TALKING POINTS aspirational language about shared American ideals, like freedom, prosperity, independence and self-sufficiency while avoiding jargon and details about policy, science, economics or technology,” said the e-mail account of the group’s study.

Mr. Perkowitz and allies in the environmental movement have been briefing officials in Congress and the administration in the hope of using the findings to change the terms of the debate now under way in Washington.

Opponents of legislation to combat global warming are engaged in a similar effort. Trying to head off a cap-and-trade system, in which government would cap the amount of heat-trapping emissions allowed and let industry trade permits to emit those gases, they are coaching Republicans to refer to any such system as a giant tax that would kill jobs. Coal companies are taking out full-page advertisements promising “clean, green coal.” The natural gas industry refers to its product as “clean fuel green fuel.” Oil companies advertise their investments in alternative energy.

Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, an expert on environmental communications, said ecoAmerica’s campaign was a mirror image of what industry and political conservatives were doing. “The form is the same; the message is just flipped,” he said. “You want to sell toothpaste, we’ll sell it. You want to sell global warming, we’ll sell that. It’s the use of advertising techniques to manipulate public opinion.”

He said the approach was cynical and, worse, ineffective. “The right uses it, the left uses it, but it doesn’t engage people in a face-to-face manner,” he said, “and that’s the only way to achieve real, lasting social change.”

Frank Luntz, a Republican communications consultant, prepared a strikingly similar memorandum in 2002, telling his clients that they were losing the environmental debate and advising them to adjust their language. He suggested referring to themselves as “conservationists” rather than “environmentalists,” and emphasizing “common sense” over scientific argument.

And, Mr. Luntz and Mr. Perkowitz agree, “climate change” is an easier sell than “global warming.”